Modern depiction of Salamāsina. Image Credit:

By Holly Marsden

Queen Salamāsina lived in 16th century Samoa, born into a noble family with multiple royal bloodlines. She held the paramount position of Tafa‘ifā, after acquiring four papā or district titles. Her elevation to the highest chiefly ranks was a dynastic move by her relatives.

She was the first person to hold the Tafa‘ifā position, created in response to the Tongan presence in Samoa. Samoa was run by the Tu’i Tongan dynasty from the 12th century until their expulsion. Queen Salamāsina’s title was created to rival the powerful dynasty.

Salamāsina was betrothed to chief Tonumaipe‘a Tapumanaia as an act of diplomacy. However, she ignored her parents’ wishes and eloped with a man of no rank named Alapepe. She had a daughter named Lupefofoaivaoese with Alapepe and a son with Tapumanaia, of the same name.

The queen passed on her titles through her daughter, later known as Tui Ā‘ana. This challenges the assumption that Samoa had always been a patriarchal society. As Penelope Schoeffel notes, gender was a secondary principle in ascribing social rank in ancient Polynesia.

In pre-contact Western Polynesian cosmology and theology, women were believed to transmit mana, or spiritual powers, by the bearing of children. Salamāsina’s daughter then inherited a royal and godly rank from her. Queen Salamāsina is still remembered for her peaceful reign.

Recommended Reading

Penelope Schoeffel, “Rank, gender and politics in ancient Samoa: The genealogy of Salamāsina O Le Tafaifā,” The Journal of Pacific History 22.4 (1987): 174-193

Sherry B. Ortner, “Gender and Sexuality in Hierarchical Societies: The Case of Polynesia and Some Comparative Implications,” in Sexual Meanings: The Cultural Construction of Gender and Sexuality eds. Sherry B. Ortner and Harriet Whitehead, 359- 409 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981)

Morgan. Tuimaleali’ifano, “Titular disputes and national leadership in Samoa,” The Journal of Pacific History 33.1 (1998): 91-103.

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