Volume 79 1970 > Volume 79, No. 2 > An account of the game of Tagati'a, by Richard Moyle, p 233 - 244
SHORTER COMMUNICATIONS AN ACCOUNT OF THE GAME OF TĀGĀTI'A
Early writers have described at some length the Samoan game of tāgāti'a (javelin-throwing); 1 these include Krämer, 2 Buck, 3 and Su'a. 4 However, the present writer, in the course of more than two years' ethnomusicological fieldwork in Samoa, unearthed considerable information concerning the game itself and its associated songs that had not hitherto been reported, and so a fuller account has been attempted here.
The game was played between two sides whose numbers were not usually restricted; accounts of more than 100 players a side are on record, 5 and modern informants claim that even this figure was small in some cases. When the game was popular 6 most villages had a fixed area where tāgāti'a was played and, in many cases, these sites are still remembered by local residents. The area consisted of a cleared section 100-150 feet in length (although good throws might far exceed this distance). At each end of the cleared space was constructed a sloped ramp off which the ti'a had to rebound in the course of a proper throw; these ramps were called “pāga”. The size of the pāga varied from village to village, with lengths of 4-6 feet, widths of 2-3 feet, and sloping up to heights of 8-24 inches. Where it was readily available, hard sand was pounded down to form the pāga; elsewhere, a more elaborate construction was preferred. Over a base of small rocks, an earth covering was laid, followed by a layer of ash mixed with water; when dry, this mixture set hard and provided a solid, smooth surface off which the ti'a had to glance.
The ti'a themselves were, in all but one case, fashioned from a single length of wood, and for this reason certain straight types were favoured. The mamala (Homalanthus sp.) and fu'afu'a (Kleinhovia sp.) were used most often, but other wood-types in use were the fau (Hibiscus sp.), fauui (Crewia sp.), aloalo (Erythrina - 234 sp.), mautofu (?Urena sp.), paoga or papaoga or paopaoga (?Alsophila sp.) and suni (Drymispermum sp.). The sole exception was of two woods, consisting of a shaft of mamala or fu'afu'a and a separate head of toa (Casuarina sp.). Long, straight branches of these trees and shrubs were selected, the bark peeled off and the wood left to sun-dry. The surface of the shaft was smoothed, usually by rubbing with pieces of coconut husk (pulu); this process was called “suni”. 7 The ti'a had several names, according to their differing lengths and these were as follows: 8
(Buck also includes the talu, but this name does not appear to be known in Western Samoa.) There was also the ululua—the “two-headed” ti'a with no distinguishable head or tail, but the length of this type is not known. 9
Each type of ti'a was thrown against the pāga from a different position—the tapu'u player standing right beside it, while the others needed a run-up; the velo was thrown from about five feet behind the pāga, and the other, shorter types from points between these extremes. All ti'a, except the tapu'u and tafau, were thrown in the following manner, as described by Buck:
The dart is held at the thinner end and between the thumb and middle finger with the forefinger over the end. The throw (“ta”) is made by taking a short run, turning sideways and throwing the head of the dart in a slanting direction to glance off the surface of the ground. An upward slant in the ground thus assists the dart in rising and hence the sloping of the panga. 10
The same author also has a useful description of the throwing technique for the tapu'u and tafau:
The dart termed “Ti'a tafau” was thrown as the name implies with a strip of fau bast. The bast strip was tied with an overhand knot at one end. . . . (Two diagrams appear in the original text.) The use of the throwing strip gave extra length to the throwing movement and thus acts on the same principle as the throwing sticks of the Australian aboriginals. The forward pull against the knot kept the bast turn round the dart in position, but when the dart passed forward, the pressure was removed and the throwing - 235 strip automatically released itself without impeding the flight of the dart. The dart so thrown was glanced off the ground in the same way as the darts without the throwing strip. Any of the darts could be thrown with the knotted strip, but the short tapu'u dart had to have a coconut leaflet stuck in the end to furnish a tail to make it fly truer. In another method the throwing strip tied to a handle was wound spirally round the dart after fixing the knot; the dart was laid on the ground and jerked forward with the handle. 11
This latter throwing style was called “se'e”—“jerking”.
There were several terms in common use for the throw and subsequent flight of the ti'a. According to the player's preference, the head of the ti'a might touch the pāga first—this was called “fa'amasau” (“to make swift”). In other cases, especially those of the tailed tapu'u and tafau, only the tail of the javelin touched the ramp—this was known as “pa'i'u” or “fa'apa'i'u” (“to ‘explode’ from the end”). The ti‘a’s flight was described in the following terms:
A typical tāgāti'a set-up, with the game about to commence, is represented in Figure 1.
