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Archaeology in Independent Samoa: Negotiating the Cultural Politics of Aganu'u in Palauli, Savai'i.

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posted on 2024-06-07, 00:15 authored by Dionne FonotiDionne Fonoti

This thesis examines how archaeology is employed in the Independent State of Sāmoa (Independent Sāmoa or Sāmoa) as a useful tool for the advancement of contemporary knowledge on Sāmoan prehistory. Archaeology was first introduced to Sāmoa almost a century ago and, for the first eighty years, it existed in an academic vacuum of its own creation. The past two decades, however, have seen archaeology evolve and adapt to the insular culture and society of modern-day Independent Sāmoa, and the discipline is now being engineered to suit the demands, and remain relevant of, Sāmoans.

In 2017, a research team from the National University of Sāmoa’s (NUS) Centre for Sāmoan Studies (CSS) re-discovered hundreds of archaeological structures in the inland plantations of the three villages of Palauli district: Vailoa, Vaito’omuli and Fa’aala. CSS then embarked on a project to help the villages preserve the remains through a collaborative tourism venture. These efforts stretched out over several years, in a complicated series of consultations and negotiations that eventually resulted in the successful opening of the Palauli Heritage Trails, as well as serving as the impetus for this doctoral research project. In this thesis, archaeology served as the lens for an examination of how āganu’u Sāmoa (Sāmoan culture practiced collectively by all Sāmoans) is practically applied in the management of Sāmoan cultural heritage. The case studies illustrate that archaeology is subjected to the cultural politics of āganu’u Sāmoa, rigorously weighed, deliberated and negotiated through popular vernacular, language, oral histories, proverbial expressions, historiography, genealogical knowledge and land stewardship, For Sāmoans, the past is constantly revisited, and revised, in the present, and this thesis posits that Sāmoan responses to archaeological heritage management are manifested through the practical applications of āganu’u in the interest of upholding and maintaining cultural sovereignty. Local archaeological negotiation and practice are, from the outset, ‘Sāmoanized’ through āganu’u, connoting the ability, and penchant, of Sāmoans to transform foreign concepts and ideas into viable local versions that can only be practiced and sustained at the behest of, and through consistent collaborations, with Sāmoans. Archaeology in Sāmoa, necessarily, has evolved into a form unlike anywhere else. It is only through this process that archaeology can hope to be of use to Sāmoans as it seeks to help tell the story of Sāmoa’s past in the highly political present, and for the ultimate benefit of Sāmoans in the foreseeable future.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Cultural Anthropology

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Socio-Economic Outcome code

130499 Heritage not elsewhere classified

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

1 Pure basic research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Alternative Language


Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Social and Cultural Studies


Gibson, Lorena; Sissons, Jeff