Traditional Knowledge in American Samoa

Fishing communities in American Samoa have long depended upon marine resources for subsistence and related culturally significant uses. Traditionally, natural resources in American Samoa were managed at the village level, and local traditional and historic management methods were in place to protect and maintain marine resources. However, with rapid cultural and economic changes in the islands, and much of this traditional knowledge is at risk of being lost in less than a generation with the loss of knowledgeable elders.

On a project funded through NOAA's Preserve America Initiative Grant (PAIG), former Social Research Project Manager Arielle Levine collaborated with agencies in American Samoa to document traditional methods of fishing and marine management in American Samoa. Partner agencies include American Samoa's Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources (DMWR), the National Park Service (NPS), the Pacific Islands Regional Office (PIRO), and the American Samoa Historic Preservation Office (ASHPO). The project had three main elements:

  1. Elder Interviews to document local knowledge regarding marine use and management and changes over time. Between November 2007 and March 2008, Bert Fuiava and Fialoa Maiava (DMWR), Fatima Sauafea-Leau (PIRO), and Fale Tuilagi (NPS) conducted in-depth interviews with elder fishermen from villages throughout American Samoa. The interviews are each unique, as each person shares his or her own knowledge and areas of expertise.

    Interviews contained a number of open-ended components, focusing primarily on the following topics:

    • Changes in fishing frequency over time (how, where, and why)
    • Changes in species catch and abundance (for reef-associated species and rare "big fish" reef species)
    • "Special" areas for fishing, including locations, changes in conditions over time
    • Local restrictions on harvesting marine resources
    • Traditional or historic methods of marine management
    • Importance of marine resources to the Samoan way of life
    • Other elements of traditional knowledge (fishing techniques, legends, recommendations, etc.)

    A more complete analysis of interview themes and findings is underway and will be published as a Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center technical report. Digital recordings of the elder interviews, as well as written transcriptions and translations of the interviews, have been provided to the NOAA Fisheries Voices from the Fisheries Oral History Project for permanent and secure storage and to increase availability to a national audience.

  2. Archival research regarding historical accounts of fishing and marine resource management in American Samoa. David Herdrich of the American Samoa Historic Preservation Office conducted archival research on historic fishing practices and methods of marine use and management. Working in collaboration with Karen Armstrong (University of Helsinki, Finland), he reviewed archival records at the Historic Preservation Office as well as early explorer accounts of American Samoa on file at the University of Hawaii's Hamilton library and the Bishop Museum in Honolulu. The final report, which focused on fishing and resource management techniques in American Samoa before 1950 and included a collection of old photographic records of fishing history, is now available as a NOAA Technical Memorandum (1.7 MB PDF).
  3. Video documentation of traditional fishing methods continuing in American Samoa. An additional outcome of this project was a video documenting traditional fishing techniques unique to the Samoa islands and that still take place in American Samoa today. The technique featured in this video was palolo fishing, a mass spawning of a polychaete worm that lives in coral and is a traditional Samoan food source. The DVD is available from the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center.
American Samoa elders share their knowledge 
            of traditional fishing and marine management practices with interviewers from the American Samoa Department 
            of Marine and Wildlife Resources. American Samoa elders share their knowledge 
            of traditional fishing and marine management practices with interviewers from the American Samoa Department 
            of Marine and Wildlife Resources.
American Samoa elders share their knowledge of traditional fishing and marine management practices with interviewers from the American Samoa Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources.