Transforming Samoan Space into Place: Dance and the Construction of Community

Prof Anne E. Guernsey Allen
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No observer of Samoan life can fail to mark the physical-temporal placement and significance of social relationships in ceremonial events and everyday interactions. These connections are reflected in formal prestations at public ceremonies and in the order of eating at everyday, family meals. Travel to any village in the company of Samoans and you will observe them seeking out and ritually reproducing family associations. In Samoa, social connectedness defines one's identity as much as individual characteristics. However, relationships are not fixed equations, but are malleable through actions. Media such as gifts, the sharing of food, and dance performances provide mechanisms by which relationships are produced and strengthened. Occurring in the relative physical stability of architectural forms, dance furnishes one means by which place is actualized within the format of social negotiation, resulting in the construction of community bonds.

By focusing on dance and its relationship to place, one addresses to a small degree Clifford's (1992) critique of anthropology and it's privileging of dwelling over travel. In Samoa, dance as movement allows for the physical manifestation (or actualization) of both place and space as conceptualizations. In addition, dance satisfies another aspect of actualization: the fulfilling of inherent potential. Casey has suggested that, 'To be located, culture also has to be embodied. Culture is carried into places by bodies.' (1996: 34) Dance by its very nature is of and by the body, lending its performance great potential as a mechanism of place and a medium of topographic investigation.

This paper will focus on three dance types which, in actualizing place, allow for the creation of community bonds: the Taualuga, the Poula, and the Talolo.

Keywords: Samoa, Dance, Space, Place, Casey, Performance, Social Relationships
Stream: Analysing Artforms
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Transforming Samoan Space into Place

Prof Anne E. Guernsey Allen

Associate Professor, School of Arts and Letters
Department of Fine Arts, Indiana University, Southeast


I received my Masters degree from San Diego state with a thesis on tapa (bark cloth) from the islands of Tonga and Samoa. My dissertation focused on the vernacular architecture of Samoa and I received my Ph.D. from Columbia University in New York in 1993. My current research is concerned with Samoan space as it is manifested in architecture, ritual, and the use of textiles. I teach in the Fine Arts department of Indiana University Southeast. My classes cover a wide range of topics in both Western and Indigenous arts.

Ref: A06P0019