Culture and identity
Samoa is a traditional society with a distinctive Polynesian cultural heritage. In the villages, land is owned by extended family units called aiga, which are each headed by a matai (chief). The matai of each village meet regularly in the fale fono (meeting house) to discuss and regulate the social, religious and political life. The matai is the oral historian, passing on folklore and family genealogies. Honour and social standing is shared by all members of the aiga. Within the family, giving and receiving tautua (service), fa‘aaloalo (respect) and alofa (love) are crucial in Samoan social relations.
Dancing, singing and music play a big part in Samoan culture. The fiafia was originally a village play or musical presentation performed by a number of villagers. Traditional tattoos still play an important part in today’s Samoa. A traditional male tattoo extends from waist to knee with geometric designs denoting rank and status. Women’s tattoos are not as extensive. Tattoo, from the word tatau, is one of the Polynesian words that has been adopted into English.
The health of Samoans has improved greatly in the past 30 years due to access to improved health services. Most have access to clean water (88%) and all have access to safe sanitation. The introduction of processed foods into the traditional diet has increased the rate of non-communicable diseases, such as heart disease and high blood pressure, which are leading concerns for the health system. Samoans have a life expectancy of 72 years (female: 75 years, male: 69 years). The under-five mortality rate is 20 in 1,000.
Religion and beliefs
Samoa is largely a Christian country. The Sabbath is strongly observed, and each morning and evening – the recognised prayer time – Sa, is indicated by the ringing of a bell or the sounding of a conch shell. The early Christian missionaries were from the London Missionary Society but many other denominations are now represented.
Food and shelter
A Samoan tradition is for the family to have a Sunday meal prepared in an umu (over-ground oven). This meal is called the To’ona’i and is eaten at the end of church service. Food consists of root vegetables (taro and ta'amu), coconut products and fruits (mango, pawpaw, pineapple, bananas, breadfruit). Today people also eat imported rice, bread and tinned and processed food. Pork, chicken and seafood remain the main meats.
Samoan villages are dominated by the fale fono (meeting house), which has a large high-domed roof, supported by evenly spaced carved posts, with a floor of flat river stones to moderate the temperature. Houses represent wealth and status, with the maota (high chief's house) the largest and most elevated. The tunoa, kitchen, is separated from the house, and the fa'atoaga (garden) is usually located nearby. People traditionally sleep or sit on mats woven from coconut or pandanus leaves. Finely woven mats are also an important indicator of wealth, and are given at weddings, funerals and other public events.