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? 

There are many types of fales in Samoa (pronounced fah-lay), and one is not always just like the other.

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, providing an opportunity to live as Samoans have for thousands of years.

Find out more about these unique Polynesian homes, and how you too can experience living in one.

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.  

Many traditional fales also incorporate traditional art within the structure, depicting legends, ceremonial and cultural elements and rituals.

Fales play a central and important part of Samoa’s rich culture and societal structure.

Who builds fales?

Fales were traditionally constructed by Tufuga fau fale, or master craftstmen, who were also the architects.

The building of a fale was a big deal and considered an artform.

It was also a large task and normally involved 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 what their purpose is.

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 shaped 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 building, 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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