Salaevalu or Sala'evalu?

Salaevalu Si'ilata Purcell (ca. 1820-1907)
First of all, my wife is from the line of Ned William PURCELL and Salaevalu/Sala’evalu SI'ILATA, hence the title of the post.

Dearie's Purcell family has an upcoming reunion and the above dilemma has been raised by some. Though the main part of the inquiry involves the presence or absence of the glottal stop diacritic in the matriarch's name (Salaevalu), my take here is more on the perceivably correct meaning, origin and spelling of the name.  Duly, I  have some personal interest in my wife's gafa (genealogy), and so I thought I would share some thoughts on the issue.  This is uncharted territory and to those who may take umbrage at my supposition, ia ua ne'i popona le toa i se finagalo faamolemole (please let not your heart be troubled, or knotty and gnarled like the toa tree).

This analysis is strictly a conjecture backed by educated guesses and some research.  Moreover, this is not an attempt at rehashing the gafa, only to shed some light on part of it.

The real name, I think, at least what it may have been originally, is Saalaevalu (Sa-ala-e-valu) - (that is with an additional "a" within the first syllables) and would have been written as "Sa Alaevalu",  where the prefix "Sa" is a Samoan morpheme designating a renown clan/tribe or family name as in Sa Tupua, Sa Malietoa, Sa Levalasi, etc.  Alaevalu refers to a family or tribe.  In other words Salaevalu is actually a contraction of Sa Alaevalu - or has evolved to what it is today.  Perhaps a good contemporary example is Sa Auimatagi (another important family of Samoa) which contracts to "Sauimatagi"  in some cases; and notably in speech.  Contractions are common in Samoan as in many other languages.

I will now reason and elaborate.

If the above "Sa Alaevalu" theory is correct, then the immediate logical question would be: Was there such a clan, family, title or at least a person named "Alaevalu"?  Otherwise the whole premise of "Sa Alaevalu" collapses.  The answer is a definite yes there was, and it was a woman/female as recorded on this familysearch website as part of the oral histories of Samoa  (click here)
(Note: The name Mulivai Purcell appears in the document (click here) which may be more of a coincidence than of kinship. I think his name appears as one who conducted the field interviews.) Alaevalu seems a woman of nobility.  Her father is listed as Tuitoga (Tui is a prefix which signals a kingly title in Tonga and Samoa - e.g Tuiatua, Tuia'ana).  It was/is not uncommon for women of Samoa and Tonga to hold noble and royal/kingly titles.

The Tongan Connection- Halaevalu, Salaevalu and Alaevalu
The connection is important in tracing and determining the origin of Salaevalu - the literal name.  It's a known fact that some bonafide Samoan names have Tongan links and etymologies - and vice versa. The connection also may give support to the possibility of a Tongan link for the Si'ilata family.  The Purcell family, on the other hand, has several Tongan connections.

A member of the Purcell family said that the name (Salaevalu) should be written with the ' (glottal stop diacritic) since the Tongan counterpart Halaevalu has one. The implication is that since the two names - Salaevalu and Halaevalu - have phonetic and spelling similarities they apparently do share kinship too.  Well, not necessarily.  Though what may make the notion and assumption valid, true, and practical is for both to have the same meaning.

Based on my experience of listening to Tongan speech, the glottal stop is very common though not as vocalized as in Samoan.  The reason is that in Tongan, the "real" pronounced glottal stop is rendered using the "k" consonant.  Samoan, during its evolution, has dropped the "k" and replaced it with the glottal stop in many of the words.  Examples include: puaka/pua'a; faka/fa'a, lakalaka/la'ala'a, tuku/tu’u, etc.).

And so although Halaevalu and Salaevalu are phonetically similar, they actually don't share the same meaning.  But in order for the premise of a direct lineage connection through the names (as proposed by some Purcell family members) to be credible and convincing, the two homonyms need to also have the same or similar meaning - not just the same sound.  In some Tongan/Samoan cognates like "hiva/siva" "hau/sau" (notice the "h" and "s" pattern) the sound and meaning are the same. Unfortunately, not in the case of Halaevalu and Salaevalu.  Salaevalu means “eight punishments” (Sala means punishment or violation) and Halaevalu means “eight ways/paths/roads” and therefore the presumed shared link and connection fail.

And here’s where Alaevalu becomes crucial and relevant.  Alaevalu, like Halaevalu, literally means “eight ways/paths/roads” ... Bingo!??

Once again, Alaevalu is the cognate of Halaevalu.  Both have the same meaning  - Ala/Hala means “way or path” and valu means “eight”. Also, as mentioned above, Sa is a Samoan prefix/morpheme designation for tribe/clan/family.  Hence, Sa+Alaevalu=Saalaevalu or Salaevalu as it is presently known.  Incidentally, IF Saalaevalu were the original name (and I argue that it was) then the glottal stop is not part of the name based on its native pronunciation.  Interestingly enough, Alaevalu and Halaevalu are titles/names of women of nobility (another shared commonality), in Samoa and Tonga respectively, albeit with/of different time spans.

So what I have proposed here has to do mainly with name origin, derivation and connections, and not so much of an actual kinship based on those.  Moreover, it may or may not have any effect or bearing on how the name Salaevalu is spelled today; however, it may evoke some degree of interest and curiosity about its seemingly reasonable and believable etymology.

And by the way, if you're still curious as to how Salaevalu may be pronounced, take a listen to these several other funny pronunciations (click on the speaker/sound waves symbols after the link/page loads).

The above analysis is strictly a result of personal observation, critical knowledge  and understanding of Samoan name origins and other related fields.  Again it is given and intended as an hypothesis and should not be construed as fact. Lastly, to the best of my knowledge, this conjecture/theory has never before been argued or proposed.  Faafetai Tele.

Ma le Faaaloalo


  1. Hello--I am also a descendant of Ned and Salaevalu Purcell, through daughter Maelga (spelling uncertain) Mary Magdalene Purcell (Lee) who ended up marrying John Lee and settling in New Mexico. My research to uncover information about Ned Purcell led me to this post. Do you or your family know much about Ned Purcell or any information tracing him back to Ireland/England? That's the dead end in my research right now.

    Also, I have scans of the original photo card of Salaelvalu and daughter Mary, in this shared google folder. https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B9ivITIFjGv6fmxqUmR1WHBZdmVkSVRvSDlYcWU1UjdNR2FXanFNTkUybnNUNUExOEFfcHc&usp=sharing

    Thanks for your interesting breakdown of the naming conventions above... I know very little about this!

    1. Hi Mark, thank you for your comment. My wife can/will answer your question better, but we're on the road through this weekend. We''ll get back to you when we're back home. Happy 4th though!!!!

    2. Ned Purcell is actually William Edward Purcell and was the carpenter on the ship The Bounty and had a mutiny and was thrown of of the boat with the captian in the ocean near samoa and landed there and that is how the samoans got into the family.

    3. Hi Heather. Based on my quick and rather hasty checking of the information, I think William Edward Purcell (Bounty's Carpenter) was Ned Purcell's father. Date matching/reconciliation and other relevant information support my belief. Regardless, thank you for the valuable information. Capt. Bligh's HMS Bounty connection is priceless and even the name of William's second wife (Hannah) that I found in the Bounty records, is important, as it was the name (Ruth Hannah) given to Salaevalu (christening??). Hence, Hannah was possibly the name of Ned's mother. Well, we're still in the process of searching and connecting the dots.... Thank you again.