The undeniable natural beauty of this island nation is not the only thing people return home raving about to their friends and families. While Samoa is all your Pacific paradise dreams come true, it’s the kind and generous spirit of the locals that seem to capture the heart of every visiting tourist.
Samoans are warm, welcoming, and proud of their colourful traditions that date back more than 3,000 years. Samoan culture is of Polynesian heritage and is proudly based on fa’a Samoa which translates as ‘The Samoan Way’.
Many Samoans live in tight-knit villages where family and take care of others and the idea of ‘tribe’ is everything. As a tourist entering this world, you’ll instantly become another person to which people will want to extend this care and generosity.
Fa’a Samoa is holistic, meaning that it is understood as encompassing all facets of the Samoan way of life. For many, adhering to fa’a Samoa is closely associated with honouring one’s family. Stories of genealogies and legends are often passed down and elaborated through the generations.
Samoan people will smile and wave at you as you pass, they will offer help when they see someone in need, and they will freely share their food with you, even if they don’t have much – so don’t be surprised if you’re invited into their home.
Unlike some other islands where the gap between tourists and locals can be huge, visitors to Samoa are always invited into and included in the joys of daily life. If you stay in a family-owned fale, you’ll probably be treated like aiga (family), cooked for, chatted to, and taken care of as if you were a local or family member.
Samoan society is based on a collectivist system known as ‘fa’a Matai’. In this system, society is organised by extended families (aiga), with each family having its own ‘Matai’ (‘chief’ or ‘leader’) titles that are connected to certain districts, villages, and plots of family land.
Individuals in the aiga are expected to be generous with their possessions and prioritise the interests of the group or community over their own. For example, people tend to be communal and share their goods rather than prizing individual ownership.
Matai are responsible for administrative duties and maintaining the traditions and customs of the village. Matai are also seen as spiritual caretakers of all those who fall under their authority. The status of Matai is highly respected among the community.
There tends to be a distinction between the urban and village areas in Samoa. Most Samoans have lived in coastal villages and continue to do so, with about four-fifths of the population located in rural areas. In the village area, local law prevails, which can vary from village to village.
Conversely, Apia (the capital city) contains approximately one-fifth of Samoa’s population. Most of those who live in the cities like Apia often move to earn money for their families and communities. For many, living in the city is temporary as they often intend to return to their village later. While village and city life differ in terms of work and lifestyle, there are general similarities across both settings. For example, many Samoan families wake up early and begin the day with a prayer, followed by preparation for their work or school day.
Fa’afafine and fa’afatama are widely regarded as third and fourth genders in Samoa, alongside male and female. When translated literally, they mean “in the manner of women” (fa’a fafine) and “in the manner of man” (fa’a fatama); these genders are fluid and move between the traditional world of men and women.
Fa’afafines and fa’afatamas often have specific roles in Samoan society, in an interesting contrast to transgenderism in Western society. This group has won favour with large parts of the Samoan community for their hard work, especially in leading charitable causes and taking on caring roles, such as looking after the elderly. Most villages have fa’afafine and fa’afatamas, with an estimated several thousand across Samoa’s islands.
Samoa's annual Miss Samoa Pageant is one of the biggest events on the national calendar. Each year, a young woman is crowned as Miss Samoa after competing in several categories including individual talent, best sarong, traditionally inspired wear, and the all-important interview.
The winner of the pageant, which is dedicated to supporting opportunities for young Samoan women, travels to the Miss South Pacific Pageant. The winner also travels around Samoa visiting worthy organisations and highlighting important causes.
All of Samoa gets behind the pageant, particularly each contestant’s village which will put up decorations in honour of their local pageant representative.