Fa'a Samoa – Samoan Culture

Samoa is a traditional society governed by Fa’a Samoa (the Samoan Way) - where family is all important, respect of elders is strictly adhered to, and being of service to your family is your duty.

The Samoan culture and way of life is over 3000 years old and you will no doubt be introduced to this complex cultural code during your visit to Samoa.

Fa'a Samoa is a guideline for every Samoan on how to lead their lives by celebrating and embracing traditional values, their culture and environment. It is an integral part of Samoan life, evident in the time-honoured traditions, warm hospitality, as well as the cultural practices and customs of the Samoan people.

Fa’a Samoa has three key structural elements to it – the matai (chiefs), aiga (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 become part of the extended family unit and in times of happiness or sadness all come together to pitch in. It is the duty of 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 Savai'i 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.

Samoan Cultural Practices and Art

'Ava Ceremony
Traditionally, 'ava (sometimes known as kava) is a drink made from the ground root of the pepper plant and is often reserved for visiting royalty and dignitaries. Every government and matai meeting starts with an 'ava ceremony.

Tatau
A traditional art form that represents the spiritual and cultural heritage of Samoa is the Tatau, or tattoo. It is often seen as a rite of passage for men where the intricate patterns of the pe'a covers the body from the waist to the knees. It is a mark of personal and spiritual maturity and a commitment to Fa'a Samoa.

Master tattooists, or tufuga ta tatau, use traditional handmade tools made from bone, tusk, shark teeth, shell and wood.

The process can take two weeks and those who are being tattooed must be accompanied by supporters. An unfinished tatau is thought to bring shame to the participant's family.

Samoan tattoos aren't just for men, although you are less likely to see traditional tatau on Samoan women as the malu cover only the thighs, which you are unlikely to see due to Samoan protocol.

Tapa (Siapo)
Some of the loveliest and most distinctive Samoan souvenirs are printed cloth made from the inner bark of the paper mulberry tree. The siapo is used traditionally as clothing, or as a form of currency, and is an important cultural element in traditional ceremonies such as weddings and funerals.

Song and Dance
Music is a vital part of Samoan culture. From traditional ceremonies to the buses blaring out wicked beats, Samoans are enthusastic singers and music makers. Dance is also an integral part of Samoan culture.

Weaving
The fine mat, called ie toga, can take years to make, and is woven from very fine fibres of the pandanus plant. Everyday practical items such as baskets and floor mats are woven from palm fronds.

For more insight into Samoan culture, visit the Samoan Cultural Village in Apia.