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 to the ridge pole; then they do another row, and so on all round the house. Two, three, or four thousand of these fringed reeds may be required for a good-sized house. This thatching, if well done, will last for seven years. To collect the sugar-cane leaves, and "sew," as it is called, the ends on to the reeds, is the work of the women. An active woman will sew fifty reeds in a day, and three men will put up and fasten on to the roof of the house some five hundred in a day. Corrugated iron, shingles, and other contrivances, are being tried by European residents; but, for coolness and ventilation, nothing beats the thatch. The great drawback is, that in gales it stands up like a field of corn, and then the rain pours into the house. That, however, may be remedied by a network of cinnet, to keep down the thatch, or by the native plan of covering all in with a layer of heavy cocoa-nut leaves on the approach of a gale.

These great circular roofs are so constructed that they can be lifted bodily off the posts, and removed anywhere, either by land, or by a raft of canoes. But in removing a house, they generally divide the roof into four parts - viz. the two sides, and the two ends, where there are particular joints left by the carpenters, which can easily be untied, and again fastened. There is not a single nail in the whole building; all is made fast with cinnet. As Samoan houses often form presents, fines, dowries, as well as articles of barter, they are frequently removed from place to place. The arrangement of the houses in a village has no regard whatever to order. You rarely see three houses in a line. Every one puts his house on his little plot of ground, just as the shade of the trees, the direction of the wind, the height of the ground, etc., may suit his fancy.

A house, after the usual Samoan fashion just described, has but one apartment. It is the common parlour, dining-room, etc., by day, and the bedroom of the whole family by night. They do not, however, altogether herd indiscriminately. If you peep into a Samoan house at midnight, you will see five or six low oblong tents pitched (or rather strung up) here and there throughout the house. They are made of native cloth, five feet high, and close all round down to the mat. They shut out the mosquitoes, and enclose a place some eight feet by five; and these said tent-looking places may be called the bedrooms of the family. Four or five mats laid loosely, the one on the top of the other, form the bed. The pillow is a piece of thick bamboo, three inches in diameter, three to five feet long, and raised three inches from the mat by short wooden feet. The sick are indulged with something softer, but the hard bamboo is the invariable pillow of health. The bedding in old times was complete with a single mat or sheet of native cloth. In the morning the tent was unstrung, mats, pillow, and sheet rolled together, and laid up overhead on a shelf between the posts in the middle of the house.

These rolls of mats and bedding, a bundle or two done up in native cloth on the same shelf in the centre of the house, a basket, a fan or two, and a bamboo knife stuck into the thatch within reach, a fishing-net, a club, and some spears strung up along the rafters, a few paddles, and a few cocoa-nut shell water-bottles, were about all the things in the shape of furniture or property to be seen in looking into a Samoan house. The fire-place was about the middle of the house. It was merely a circular hollow, two or three feet in diameter, a few inches deep, and lined with hardened clay. It was not used for cooking, but for the purpose of lighting up the house at night. A flaming fire, as we have already remarked (p. 75), was the regular evening offering to the gods, as the family bowed the head, and the fathers prayed for prosperity from the "gods great and small." The women collected during the day a supply of dried cocoa-nut leaves, etc., which, with a little management, kept up a continued blaze in the evening, while the assembled family group had their supper and prayer, and sat together chatting for an hour or two afterwards.

But about house-building: it was a distinct trade in Samoa; and perhaps, on an average, you might find one among every three hundred men who was a master carpenter. Whenever this person went to work he had in his train some ten or twelve, who followed him, some as journeymen, who expected payment from him, and others as apprentices, who were principally anxious to learn the trade. When a young man took a fancy to the trade he had only to go and attach himself to the staff of some master carpenter, follow him from place to place for a few years, until he thought he could take the lead in building a house himself; and whenever he could point to a house which he had built, that set him up as a professed carpenter, and he would from that time be employed by others.

