Primary Source

Portrait of Samoan Girl and Woman in Native Dress [Photograph]


The photographic print is a full-length, formal studio portrait of a woman and her daughter from the Pacific Island of Samoa. The photograph was taken by an unknown photographer between 1890 and 1920. The woman and her daughter clearly belong to a prominent family, but they may or may not be royalty. The woman is wearing ornaments and a ring that suggest she is married to a prominent person. The woman and the girl both carry fans made of dried, woven leaves, called ili aupolapola in the indigenous language. The traditional costumes worn by mother and daughter are very similar in design, with the indigenous woven skirt called titi, made of ti leaves. Both wear hair ornaments such as flowers and elaborate necklaces. Their blouses are made of traditional tapa cloth, called siap in Samoa. It is made by soaking and pounding the inner bark of a mulberry-type tree until it is very soft and pliable. The decorative painting on the blouses is nearly identical, as are the fringed necklines of the blouse and skirt. Other fabric was appliquéd to the hem in a zigzag design. The re-creation of a naturalistic backdrop for the photograph may be an indication of rapid change in the society and the focus on preserving the appearance of tradition. The traditional clothing, on the other hand, indicates the effort to assert ethnic identity and preserve traditional crafts at a time when imported Western clothing was becoming available and perhaps norms of women’s dress were changing.


Library of Congress, "Portrait of girl and woman, Samoan princesses in native dress, full- length, facing front," Photographs and Prints Department, Call Number: FOREIGN GEOG FILE - Samoa <item> [P&P]; Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-113138, <a class="external" href=" and"> and</a> (accessed March 18, 2010). Annotated by Susan Douglass.

How to Cite This Source

"Portrait of Samoan Girl and Woman in Native Dress [Photograph]," in Children and Youth in History, Item #429, (accessed August 10, 2021).