The Ancient Star Mounds of America Samoa
By Katie Snow
America Samoa, the visualization of the word brings to mind lush landscaping jutting above the blue waters of
the southern pacific waters. Rain forests and volcanic ridges adds to the tropical climate of this America owned territory.
Along the almost impassable volcanic ridges Tutuila Ma Manu’a lies ancient man made structures called
Tia Seu Lupe, in English Star Mounds. These mostly overgrown structures have been nearly forgotten
by the modern day Samoan but by the sheer number of them found and located in difficult terrain and
the sheer magnitude of their construction attest that these Star Mounds must have been important
to the Ancients.
Constructed of earth and stone and faced with rock or coral slabs, tia seu lupe are basically level-topped platforms
of various sizes and shapes. They can be as large as 30 to 40 meters in diameter and as high as 5 meters. We, English
speakers, call them “star mounds,” because of their distinctive projecting arms or rays. There are
usually five to eight such projections.On Tutuila alone more than 80 star mounds have been discovered.
It is said from early written accounts that Samoan Chiefs took sport in pigeon catching. Now, the English
translation of tia seu lupe is “platform for netting lupe.”Lupe is the Pacific Pigeon (Ducula pacifica pacifica),
a large, fruit-eating forest bird whose succulent flesh has always been prized by Samoans. In the past it was a delicacy
reserved for matai and was included as an important gift in ritual exchanges. Once numerous, today they are so reduced
in numbers that their is a ban against hunting them. However, Star Mounds were probably of greater social significance
than just locations for their chiefs sporting events and the the first Christian missionaries took an early
and virulent dislike to the sport and suppressed it.
One of the most impressive star mounds is the centerpiece of American Samoa’s Tiaseulupe Park. This tia is unique
because rather than being just a simple platform with rays projecting outward in a circle, it is also composed of two
large sections at different elevations. The combined length of the two sections is 34 meters and it rises more than
3 meters above the surrounding rocky terrain.
The question lies in the duality of the use of Star Mounds. Why pick rough terrain high in the mountains?
These would take years to construct and being a ritual were the star mounds used for ritual sacrifices to the
Gods of their time?
After some research into this subject I found the Samoan’s had many deities in which they worshiped that
the Star Mounds could also be used a an altar of sorts or a hollowed place such as
GEGE – A deity who specialized in ridding the Samoan island of Upolu of demons. Operating out of his base at Falealili
he roamed the island, met demons in contests of magic and transformed them into stone. Countless unusual rock formations
are said to be the petrified bodies of the demons overcome by Gege.
PAPA – In the Samoan pantheon she is the goddess of the flatrock base beneath islands. Admittedly that is an oddly
specific designation. She mated with the supreme deity Tangaloa to give birth to some of the Samoan islands.
These are just two of the Gods of worship among many which both would require an Altar of special importance. Another question
comes to mind as well. Who help in the construction of these large mounds I mean mining coral alone would take years to
harvest, was it those from other worldly places that lent a helping hand? We will never really know for certain
just why the star mounds were truly made or how for that matter… the secret lies with those gone before us.
John Enright with David J. Herdrich