UNESCO Recognizes Samoan Fine Mats

Samoan fine mats, or the ‘le Samoa, is one of 15 cultural practices worldwide that has joined UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity on 12 December. The decision was made in Bogota, Colombia by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.

The ‘le Samoa, is a finely hand-woven mat, fastened at the hem with two rows of green and red feathers, with a loose fringe on one end. It is traditionally woven with fine strips of the pandanus plant, producing a silk-like final product. The ‘le Samoa’s shiny coppery color adds to its value, a testament to its age and the natural bleaching process it undergoes. The production process is highly intricate as each woven strand is as little as one millimeter wide.

A single ‘le Samoa can take several months and even years to produce. It is more than a cultural product with its true value as an object of exchange in traditional ceremonies and rituals, including weddings and funerals. Its exchange contributes to the maintenance of the social structure.

Today, fine mat committees have been established by women and master weavers in their villages. This allows them to swap ideas and strengthen the transmission of the art form, ensuring the preservation of the production of ‘le Samoa for future generations.

UNESCO also recognized Tonga’s lakalaka in 2003. It is an art form consisting of poetry that is sung and accompanied by dance. The Lakalaka was declared a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”.

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A master weaver is measuring the ‘le Samoa using her handspan or aga during a monitoring visit to a village women’s committee. Photo: Ministry of Women, Community, and Social Development, Samoa, 2018.

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