Understanding Samoan cultural etiquette is of great value to the traveller or visiting business person and it helps support and maintain Samoa’s communal way of life.
Fa’a Samoa has a strong focus on welcoming visitors, and, if you’re travelling outside the resort areas, you may well be invited to visit a family home where you’ll find Samoans are friendly and hospitable hosts. However, be mindful of local protocol when you enter villages and use village resources, including the beaches and waterfalls or swimming holes.
- Avoid walking through villages during the evening prayer curfew (usually between 6–7pm). Sa (sacred) 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 (wait for the third bell before continuing on your way).
- Samoans observe Sunday as a day of rest. While many visitor attractions are open, you are expected to behave quietly and to travel slowly through the villages. If you are staying at family-run accommodation, you may find that your hosts will not provide a cooked breakfast on a Sunday.
- Skimpy clothing is not recommended in villages. If you are staying in a village, it may even result in a fine for your hosts.
- Nude and topless (for women) swimming or sunbathing is prohibited and when leaving the beach to venture into the villages, guests are asked to wear a lavalava (sarong) pants or shorts and t-shirt.
- If attending church on Sunday, women are asked to wear a dress or blouse and skirt and men trousers and shirt.
- Shoes should be removed before entering a fale.
- When elders are seated in a fale, you should not stand.
- 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.
- If in doubt about protocol, ask your host or a village member for advice.
Access and Entry Fees
Most land and areas within a lagoon (or bay) is the property of a village, family or individual. You should always ask permission at the nearest village, as you may have to pay a small entry fee. Even if it looks like no one is around, it pays to wait, as someone will usually be along shortly, and it’s always best to ask first rather than apologise later.