Restoration Efforts Show National Park of American Samoa Artifacts in Better-Than-Expected Condition

Quick efforts to safe traditional Samoan artifacts, followed by restoration work, saved many items from the park's visitor center, such as these mats. NPS photo.

Some good news out of the South Pacific today. The tsunami wave train that smacked the National Park of American Samoa last month didn't damage park artifacts as much as first thought. And that's largely because of the park staff's efforts to rescue the items from the waters that inundated park headquarters.

Immediately following the tsunami, and after assisting in early search-and-rescue efforts, park staff acted quickly to remove collection items from the water damaged areas on the first floor of the park’s visitor center and headquarters building in the heavily hit Pago Plaza Building, a park release notes. National Park Service cultural resource specialists believe that the quick action by the park staff saved many of the collection objects.

Specialists from the Western Cultural Resource Emergency Response Team then got to work on conserving and treating damaged items. They currently are completing documentation to create an inventory of objects receiving treatment.

At the same time, National Park Service cultural resource specialists Melia Lane-Kamahele, Steve Floray and Tammy Duchesne have been working to relocate the collections to the park’s temporary administrative facility. Most of the objects hanging on the visitor center walls, such as fine mats and tapa, and those stored up high, such as war clubs, wooden staffs and carvings, managed to survive the tsunami and only needed cleaning and treatment, park officials say.

Akenese Zec, the president of the Samoan weaver organization Inailau A Tina, and a member of Tina Mo A Taeao, is leading restoration of the fine mats and tapa using traditional methods. Akenese feels it is important to continue the preservation of their Samoan customs, especially weaving of fine mats and making of tapa. Those traditional treatments for the fine mats, made and repaired with stripped banana leaves, start with applying a Samoan oil to the front and back of each mat, she says. The feathers and decorations are then removed and replaced with new decorations. Finally, the mats are placed out in the sun for three days in a row with more oil applied each day.

Akenese is very dedicated to continuing the tradition of Samoan weaving. “I see the old ladies in our culture slowly fading away. We continue to try to conserve in a way our generations will enjoy and remember in a way they’ll be happy to do it,” she said.

Several of the mats and tapa were carefully repaired and returned to the park this past Monday, while others are still being treated.

Prior to the tsunami, the weaver groups volunteered at the park visitor center where they presented daily weaving demonstrations. They continue to provide important assistance to the park and it’s collections in their restoration work, according to park officials, and they also educate the Samoan youth in traditional weaving through presentations at public and private schools.