If a person wished a house built, he went with a fine mat, worth in modern cash value 20s. or 30s. He told the carpenter what he wanted, and presented him with the mat as a pledge that he should be well paid for his work. If he accepted the mat, that was a pledge that he undertook the job. Nothing was stipulated as to the cost; that was left entirely to the honour of the employing party. At an appointed time the carpenter came with his staff of helpers and learners. Even now their only tools are a felling-axe, a hatchet, and a small adze; and there they sit, chop, chop, chopping, for three, six, or nine months it may be, until the house is finished. Their adze reminds us of ancient Egypt. It is formed by the head of a small hatchet, or any other flat piece of iron, lashed on, at an angle of forty-five, to the end of a small piece of wood, eighteen inches long, as its handle. Of old they used stone and shell axes and adzes.

The man whose house is being built provides the carpenters with board and lodging, and is also at hand with his neighbours to help in bringing wood from the bush, scaffolding, and other heavy work. As we have just remarked, a Samoan house-builder made no definite charge, but left the price of his work to the judgment, generosity, and means of the person who employed him. It was a lasting disgrace to any one to have it said that he paid his carpenter shabbily. It branded him as a person of no rank or respectability, and was disreputable, not merely to himself, but to the whole family or clan with which he was connected. The entire tribe or clan was his bank. Being connected with that particular tribe, either by birth or marriage, gave him a latent interest in all their property, and entitled him to go freely to any of his friends to ask for help in paying his house-builder. He would get a mat from one, worth twenty shillings; from another he might get one more valuable still; from another some native cloth, worth five shillings; from another, some foreign property; and thus he might collect, with but little trouble, two or three hundred useful articles, worth, perhaps, forty or fifty pounds; and in this way the carpenter was generally well paid. Now and then there might be a stingy exception; but the carpenter, from certain indications, generally saw ahead, and decamped, with all his party, leaving the house unfinished. It was a standing custom, that after the sides and one end of the house were finished, the principal part of the payment was made; and it was at this time that a carpenter, if he was dissatisfied, would get up and walk off. A house with two sides and but one end, and the carpenters away, was indicative. Nor could the chief to whom the house belonged employ another party to finish it. It was a fixed rule of the trade, and rigidly adhered to, that no one would take up the work which another party had thrown down. The chief, therefore, had no alternative but to go and make up matters with the original carpenter, in order to have his house decently completed. When a house was finished, and all ready for occupation, they had their "house-warming," or, as they called it, its oven consecration; and formerly it was the custom to add on to that a night dance, for the purpose, they said, of "treading down the beetles."

The system of a common interest in each other's property, to which we have referred, is still clung to by the Samoans with great tenacity. They feel its advantages when they wish to raise a little. Not only a house, but also a canoe, a boat, a fine, a dowry, and everything else requiring an extra effort, is got up in the same way. They consider themselves at liberty to go and take up their abode anywhere among their friends, and remain without charge, as long as they please. And the same custom entitles them to beg and borrow from each other to any extent. Boats, tools, garments, money, etc., are all freely lent to each other, if connected with the same tribe or clan. A man cannot bear to be called stingy or disobliging. If he has what is asked, he will either give it, or adopt the worse course of telling a lie about it, by saying that he has it not, or that it is promised to some one else. This communistic system is a sad hindrance to the industrious, and eats like a canker-worm at the roots of individual or national progress. No matter how hard a young man may be disposed to work, he cannot keep his earnings: all soon passes out of his hands into the common circulating currency of the clan to which all have a latent right. The only thing which reconciles one to bear with it until it gives place to the individual independence of more advanced civilisation, is the fact that, with such a state of things, no "poor laws" are needed. The sick, the aged, the blind, the lame, and even the vagrant, has always a house and home, and food and raiment, as far as he considers he needs it. A stranger may, at first sight, think a Samoan one of the poorest of the poor, and yet he may live ten years with that Samoan and not be able to make him understand what poverty really is, in the European sense of the word. "How is it?" he will always say. "No food! Has he no friends? No house to live in! Where did he grow? Are there no houses belonging to his friends? Have the people there no love for each other?"