The game proper started with short speeches from leaders of both sides, often of a humorous nature; one team was then selected to throw first—usually, this was the visiting side. (Should a game be between two villages—this was called “tavasaga”—village matai (leaders) would travel with their team, and more formal arrangements made at their arrival: ava (kava) and speeches would be presented, and those matai not actually competing would then watch the contest from a near-by house.) From each team was chosen a fa'atau ti'a 12 whose task was two-fold: firstly, he placed official markers against the longer throws, and he also signalled back his own team's progress to the others. The two fa'atau ti'a stood at the distant end of the tāgāti'a area.
The first throw was called “tāua”, and was performed by the weakest member of the side, thence progressing until the end, when the better players had their turn. This throwing order is the origin of the expression, “Fa'amuli ma le 'ai” (“Go last for a point”). (The best player throws last of all, in the expectation that his effort will win a point.) Last to throw was usually the fa'atau ti'a, whose position was replaced by another player for this. Standing close to the pāga were judges to check that all the throws touched the ramp; a mis-throw was called “tā pē” (lit. “dead throw”) or “aitu” (“spirit”), and this was called out to the fa'atau ti'a so that they would disregard it. Thus the fa'atau ti'a of the non-throwing team might, after a suspicious throw, call out to the judges,- 236 - 237
“Po'o le ti'a po'o le aitu?” (“A throw or a mis-throw?” lit. “A javelin or a spirit?”) If all his team's ti'a flew correctly without any mis-throws, the fa'atau ti'a would announce from the other end of the ground, “Ua sau le magalele.” (lit. “The flying branch has come,” the “branch” being the whole collection of ti'a.)
During the throwing, other members and supporters of the team sat together close to the pāga, and provided dances and singing to spur on their fellows' efforts; today, this entertainment is known as “lape”, but Pratt gives an older, different meaning:
“Lape. n. a man who sits and wishes bad luck in tāgāti'a.
v. to sit and wish bad luck to the opposite party in tāgāti'a” 13
In addition to mere wishing, the other party might also resort to providing sudden distractions at the very moment of throwing, to put off the thrower or spoil his effort.
The thrower's side, at this stage of the game, would begin singing the best-known tāgāti'a song; the basic text is as follows:
The following text-variation is also very common:
When recalling a fa'atau ti'a for the team's final throw, the opening line of this song might be rearranged to call to him:
During the singing, other members of the team would be polishing (suni) their ti'a, just as a skier waxes his skis. When all players in the first team had thrown, the better throws were marked by the two fa'atau ti'a, using stones or sticks. All the ti'a were collected and returned to their owners. Most ti'a had identification marks scratched or burned on to the shaft for this purpose.
The second team then began to throw, trying all the time to better the furthest throw of the other team (which was called “matāti'a”). Their leader might exhort his throwers with the expressions, “Tā pona, ausi, ausi matāti'a” (“Thrash the poorest thrower, beat the furthest throw”) 16 or, “Ia gau le ausi, e mamao le matāti'a” (“Break the net-pole, the furthest throw is far off”). 17 If a throw from the second team bettered the furthest throw of the other, the fa'atau ti'a of that team would sing out in triumph,
Ua mua fo'i le ti'a na sau nei! The javelin that came now is in front! 18 to which the delighted team would reply,- 238
Should a thrower not be able to see clearly the previous best throw, he called out, “Fa'atū le matāti'a” (“Stand upright the furthest marker”). The fa'atau ti'a then placed a visible marker on the spot, or he even stood there, as a guide to the thrower. The fa'atau ti'a themselves were not above cheating, and after a winning throw, that side's fa'atau ti'a might leap up into the air in joy, at the same time inconspicuously sliding the ti'a a little further ahead.
