Samoa is a group of islands; Western Samoa and American Samoa. These islands are located in the South Pacific Ocean about half way between Hawaii and New Zealand, together they are slightly smaller than Rhode Island. Don’t let the small size fool you, these islands are full of rich life and culture. The pre-Western history of Eastern Samoa (now American Samoa) is bound with the history of Western Samoa (now independent Samoa).
The Manu’a Islands of American Samoa has one of the oldest histories of Polynesia, accompanying the Tui Manua title, connected with the histories of the archipelagos of Fiji, Tonga, the Cook Islands, Tokelau, Tahiti, and elsewhere in the Pacific, where Manu’a once had influence.
During the Tongan occupation of Samoa, Manu’a was the only island group that remained independent because of the familial relationship between the Tui Manu’a and the Tui Tonga, who was decended from a former Tui Manu’a. The islands of Tutuila and Aunu’u were politically connected to ‘Upolu Island in what is now independent Samoa.
It can be said that all the Samoa Islands are politically connected today through the faamatai chiefly system and through family connections that are as strong as ever. This system of the faamatai and the customs of faasamoa originated with two of the most famous early chiefs of Samoa, who were both women and related, Nafanua and Salamasina. “Samoa. ” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 14 May 2008 The rich history has laid the foundation for a rich culture. Samoa has elaborate ceremonies that incorporate music and dancing.
Of the two singing is the most popular, but dance is extremely important as well. One of the main dances is the Sasa which is a sitting dance that is performed with only arm movements. Another is Fa’ataupati which is a dance with only men. The men slap their limbs and torso, stomp their feet and sing in rhythm. It is very beautiful to watch and is also mesmerizing. Ava ceremonies mark special occasions, such as weddings, deaths, or visitors from another village. This ceremony is only done when there is an official gathering of the Chiefs, and will always be practiced in the traditional way.
It is an extremely elaborate ceremony that has many parts to it. I will briefly explain the detailed ceremony only in context to the beginning of a marriage of two Chief’s children. In this culture, it is the woman’s side of the family that hosts the ceremony as well as the whole wedding itself. After the wedding is over, the new spouse lives with the husband’s family, or if they are from a different village, she will go to live with her husband in his village. The custom is a patrol-local style of home. Therefore, the female gives up everything from carrying her father’s name to even having to change religions.
Ava is a root that is used by the woman’s village, since it is their responsibility for the ceremony. To start the wedding preparations, the son’s father arrives at the daughters village and is greeted by the hosting village and seated facing the Chiefs. The taupou who is the high chief’s daughter or granddaughter. In this ceremony there is a proper place for everything. Including the people as well as the tanoa also known as the ava bowl, it is a four to six legged bowl with one leg wider than the others. This wider leg will always be placed in front of the taupou. The taupou begins to mix the ava.
Coconut fibers are placed in the bowl and will be used to squeeze the ava root into a drink. Specific people are placed around the tanoa to assist the taupou with the mixing, even though they don’t mix the drink, they are there to make sure that she is doing it correctly. Other people are also allowed to serve the drink to the chiefs and others are there to chant the order of who gets the next cup of ava. Once the ava ceremony is coming to an end the tufa’ava, (the one that chants the drinking order) will signal that the last cup of ava will be served. Once this has been done, everyone is dismissed (in a specific order).
The hosting villages begins the big feast for the visiting village. After the completion of the meal, the two fathers begin disguising the wedding plans. During the Ava ceremony I spoke of the Taupou. The Taupou is a Samoan princess. She is the high chiefs daughter or granddaughter, every village has a chief and therefore will have a taupou. As a right of passage, she will learn to preform the ceremonies in great detail. If she is performing a ceremony and performs any part of it incorrectly, it will cause great embarrassment to the chief as well as the village. This is a very stressful job.
Not only is there a right of passage for girls there is also a right of passage for the males as well. This is a form that we are all accompanied to seeing. The tattoo. The tattoo has a two major derivations from the Polynesian word ‘TA’ which means striking and the Tahitian word ‘TATAU’ which means to mark something. At the beginning of the paper I stated the “Manu’a Islands of American Samoa has one of the oldest histories of Polynesia, accompanying the Tui Manua title, connected with the histories of the archipelagos of Fiji, Tonga, the Cook Islands, Tokelau, Tahiti, and elsewhere in the Pacific, where Manu’a once had influence. Could tattoo be one of them? Tattoos began over 5000 years ago. In Samoa, the tradition of applying tattoo, by hand, has long been defined by rank and title, with chiefs and their assistants, descending from notable families in the proper birth order. The tattooing ceremonies for young chiefs, typically conducted at the onset of puberty, were elaborate affairs and were a key part of their ascendance to a leadership role. Not all tattoos give family status, the more elaborate tattoos that are seen from the thigh to the ribs are the ones that are designed to show status.
The meanings behind each pattern of tattoo has its own meaning, and not everyone has the same tattoo. The tattooer sits down and makes a tattoo specifically to you. He may incorporate things that are related to you family as well as thing that you like and the kind of person you are. Traditionally these designs are never copied, but in the modern world, this does happen. A good tattooer will never copy a tattoo, it has to do with pride, showing his ability to come up with new designs as well as creditability. Not only is this a right of passage but it was explained to me as a kind of Samoan “coat of arms.
Which has a literal meaning as well. Not only was this a decorative or “beauty” ritual, this was also to guard their heath and spiritual well being. Boys are allowed tattoo from the beginning of their teenager years but no later than thirty. It is recommended not to have it done in the traditional way because it is a sign of manhood and at thirty, you are a man. I spoke of boys getting tattoos but girls are allowed to receive tattoos as well. Usually women are tattooed on the hand, fingers, wrists, ankles and sometimes their tongue. The females have the same age group as the males do.
