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WHICH WAY IS FRONT?: SPATIAL ORIENTATION COMPLICATIONS IN CONTEMPORARY SAMOAN VILLAGES

  • Author(s): Van der Ryn, Micah
  • et al.
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License
Abstract

Drawing on four years of ethnographic fieldwork in Samoan villages examining Samoan village architecture and spatial uses, I illuminate the culturalization of space in Samoan villages in terms of the front–back axis, deemed a key orientation in contemporary Samoan social life. The Samoan term for space is vā, defined as the interval or “between-ness” of entities in physical, social, spiritual, ideational and temporal landscapes. I highlight how perceptions of, and actions on, the vā in Samoa are the modus operandi by which relationships, boundaries and balances in Samoa are negotiated and determined, and how the front-back axis informs binary, mutually complementary and inter-dependent sets of socio-spatial relationships in that system. Central to understanding vā and the front–back axis is its Samoan articulation at different scales—from the architecture of the individual house, to household and whole layouts. This article builds on previous theoretical and ethnographic literature about Samoan space (Shore 1983, 1996, 2014; Allen 1993; Lehman and Herdrich 2002). Informed by both Samoan linguistic and ethnographic evidence and the Whorfian theory of linguistic relativity, the article demonstrates how front–back is primary to a Samoan radial spatial schema, a view that reconfigures Bradd Shore’s positing of a separate, sometimes conflicting, Samoan “front–back binary linear” model (Shore 1983, 1996, 2014).

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