Samoa - Culture

Samoa flag Fa'a Samoa, means the Samoan Way. This is an all encompassing concept that dictates how Samoans are meant to behave. It refers to the obligations that a Samoan owes their family, community and church and the individuals sense of Samoan identity. The concept of respect is also very important. You must always respect you betters, this includes those older than you, matais, ministers, politicians doctors and teachers. This unquestioning demand for respect is taking its toll in modern Samoa as the younger generation, which is invariably better educated than its predecessors, constantly finds itself trying to balance the demands of a conservative Samoan society with its knowledge of the world, increasingly gathered from overseas education and experience. This has lead to one of the highest suicide rates in the world. Fa'a Samoa is also evident in the legal system which is actually two separate systems, a western style system administered by a police force and justice department, and a traditional system administered at a village level. The two systems do occasionally come into conflict with one another but generally things work smoothly enough.

Matai System
The word matai means chief, and is an honour that is bestowed upon someone. The role of the matais is very complex and interwoven deep into the fabric of Samoan culture and history. Matais have family, civic, political and prior to the arrival of the European, religious duties to perform.

A matai title can be given to either men or women, although you will find far more men with titles than women. It is usually given to someone in acknowledgment for services that have been rendered. A family might give a title to a relation who has been able to support them through hard times or village might give a title to someone that has done something that has been of benefit to the village as a whole. However currently there appears to be a tendency to give a matai title to someone in order to receive favours in return, be they of a financial or other nature.

Until recently it was only possible for matais to vote in parliamentary elections. It used to be a relatively common practice that prospective parliamentary candidates would ensure that members of their constituency would receive titles to ensure that they could increase their share of the vote. Even today only matais are eligible to seek parliamentary office.

bungalow in the rainforrestWithin each village every family has a matai that is a member of the fono (council) and represents the interests of the family. The fono is responsible for administering justice within the village and can pass down a wide range of judgements upon a miscreant. The leader of the fono is called the ali'i, and is assisted by a pulenu'u. The ali'i was considered to be far too important to be bothered with actually discussing peoples problems and so the position tulafale (talking chief) arose. The tulafale acts on behalf of the ali'i at social occasions, ceremonies and in discussions with other villages and external bodies.

In Samoa the aiga (extended family) is all important. Every village is composed of several aiga. The larger the aiga, the more important it is and more power it can wield in village affairs. This leads to, what is a usually, healthy competition between aiga.

Samoan families are usually large; it is not unusual for there to be 12 or more children. Traditionally members of the family would work land that was allocated to them by the matai, but now it is increasingly common for families to encourage their children to work in Apia so they can earn a wage. There are now more Samoans living outside of Samoa than in the islands themselves. Most of these send money back to the family on a regular basis.

Rugby is probably the sport for which Samoa is best known, following it's emergence onto the World Cup rugby scene in 1991, when they beat Wales at the Cardiff Arms Park, and lost to Scotland at Murray field in the quarter finals. Samoan rugby players have been playing for New Zealand teams and the All Blacks for some time, but the 1991 Rugby World Cup was the first time the nation emerged as a force to be reckoned with in it's own right.

Kirikiti (Cricket)
Samoan cricket bears only a passing resemblance to that played elsewhere. The similarity consists of the fact that there is a bat, with three sides which makes controlling the direction very hard, and ball. There are no limits in the number of players in a team, which are of mixed sex. Kirikiti is played all year round usually between teams from different villages. If as you wander around the islands, you come across a game in progress, ask the villagers playing, and you may be able to take part.

TaualungaMyths and Legends
Because of the absence of a written script, Samoa had a very strong oral tradition with songs, poems and family histories being passed by word of mouth from generation to generation. Every member of a family would start to learn the family genealogy from a very early age since this generally related to the claims to land titles as well. Because everyone learned the same histories it was very difficult for one person to alter, or for errors to occur without them being detected. However, as time passed the earliest ancestors appear to have acquired mythical status. 

Siva is the Samoan word for dance, but it also refers to a particular type of dance in which the performer usually stands and enacts an everyday activity. For the siva the performer usually wears a tuiga, a headdress made of feathers and human hair.

The Taualunga takes a similar form to the siva. It is performed by a female dancer, but instead of performing alone there will be various points at which a group of men will participate. In addition a sei, headdress of flowers, will be worn.

The Sasa is a group dance for men and women performed both sitting and standing. Hand movements are used to depict activities taken from every day life.

umu foodAn umu is the traditional method used by Samoan's for cooking food. A fire is built and stones placed on it. When the fire is down to the embers green bananas, breadfruit, taro, fish, and lu'au are placed on the stones. When everything to be cooked has been placed on the umu, it is covered with banana fronds and left to cook.

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