At no particular stage of the game, but during one team's throwing, the following song would be sung by the throwers:
From Krämer comes the text of another tāgāti'a song, sung by a team following a winning throw:
Investigation has shown that this song was not known in all districts of Samoa; the present writer recorded versions from the villages of Patamea, Samalae'ulu and Safa'i, on Savai'i island. Elsewhere, the song and its text were unknown, or not associated with this game. 22 Sung by the throwing side, this song was something of a taunt to the others, following a particularly fine throw. The Safa'i version is as follows:
Each throw which bettered the best effort of the other team constituted a point, and the fa'atau ti'a conveyed this information to his team after each successful throw. As an alternative to the song illustrated above, 24 another responsive chant could be used. After, say, the second javelin of his team had bettered the other's furthest throw, the fa'atau ti'a called out thus:
to which the team replied,- 239
Another tāgāti'a song was recorded in Vaipu'a, Savai'i, at the very conclusion of fieldwork; consequently it was not possible to ascertain whether it was known elsewhere. Although no exact explanation of the song was offered, the text indicates a taunt similar to that exemplified earlier. 27
Points systems varied from village to village, and from contest to contest. In a formal game, the speeches preceding the activities discussed how many points should constitute a win—whether it should be 20, 50, or 100. The size of the sides, the duration of the encounter, and the prizes were all considered before coming to a decision. After both teams had thrown once, each ti'a of one team which was ahead of the best throw of the other team constituted a point. 29 Following the second team's efforts, the second round of throwing would commence, after all ti'a had been collected from the area and returned to their owners. Points were recorded by cutting notches on a length of wood, or by marks on a banana palm leaf. In smaller, intra-village contests, a slightly different system was in common use. The second team was allowed three attempts (by each player) to exceed the best throw of the first team; inability to achieve this constituted defeat, and the game would be over. However, should even one of the second team's ti'a better the other's mark, the game would continue, since this other team in turn would have three attempts to surpass this new record. Thus, in this system, no tallying of points was observed. Victory in tāgāti'a was not the end of the whole affair: the losing side was required, in all formal encounters, to present to the winner a fa'a'ai, a food-fine. The details of the fa'a'ai payable by the loser would be agreed upon before the game commenced, but usually it consisted of at least one basket of edibles per player, as well as a pig or two in more important contests. A time limit would be set for the payment, and, on the appointed date, the losing team would return. After speeches and replies, the food would then be distributed throughout the village. It was normal for the size of the fa'a'ai to be the equivalent of one full meal, although amounts varied with each encounter.
Several proverbial and associated sayings concerning tāgāti'a are still in use today, although they are rarely heard outside of speeches. Shultz includes the following:
Ua tulia afega . . . to the left of the pāga is the place (afega) from which the thrower takes his run. A left-handed thrower takes station on the right side of the pāga. Ua tulia afega means that there are people standing about the afega who hinder the player from making his throw. Figuratively, it means that an undertaking, particularly a discussion, is hindered by the presence of a stranger.- 240
O le ti'a e lē seua lou finagalo. Your will is like the ti'a that is not turned aside from its goal.
O le ti'a ulu tonu lou finagalo. Your will is like the ti'a that flies straight towards its goal.
When a dispute arises between two players and the umpire cannot or will not decide who made the better throw and is to get the point, he says,
Tu'u ia mo pāga. It does not count.
The players must then return to the pāga and start again. Generally . . . it is used to request quarrelling parties to settle their differences.
When all the players have made their throw, and one ti'a lies far ahead of the others, it is quite clear who is the winner and there is no need for measuring the distance between the wands.
O le mua e lē fuatia. The leading one is not measured. 30
In addition, the following are in frequent use today:
Ua sulu pāga le ti'a. The javelin has pierced the ramp.
Should this happen in the course of a game, the throw is not counted.
An apologetic expression.
Ua tatou fuatia nei i ulu pāga. At the present time we are measuring the ti'a on the ramp. Closely placed ti'a are measured to determine the best throw. At the start of a speech, this expression indicates that the speaker is not acquainted with all the people present, and must therefore be especially careful not to say anything out of place.
Since Biblical quotations and allusions occur today just as frequently as “traditional” proverbs and sayings in speeches, it is not altogether surprising that two of the proverbs mentioned by Schultz above, sometimes appear with a religious tone:
Both of these, which are used together, relate to socially “correct” behaviour.
Tāgāti'a is no longer played in Samoa, and this is explained in most areas as virtually inevitable, since the game, to these informants, was little more than an a'ega—a craze. Tradition, however, strongly suggests that the game has been with the Samoans for a considerable time, and, moreover, that it occupied a significant part of adult sport. The other adult games—tologa (spear-hurling), te'aga (disc-hurling), seugā lupe (pigeon-snaring), taulafoga (disc-lobbing), aigofie (club-fighting)—had all been discontinued before tāgāti'a began to lose its popularity. The social importance of the game is indicated not only in the number of associated and proverbial sayings, but also in the careful and detailed manner of referring to the sport in the course of legends and stories. For nowhere in these is tāgāti'a mentioned only in passing; always the game is as much a contest to prove or defend one's honour as it is a recreational activity, and a decisive victory is usually a significant point in the narrative. Significant, too, is the fact that of all the adult sports, only this one existed in a children's version. 31 In a few villages the game was formally banned, on account of the apparently large numbers of injuries to spectators from flying ti'a. Elsewhere, however, local interest gradually died off, aided, no doubt, by the introduction of a new and equally exciting game—cricket. Samoan cricket today is what tāgāti'a was in former times, and indeed the procedure of the former has been - 241 altered to accommodate the overall pattern of the latter. Both allow for large numbers of participants who perform individually; both have an active lape (entertainment—supporters); both are played by adults rather than children, and take place over an extended period of time; both have special playing areas (concrete cricket-pitches are seen in most Samoan villages). Cricket, however, being of foreign and gentlemanly origin, has no associated songs.
