A couple of months ago Samoa received good news that its traditional fine mats could join UNESCO’s heritage list. Mats are known as the giver of life, it is exchanged as a highly valued form of cultural respect, it’s also worn in all its woven glory during Samoan ceremonies, and now I’e Toga Samoa, or fine mat, may be listed as an intangible cultural heritage artifact by the United Nation’s agency UNESCO.
Fine mats in the Samoan culture have been considered in some ways, more valuable then money. An I’e Toga is normally used on special occasions. These occasions include weddings, funerals, building of new houses, church events, tattooing, and appointing of a new chief in a village.
Women from all across Samoa spend many days weaving fine mats for special occasions. They work as a group to make them. The most valued I’e Toga are very large and have extremely fine textures. They can take up to 2-3 years to complete. In the Fa’a Samoa culture every formal occasion is completed with the exchange of I’e Toga. The more I’e Toga a chief or family can present to the people, the richer they are considered in their village.
The nomination was confirmed by UNESCO Director in Samoa, Ms Nisha, who told Talamua Online the Committee on Intangible Heritage will consider the nomination. She said if it met the committee’s criteria, it would be inscribed on the UNESCO list.
The committee is selected from various countries to look at all nominations and will meet in Paris in July this year. The submissions that best meet the criteria get nominated for inscription.
Samoa is a signatory to the UNESCO Convention on Intangible Cultural Heritage which recognized traditional knowledge and art forms associated with tradition knowledge. The Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage was passed by the UNESCO General Conference held in 2003. At that time, the international community recognized the need to raise awareness about cultural manifestations and expressions that until then had no legal or programmatic framework to protect them.
The Convention was aimed at safeguarding the uses, representations, expressions, knowledge and techniques that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals, recognize as an integral part of their cultural heritage. This intangible heritage is found in forms such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe, and traditional craftsmanship knowledge and techniques.
Ms Nisha said the main objective was to safeguard the art form and visual knowledge for future generations, to ensure that it contributed to global mutual understanding, cultural exchange processes and that it had something that built the universal principles of co-existence and diversity.