Fa’a Samoa has three key elements to it – the matai (chiefs), aiga, the extended family and the church.
Matai are the heads of the extended family unit and their role is very complex covering family, civic and political duties in the village.
There are 362 nu’u or villages found throughout the islands with a total of 18,000 matai.
The aiga or extended family is made up of parents, brothers and sisters, children, grandparents, cousins, nephews and nieces living together within the village. When family members marry partners in other villages, the in-laws too become part of the extended family unit and in times of happiness or sadness all come together to pitch in. It is ones duty as a Samoan to be of service to our aiga for life.
Christianity has been one of the few western influences that has been accepted into Fa’a Samoa.
John Williams from the London Missionary Society arrived in Savaii in 1830 with eight Tahitian and Rarotongan teachers to spread the word. Today the motto on Samoa’s crest reads, Fa’avae I Le Atua Samoa – Samoa is founded on God, and found in every village are churches of various denominations. Samoans are devote Christians and Sunday is a day of worship and spending time with family and no physical work is done.
Fa’a Samoa culture has a strong focus on welcoming visitors, however it is important that visitors follow protocol when entering villages and family homes as well as using and accessing village resources.
- Avoid walking through villages during the evening prayer curfew (usually between 6pm and 7pm). This usually lasts for 10 to 20 minutes and is often marked at the beginning and end by a bell or the blowing of a conch shell.
- Respect Sunday. While many visitor attractions are open on Sunday, you are expected to behave quietly and to travel slowly through villages.
- Skimpy clothing is not recommended in villages, and will cause offence.
- Women are recommended to wear a lavalava (sarong) rather than shorts or pants, especially if they attend church.
- Almost all shops are shut on Sunday, so buy what you need the day before.
- No nude or topless (for women) swimming or sunbathing.
- Shoes should be removed before entering a fale.
- Never stand within a fale when elders are seated.
- When sitting in a fale, avoid pointing your feet at others. Either tuck them away, cross them (yoga style) or cover them with a lavalava or mat.
- Always ask permission from your host before taking photos in a village.
- Don’t offer children money, even if they ask.
- If in any doubt, ask your host or a village member.