They too are not allowed to get a tattoo until they are of teenage years. Most of the work the people do in their plantations or farms, are for food, planting crops to replace the ones being used. It is mostly done in the morning hours between 6:00 and 12:00 noon. When it’s done, most of the day is spend in groups of all ages in their respective interests. Not to say that this is the only thing that they do, work on the farm for six hours and then go home. The economy of Samoa has traditionally been dependent on development aid, family remittances from overseas, agriculture, and fishing.
Agriculture employs two-thirds of the labor force and furnishes 90% of exports, featuring coconut cream, coconut oil, and copra (dried coconut meat). There is also an automobile electrical harness factory that employs thousands of people, as well as the Sunkist Tuna packaging plant. There are not specific jobs that men and women can or cant do. They do not discriminate when it comes to bringing in money to the home. Everyone can do anyones job. The traditional language of Samoa is of course Samoan, but both places speak English.
In Western Samoa they speak English with a “British” sounding accent but they also practice the language and the traditional culture more than American Samoans do, they also tend to speak Samoan as their first language. Their language consists of fifteen letters. A, e, f, g, h, i, k l, m, n, o, p, r, s, t, u and v. There are three other letters that are borrowed such as h, k, and r. When hearing the language spoken its very similar to Hawaiian. Flowing words that seem to roll off the tongue, especially for the ones who know how to speak it properly. As for myself, not so much. I did learn how to say my name and how to say hello.
Even-though the first language isn’t English, this culture is just like the American culture regarding home life. There are male and female positions in the home. As my friend Toalo put it, “They [men) think that they rule the house, but we all know that isn’t the case,” Just like in my home “if Momma ain’t happy ain’t nobody happy”. Even though specific chores are not identified that men and women cant do in the home, then men seem to do all the BBQ cooking, and all the other cooking in the house is usually done by the women. With cleaning the house and child rearing that is a shared job. Samoan culture, it is common to have a large family.
It seems that the parents grow up with large families, and pass that down with their children. This society looks at it like this “the larger family that you have the better chances that one or all of them will hep take care of you when you are old, as Desmond put it. ” Also family size comes back to the ceremonies that they have. There are many ceremonies such as a funeral that requires family members to pitch in money to help pay, the more family members, the less of a burden is on you. With these large families, there has to be food, a stereotype that some Samoans receive is that they are large people.
This has to do with the diet, and their gene pool. Not all Samoans are large. I happen to know three that are average size. Being told that their diet consists of coconut milk, starches, rice, and pork, we can see that any culture that eats this in abundance can be quite large. I have agree though, it sure is good! Traditional Samoan foods included taro root, yams, bananas, coconuts, breadfruit, fish, turtle, and chicken. Even though pigs are raised, pork is reserved for ceremonial occasions. Samoan meals are always accompanied by a salted coconut cream condiment called pe’epe’e.
It is poured over boiled taro root and heated before serving. For many rural Samoans, this is a staple food and is served at the two daily meals. Another is Palusami – baked parcels of taro leaves enclosing a coconut cream, onion and meat filling is a famous Samoan dish which has become common in several other Pacific Islands. I’m told that the taste is unique, particularly if cooked in a traditional earth oven. Not only is there wonderful sounding food, there happens to be a Samoan beer named Vailima. At one time Western Samoa was occupied by Germany for fourteen years. This may be where this beer originated from.
Other than beer there is Kava. Kava is an age-old herbal drink made from the kava root, that was the beverage of choice for the royal families of the South Pacific. Believed to originate from Melanesia, kava grows abundantly in the sun-drenched islands of Polynesia. Another age old tradition of Samoa is religion. The two main religions in Samoa are Mormon and Catholicism. There are others such as Protestant and other Christianity. Religion is one of the most important aspects of Samoan culture, to the extent that it is incorporated in Samoa’s motto: “Samoa is founded on God. Like most of the other Pacific Islands, it was the churches seeking to introduce Western philosophies and standards of morality for the benefit of indigenous peoples.
Before the arrival of the missionaries Samoa had a complex religion, that can be compared with some Native American religions. They differentiated between non-human and human gods, and which also incorporated elements of ancestor worship. The Samoan religion had a war goddess, Nafanua who prophesied that there would come a new religion which would end the rule of the old gods made the Samoans easy pickings for the first missionaries that arrived. Samoan Sensation. 008 Samoan Sensation Online 14 May 2008. Not only was there a goddess, there were beautiful stories and superstitions. My personal favorite that was told to my by Desmond and Toalo is the story of Kelesa and the story of The turtle and shark. “Kelesa gets jealous of girls that have longer hair that she thinks is longer than hers. So if girls walk around with their hair down at night time, they get slapped in the face. Once that happens they believed that they will have a deformity in their mouth, or a mark that wont go away. ” Another is called Turtle and Shark, “Which is a blind mother and daughter from the village of Iliili.
The family treated them so badly that they decided to give up their life so they moved to the village of Vaitogi. There they were treated well. The mother and daughter were so grateful to feel loved by the villagers that they sacrificed their life by jumping into the ocean off these cliffs by the village, when they did that their bodies changed, the old woman was turned into a turtle and the daughter became a shark. that village that they are from will once a year go to the beach where they jumped and sing a specific song named laumai, this is the only village that can sing this song.
Nobody else is allowed. When they go to the cliffs and sing, the shark and the turtle come towards the shore, but they also tell you not to point at them if you do they will go away thinking that you are going to shoot them. Then they wont come back until the next year when that song is sung again. ” To conclude you can see the culture of Samoa is rich in life, tradition and legend. They are a loving family oriented people who I happen to have the privilege to be friends with. This is a society that I would feel at home with one who loves each-other and has tradition that they are not letting go of.