For Sāmoan Language Week, Leone Samu Tui (Associate Curator, Documentary Heritage, Pacific) and Seulupe Dr Falaniko Tominiko (Deputy Chair of Auckland Museum’s Pacific Advisory Group) reflect on the significance of a measina held in Auckland Museum’s manuscript collection: an unpublished tusi faʻalupega or collection of Sāmoan chiefly titles and village salutations, compiled in 1902.  

You can explore more Samoan Language Week stories from the Museum here.

Sāmoa o le Vavau: O [le] Faʻalupega, Book 1 (MS 64) is one of the earliest written records of the Sāmoan faʻalupega, or village salutations, compiled by ethnologist, philologist, and former U.S. consul to Samoa, William Churchill (1859 – 1920). Having never been formally published, this tusi faʻalupega takes the form of a bound, annotated typescript which was presented to the Auckland Museum Institute and Research Library by S. Percy Smith in 1922. Over the past decade, critical conservation work has been carried out to preserve and stabilise the spine along with a completed digitisation of the entire tome. Samoa o le Vavau: O [le] Faʻalupega, Book 1 (MS 64) has recently been made available for wider access through the museum’s Collections Online

The digitised version of this tusi faʻalupega is available to view and download as a pdf. It is now possible to search for a specific village, district or island within this digitised manuscript using key words and bookmarks now embedded into the file. 


Fly whisk, Samoa. AWMM. 1929.136, 3832.


Unique features

This record of the faʻalupega covers the Sāmoan islands from east to west. Documented salutations begin with the villages of the island of Manuʻa, continuing to Tutuila, before covering the districts of Upolu, Manono, Apolima, and finally Savaiʻi. Between the time period of 1896-1897 in which the manuscript’s creator, William Churchill, gathered information from matai and other knowledge holders, the island nations known as the Independent State of Sāmoa (formerly Western Samoa) and American Sāmoa had not yet been divided by colonial powers and did not exist as the political entities we are familiar with today. In comparison, the 1915 publication O le Tusi Faʻalupega, which was adapted from the work of Misi Kirifi Le Mamea, Te’o Tuvale, T.E. Faletoese, F.F.A and Kirisome and published by the London Missionary Society at their printing press at Malua in Upolu, documents faʻalupega for villages and districts of Upolu, Manono, Apolima and Savaiʻi only, in other words, only the western chain of islands. 

Churchill, William. Samoa o le Vavau, ca. 1902. Auckland War Memorial Museum Library. MS-64.


Churchill provided the names of his matai sources along with their tala, their accounts, of village faʻalupega. Collaborators and sources frequently mentioned in the text include individuals identified as Tufele, Lapuie, Mr Ripley (often referred to in the text as ‘Pele’), and Manogiamanu. For villages on the island of Savaiʻi, at least thirty-seven individuals are identified by Churchill as sources of information including Lauati for Safotulafai, Silialaeʻi for Falealupo, and Lavea & Utumapu for Safotu. Where Churchill may have been given multiple variations of the salutations for a particular village, alternative accounts are also supplied.  

Unique to this tusi faʻalupega manuscript, each page of information is presented in Gagana Sāmoa then immediately followed by Churchill’s own translation into English, resulting in the annotated typescript amounting to more than 700 pages. 

Kava and strainer, Samoa. AWMM. 4130.


Who was William Churchill?

Reflections by Leone Samu Tui

William Churchill arrived in Sāmoa in 1896 to take up the diplomatic posting of US Consul. In October of the following year his posting was abruptly terminated, and he was recalled back to the United States. While it appears that his time as a diplomatic consul was controversial, Churchill was a meticulous record keeper with a keen academic interest in philology, the study of language in oral and written historical sources (Theroux, 1995). While only spending little over a year in Sāmoa Churchill still managed to travel around the islands collecting information about the language, myths and legends, genealogies, and customs of the islands. A few years later in 1902 he completed Samoa o le Vavau: O [le] Faʻalupega, Book 1 which he sent to his friend and founder of the Polynesian Society, S. Percy Smith. Auckland Museum came to have this manuscript along with other papers after Smith’s death in 1922.

Malietoa. Letter to His Excellency Herbert Thompson 1891. Auckland War Memorial Museum Library. MS-189.


Churchill developed key relationships with matai and paramount chiefs at a time of great political intrigue and tension. Churchill mentions that ‘Laupepa’ (presumed to be Malietoa Laupepa, 1841-1898) had been a source he consulted in terms of the veracity of the information he was collecting. At Churchill’s farewell event in 1897, Malietoa Laupepa delivered a speech and gifted to Churchill a highly prized war club which is now held at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC.  

