Fuavai is researching Samoan objects from the Burke’s collection not only for his coursework, but also to advance his goal to become a matai—a high chief in Samoan culture. Matais have the important role of communicating on behalf of their families to the greater community. At funerals, weddings, and other big gatherings, matais perform ceremonies and speak the matai language.
In addition to fala mats, Fuavai is researching kava bowls, toto’os (orators’ whisks) and other objects, collecting information from reference publications and interviewing his grandparents and other community members.
Sharing his knowledge of Samoan culture and matai language is another important step in becoming a matai. The Burke offers Fuavai opportunities to demonstrate this knowledge because it is a museum and community resource. Fuavai leads tours for visitors interested in Samoan culture, and is also visiting schools to help students learn about his culture before they travel to Samoa. In addition, he co-curated a display on the importance of tattoos in Samoan culture as part of the Burke’s recent exhibit, Imagine That: Surprising Stories and Amazing Objects from the Burke Museum.