Ie Sina – a lost Samoan art

by | Samoan Art and Dance, Le Api | 5 comments

I was back of house at the Melbourne Museum, browsing their hidden Pasifika collection, when I first saw one of these. This is Samoan? I asked. Yes, came the reply… and apparently, when a group of Samoan community elders visited a few weeks earlier, they gasped and shed a few tears at the rare sight of this woven cultural treasure.

The one I saw then was reddish-brown, and they had another one that was smokey-grey, almost black. This white one (pictured) is at the Auckland War Memorial Museum, where it’s known as an ie sina.

Quick Samoan language lesson: Ie means sheet or a piece of fabric. Sina, in this case, is short for sinasinā, which refers to something being white. For example, ua sinasinā le ulu a le lo’omatua means the old lady’s hair is now white.

So ie sina obviously refers to the colour of this particular…mat. Thing. Sadly, none of the museum scholars is a hundred percent sure what this type of woven art is actually called, but it is believed that the white ones – ie sina – were used in marriage consummation ceremonies back in the day.


We have no record or documentation to confirm any other uses of these.. let’s just call this an ie.

It looks like a shaggy sheepskin, yeah? It’s actually made from the bark of the fau, a plant related to the hibiscus. Check out how tight the weave is at the back. The shaggy part could have been teased out of the plant fibers, maybe?

I heard that a Samoan lady out here in Auckland is trying to recreate this ie, to figure out how it’s made, but is having no real luck. This art is not practiced anymore in Samoa – it died out a century or so ago, no one knows why. Our more common ʻie tōga (fine mats) take a lot of skill and time to create. Could these old, shaggy ie be even more complicated and time consuming to make?

In any case, the ie sina (or whatever else it might be called) give us a stunning glimpse back into the lives of our Samoan ancestors. I’m so grateful for the museums around the world who lovingly document and preserve our cultural treasures.

Do you know anything about this ie? Please share your knowledge in the comments below.


  1. Pio

    The ie sina is a priced valuable item of old that is no longer produced or made maybe it’s time consuming to make or because how it’s done is lost among the few survivi ng members of the old generation. It’ usually worn by chiefs daughters and people of high rankings even worn by royalties in Tonga and maybe Fiji. I would like to see ie sina revived as it’s more induring and long lasting, apart from its beauty.

    • hamogeekgirl

      Thank you for that Pio. I wasn’t sure what else these ie were used for. Yes, I hope we’re able to revive this skill soon.

  2. American Aiga

    I am completely fascinated by this ie! It makes you wonder how many other handicrafts have gone extinct over time. I am absolutely thrilled and intrigued that someone is working on understanding and reviving this art form! Please keep in touch with that awesome lady and update us if she figures it out!

    • hamogeekgirl

      Will do!


  3. Wes

    Mary J Pritchard showed me an Ie Sina in the Museum in Pagopago. She said they used the fau soga pipturus fibers to weave this mat which was used by on the night of the wedding of the high chiefs daughter to prove her purity the next morning.


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