In his letter to Smith at the front of the manuscript, Churchill alludes to a larger body of work he was undertaking, an extensive word catalogue of the Sāmoan language and collected oral traditions of Sāmoan life and custom from the past. This may explain the title of this manuscript, ‘Samoa o le Vavau,’ and why this manuscript is referred to as Book 1, which implies that perhaps several other volumes were to be produced that would address other historical and genealogical accounts and oral traditions. The current whereabouts of these archival treasures and the progress made on them are unclear. Recent enquiries following leads with overseas institutions have thus far been unsuccessful. 

Club, Samoa. AWMM. 3806, K.51.


Samoa o le Vavau – Tusi Faʻalupega

Reflections by  Seulupe Falaniko Tominiko

Churchill’s Samoa o le Vavau O [le] Faʻalupega Book 1 is one of the earlier works specifically written on Sāmoa. While the date on the book is 1902, the collecting of the data and the compiling of the book itself by William Churchill was carried out in his time as US consul between 1896-1897. This would make this book a contemporary of other well-known books on Sāmoa such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s A footnote of history; Eight years of trouble in Samoa (1892); John B Stair’s Old Samoa, or, Flotsam and Jetsam from the Pacific Ocean (1897) and Dr Augustine Kramer’s The Samoa Islands (1902). Only Reverend George Pratt’s Grammar and Dictionary of the Samoan Language is considerably older, first published in 1862. 

Of the works mentioned, only Kramer’s and Churchill’s books provide extensive information of the faʻalupega (salutations) of the Sāmoan villages. Given that Churchill’s Samoa o le Vavau focusses specifically on the faʻalupega, I would go as far as to say that this would be the very first ever tusi faʻalupega written in Samoa. While Kramer’s The Samoa Islands does also include faʻalupega, it includes a lot of the Sāmoan oral histories making it more of a tusi faʻasolopito (history book) rather than a tusi faʻalupega (book of salutations).  

One unique difference between Churchill’s tusi faʻalupega and the many written versions that followed is that Samoa o le Vavau is the only book that provided English translations to the faʻalupega. In the opening letter to his friend S. Percy Smith, Churchill speaks of two errors in his unpublished manuscript. The first is the spelling of the terms and the second is the translations of the terms. The latter error I find interesting as Churchill’s translations of some of the Sāmoan terms is peculiar and would not have been my first choice of terms to use in translating the Sāmoan. For example, a term he uses often in his book is “Tulouna” which he translates as “Saving the Grace.” Pratt (1862) defines Tulouna as an apologetic term said before commencing a speech. Milner (1966) defines Tulouna as apologising for any offence that might inadvertently arise when speaking. I note in his letter to Percy Smith, Churchill talks about the use of Pratt’s dictionary in his book and what seems to be a negative view towards it. Towards the end of his letter, he refers to a dictionary that he is developing which may provide better translations to the Sāmoan terms he is using. This may explain why some of his translations are different from Pratt’s translations which could mean that Churchill chose not to use Pratt’s work and translate the Sāmoan in terms he thought were better fit. Nonetheless, despite the English translations being unclear in some places, Churchill’s Samoa o le Vavau is a great piece of work that had set the bar for tusi faʻalupega that followed. 

Boyd, A.S. (1899). The ceremony of kava drinking at the enthronement of the king of Samoa, 23 Mar '99. AWMM. PD-1947-2.


Knowledge of and reference to the faʻalupega continues to be a vital part of Sāmoan culture and oratory, and access to reference texts are in high demand. A digitised book, O le Tusi Faʻalupega o Samoa in the National Library of Australia’s Trove database regularly receives high traffic of monthly visits online, numbering in the thousands. Our colleagues at Te Papa have recently digitised their copy of O le Faʻalupega, available here. By providing online access to Samoa o le Vavau: O [le] Faʻalupega Book 1, our goal is for readers, researchers, and cultural practitioners to have another written variation of this Documentary Heritage measina available at their fingertips.  

Ia manuia le Vaiaso o le Gagana Samoa! 

Churchill, William. Samoa o le Vavau, ca. 1902. Auckland War Memorial Museum Library. MS-64.


ʻO le tusi faalupega o Samoa : Savaii, Upolu, Manono, Ma Apolima. (2nd ed.). (1930). Accessed 26th May 2021, 

Krämer, A. (1994). The Samoa Islands : An outline of a monograph with particular consideration of German Samoa. Auckland, N.Z.: Polynesian Press.  

Pratt, G. (1878). A grammar and dictionary of the Samoan language (2nd ed.). London: Trübner & co.  

Stair, J. (1897). Old Samoa, or, Flotsam and jetsam from the Pacific Ocean. London: Religious Tract Society.  

Stevenson, R. L. (1996). A footnote to history : Eight years of trouble in Samoa. Auckland, N.Z.: Pasifika Press.  

Theroux, J. William Churchill: A Fractured Life. The Hawaiian Journal of History, vol. 29 (1995). Accessed 26th May 2021, 97-123 


Header image:  detail of Boyd, A.S. (1899). The ceremony of kava drinking at the enthronement of the king of Samoa, 23 Mar '99. AWMM. PD-1947-2.