MUSICAL ANALYSIS 32
Although the examples are equally divided between ditonic and tritonic scales, the range of a Perfect 4th appears in all but one case. All six examples have melodies based on the interval of a Perfect 4th (in Samoan music, a phenomenon restricted to game songs and children's songs). The melodic contours show a definite tendency for a central lower, level phrase to be flanked by higher movement, again a stylistic feature restricted to the song-type to which the tāgati'a examples belong. The songs are dominated by regular quaver movement, and Example 4, which contains triplet quaver groupings, is exceptional, both in this present, limited, context, and also in the hundred-odd other game-songs recorded. The very high proportion of melodic movement between adjacent scale-notes, the cadence formula involving the upward leap of a Perfect 4th, and the predominance of melodic repetition are also features of the song-type.
In short, the stylistic features exhibited in these six examples are consistent, both among themselves, and also within the overall context of Samoan game songs and children's songs. As such, these two song-types constitute a stylistic group distinct from the 12-odd others.
1 “Tāgāti'a”, the name of the game, is formed from “tāga”—“the striking”, and “ti'a”—“the javelin”.
2 Krämer 1902:vol. 2, pp. 328-29.
3 Buck 1930:566 ff.
4 Su'a 1962:61.
5 Barnes 1889:144.
6 Although the game is no longer played, the term “ti'a” recently appeared in a Samoan newspaper as the word for the athletic javelin.
7 The phrase, “Suni lau ti'a”—“Polish your javelin”, is also given another, coarser meaning when spoken in jest to a young man on his wedding night.
8 All these terms are more than mere names: each, with the exception of the last, signifies a throwing style.
9 In some areas it was customary for all participants to use the same sort of ti'a; each player would bring along several different javelins, and an agreement would be reached before the game started. Elsewhere, however, different types of ti'a were used together.
10 Buck 1930:569.
11 Buck 1930:569.
12 In some areas he is called “fa'avae ti'a” or just “vae ti'a”, and his duties may be extended to include keeping the course clear of onlookers and animals.
13 Pratt 1911:175.
14 v. Example I.
15 Several other text-variations were recorded, including the following: “E au'au ti'a e . . .” (etc.) The javelins are all together . . . (etc.) Similarly, “E au tau ti'a e . . . (etc.)” All the javelins are grouped together (etc.)
16 “Tāpona”—thrashing the poorest player, was normally confined to the children's version of this game.
17 There is a play on words here. Ausi—the pole inside the house on which was hung the fishing-net; also meaning “to better a previous throw”, “to take the lead”. The intended meaning here is—“Use the net-pole as a ti'a in the hope of taking the lead—i.e., do anything, but take the lead.”
18 v. Example 2.
19 v. Example 2.
20 v. Example 3. “mā” is the shortened form of “mamā”—“clean”.
21 Krämer 1902:vol. 2, p. 329.
22 The song text is based on a proverb, whose explanation is provided by Schultz: “In Tutuila the sea birds that rest exhausted on the cliffs are caught with nets without the use of decoys.
Ia seu le manu, 'ae silasila i le galu—Catch the bird but watch the breakers.
Be careful in an undertaking and mind the obstacles.” Schultz 1965:38.
23 v. Example 4.
24 v. Example 2.
25 v. Example 5.
26 There is some disagreement concerning the first word of this reply; other versions give “mauiga”, or “mauina”. This text is also occasionally used in connection with marriage. If, after a strenuous time of courting, the girl finally consents to a union, the suitors may in their joy call out, “Ua maui tasi na fua maui; Ā maui, maui. While these words refer originally to tāgāti'a, the “tasi” refers here to the bride-to-be: she, not the ti'a is the “one” surpassing all others.
27 cf. Example 4.
28 v. Example 6.
29 In some areas, it was usual for throwers from both teams to perform alternatively, but here, too, the points system was the same.
30 Schultz 1965:65-6.
31 This is called “Tāponaga”; like tāgāti'a, it possessed its own songs and chants, but, unlike the other, interest centred round the punishment of the poorest player, rather than the striving to perform best.
32 All examples have been transposed so as to make their tonics G.