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Samoan Fales

A thatched roof with no walls, a tin roof with roll-down blinds or a fully enclosed building – what exactly is a fale, and what is it used for? 

After a day of exploring beautiful Samoa, swimming in waterfalls, hiking up mountains, kayaking the sea, surfing the waves and snorkeling the waters, you’ll need to find somewhere to lie down and refresh for the next day in paradise. Samoa has many beautiful resorts and hotels on offer, or you can experience the unique pleasure of staying in a fale...

Staying in fale accommodation is the perfect way to experience fa’a Samoa - the Samoan way of life - as Samoans have for thousands of years. This laidback style of accommodation gets you as close to the ocean as it is possible to lay down your head, and means that the soundtrack to your sleep is the hush of the ocean . . . And not only is a fale an experience that should not be missed, it’s more often than not a budget-friendly option, with reasonable prices and often dinner and breakfast included.

A fale pronounced fah-lay) can be a thatched roof with no walls, a tin roof with roll-down blinds or a fully enclosed building – there are many types of fales in Samoa. Their roles in traditional village life range from meeting house to cooking house to well, just a house! Hotels and resorts, too, have adopted the fale as an option for their guests to stay in.

Many accommodation providers offer fale or fale-style accommodation, from fully enclosed fales with windows like these at Manono Island or or Litia Sini or completely traditional structures with nothing between you and the ocean view but a mosquito net and optional pull down woven blinds, like these at Lalomanu or Namu’a.

What is a fale?

Fale is the Samoan word for house of any size. Traditionally, a Samoan fale is an oval or circular shape, has a domed, thatched roof held up with wooden poles and has no permanent walls. Roll-down blinds, called pola, surrounded the structure.

Who builds fales?

Fales were traditionally constructed by tufuga fau fale, or master craftsmen, who were also the architects. The building of a fale was considered an artform and was a large task involving an entire family or village, from cutting the timber to preparing  the foundations. 

Who lives in fales?

In Samoa, many locals still reside in traditional fales, which visitors will see when they enter any small village. Today’s fales are built using a range of materials, including sturdy tin roofs that replace coconut fibre thatching and concrete that replaced coral, sand and soil floors.

How big are fales?

There are many sizes of fales, depending on their purpose. A fale tele, or big house, is used within a village as a meeting house for chiefs, for family gatherings and for ceremonies such as funerals. It's normally sited in a prominent position within the village. 

The afolau is a longer oval  (also called a long house) that is normally used as a family home or guest house.

Another long fale is the faleo'o, or small house, which is traditionally located at  the back of the main house.  Nowadays, a faleo'o is often used as a beach fale for tourists, but in times gone by they were used as an extra space to retire to during  the hottest part of the day, or for guests to stay in. 

Finally the tunoa or umukuka is  the all-important cook, or umu (oven) house. There's nothing grandiose about this buildong, often little more than a shelter on poles to protect the oven, but it serves an important role.

Can I experience staying in a fale?

Absolutely. Many accommodation providers offer fale or fale-style accommodation, from completely traditional structures with nothing between you and the ocean view but a mosquito net and opional pull down woven blinds. 

Not only does this create a truly authentic Samoa experience, but these fales are often very budget-friendly too.

Other resorts have taken the fale concept a bit further and added solid walls (on some, if not all, sides of the building) and air conditioning – not an unpleasant modern addition for those not used to Samoa’s warm climate – and a sturdy tin roof.

Book a fale holiday in Samoa

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