The Samoans have a tradition that of old their forefathers had no houses. They say that in those days the people were “housed by the heavens,” and describe the ingenuity of a chief who first contrived to build houses. He had two sons, and out of love to them built for each of them a house. But leaving tradition let me describe the houses to be seen at the present day in some of the villages, and the counterpart of those which have been in use for ages. Imagine a gigantic bee-hive, thirty-five feet in diameter, a hundred in circumference, and raised from the ground by a number of short posts, at intervals of four feet from each other all round, and you have a good idea of the appearance of a Samoan house.
The spaces between these posts, which may be called open doors or windows all round the house, are shut in at night by roughly-plaited cocoa-nut leaf blinds. During the day the blinds are pulled up, and all the interior exposed to a free current of air. The floor is raised six or eight inches with rough stones, then an upper layer of smooth pebbles, then some cocoa-nut leaf mats, and then a layer of finer matting. Houses of important chiefs are erected on a raised platform of stones three feet high. In the centre of the house there are two, and sometimes three, posts or pillars, twenty feet long, sunk three feet into the ground, and extending to and supporting the ridge pole. These are the main props of the building. Any Samson or giant Tafai pulling them away would bring down the whole house. The space between the rafters is filled up with what they call ribs—viz. the wood of the bread-fruit tree, split up into small pieces, and joined together so as to form a long rod the thickness of the thumb, running from the ridge pole down to the eaves. All are kept in their places, an inch and a half apart, by cross pieces, made fast with cinnet. The whole of this upper cagelike work looks compact and tidy, and at the first glance is admired by strangers as being alike novel, ingenious, and neat. The wood of the bread-fruit tree, of which the greater part of the best houses are built, is durable, and, if preserved from wet, will last fifty years.
The thatch also is laid on with great care and taste; the long dry leaves of the sugar-cane are strung on to pieces of reed five feet long; they are made fast to the reed by overlapping the one end of the leaf, and pinning it with the rib of the cocoa-nut leaflet run through from leaf to leaf horizontally. These reeds, thus fringed with the sugar-cane leaves hanging down three or four feet, are laid on, beginning at the eaves and running up to the ridge pole, each one overlapping its fellow an inch or so, and made fast one by one with cinnet to the inside rods or rafters. Upwards of a hundred of these reeds of thatch will be required for a single row running from the eaves