Samoa facts and information about the country.
- 1 HISTORY
- 2 GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE
- 3 CULTURE AND LIFESTYLE
- 4 CUISINE
- 5 Public/Legal Holidays
- 6 Religious Holidays
- 7 Regional Holidays
- 8 Rites of Passage
- 9 Further Reading
The awe-inspiring Tia Seu Ancient Mound in Savai’i, a steppyramid, is believed to be the largest prehistoric monument (at 39 feet high) made by humans in all of Polynesia. The history of Samoa is believed to have begun more than 4,000 years ago with a migration of people from the west (the East Indies, the Malay Peninsula or the Philippines) who then settled the rest of Polynesia farther to the east. The oldest known site of human occupation in Samoa is Mulifanua on Upolu, dating back to about 1000 B.C.E.Samoa attracted a gradual migration from Southeast Asia (the East Indies, the Malay Peninsula, or the Philippines). Although many early structures have been lost over the centuries, historical remains can still be found throughout the islands of Samoa.
Yet another theory claims they came from the Malay Peninsula. But the indigenous Samoans think they originated from Samoa itself. They believe their land to be the cradle of
Polynesian culture, and its people, a race created by the deity Tagaloa while he was shaping the world.
The earliest contact between Samoans and Europeans in the mid-17th century took place in the islands that now comprise American Samoa. Ships frequently anchored here for a while before sailing away along the spice route to explore the seas in their search for the Great Southern Land, then called Terra Australis (which means “southern land” in Latin). These early encounters were often violent. On the islands now part of Independent Samoa, the European sailors, mostly whalers, pirates, and escaped convicts unleashed fatal diseases in addition to violence. The first recorded contact with Europeans came in 1722 when Jacob Rogeveen, in charge of the Dutch Three Ship Expedition, reported sighting the Samoan islands. The next European to visit the area was Louis-Antoine de Bougainville (1729–1811), the French navigator, in 1768, who named Samoa the Navigators Islands. In 1787 a French party—from the La Pérouse Expedition— went ashore on Tutuila to get water, only to be attacked by natives. When Captain de Langle, the commander of the
Because of separation by time and distance, the mythologies of Polynesia, Oceania, and Micronesia contain different, sometimes conflicting or contradictory legends about the same deity. Tagaloa is the Samoan ocean god and the supreme god of Tahiti, Taaroa.
In Polynesian mythology Tangaroa (Tagaloa) is the deity who created the world and was the son of Rangi and Papa. According to legend Tagaloa separated Rangi and Papa by force, whereupon Papa’s water-filled body burst and became the seas. Tagaroa is not only the ocean deity, but the creator of all sea creatures, including the mermaids, from whom human beings were born. His shadows are the whale and the blue shark. His breathing causes the tides.
In another story Tangaroa is the first of all beings, and created Atea and Atanua. In the stories of the Marquesas, a variation says that Atea was born from primeval chaos, Tanoa (also Tangaroa/Tagaloa). Tanoa made room for the dawn goddess Atanua to appear, and the son of Atanua and Atea was the first man, called Tu-Mea. Ta’aroa gestated inside the cosmic egg and developed himself in solitude, without father or mother. He cracked the egg, emerged, and stood on the broken pieces. Realizing that he was alone, he created the world from the pieces of the egg. In Polynesian myth Atea is the oldest god, who split and became Rangi and Papa. Tane is the god of trees and light, and the first son of Rangi and Papa.
Astrolabe, ordered his men to fire over the heads of the natives, the natives responded with a shower of stones that fell on the Frenchmen’s boats and all around them. When the confrontation ended, Captain de Langle, M. de Lemanon, a geologist, and ten of his men were dead.
By the time the British attempted to settle there, the Samoans had become hostile; consequently many violent skirmishes took place between the British and the Samoans, resulting in a large loss of life. When missionaries began arriving in the 1830s, however, few hostilities arose; on the contrary there were mass conversions to Christianity. This may well be ascribed to the fact that Samoan beliefs were rather similar to Christianity and that the Samoan deity Nafanua, the goddess of war, had informed the people that a new faith would come to the islands, one more powerful than their ancestral animistic faith.
In 1836 John Williams (1796–1839) and Charles Barff became the first two men to take up missionary posts in Samoa. Williams converted a large number of Samoans before being consumed by native cannibals. The demise of the Reverend Williams did not deter other missionaries, and their influence proved to be permanent.
By the late 19th century Britain, Germany, and the United States became engaged in a tug-of-war over Samoa. Motivated primarily by commercial considerations, not the possibility of some benefit to Samoans, ships of the three countries competed for space in the small harbor of Apia, the capital. However, all their plans went awry when a terrible cyclone hit Samoa and caused extensive damage, forcing the rivals to negotiate. The outcome was disastrous for Samoa. The foreigners carved up the country: Western Samoa went to the Germans, and Eastern Samoa to the United States, which annexed
Eastern Samoa in 1900. That region, although having achieved limited autonomy, remains under U.S. control to this day.
While under German control, the Western Samoans formed a resistance force called the Mau Movement, which was aimed at preserving the Samoan culture and obtaining independence. World War I diverted Germany’s attention from Samoa, giving the British an opportunity to reestablish their dominance in the islands. As part of the war effort Britain asked New Zealand to take charge of the radio station in Western Samoa. By means of a clever machination, New Zealand took complete control of Samoa and succeeded in pushing the Germans out. However, the Mau Movement followers and the majority of Western Samoans continued to clamor for independence. Finally in 1961 a proposal was put before the United Nations, and independence was granted in January 1962.
Unfortunately, Samoans faced other challenges: Labor disputes, increasing dependence on foreign aid, and yet another cyclonic attack added to their woes. The country changed its name to the Independent State of Samoa in 1995. It is still grappling with a major economic crisis from which it has yet to recover. A new tourism policy and financial laws designed to attract offshore capital have been put in place to decrease the pressure.
GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE
Independent Samoa comprises nine volcanic islands located halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand, 373 miles east of Fiji. The two major islands Upolu and Savai’i make up an area slightly smaller than Rhode Island and constitute most of the dry land. Upolu is cigar-shaped with the capital Apia situated on its northern coast. Savai’i (which is a few miles west of Upolu) is shaped like a squashed cigar. Some tiny uninhabited islands and a few lonely atolls make up the remainder of the country.
Samoa faces a major environmental threat from deforestation. Fortunately concerted efforts have recently been made to develop eco-friendly industries and conserve the beauty and biological diversity of the rain forests that abound in the area. These rain forests are a major source of food as well as medicinal compounds. The flora also includes montane scrub, pandanus scrub, littoral scrub, montane swamp forests, and summit scrub. The local fauna include flying fox, Polynesian rats, geckos, skinks (both lizard species), and the Pacific keel-scaled boa. The tallest mountain is on Savai’i (6,096 feet), and the second tallest is on Upolu (3,661 feet).
Samoa’s climate is tropical, with an average temperature of 73°–86°F. The islands receive about 79 inches of rain annually. Though hot and humid during the major part of the year, the region is cooled by the easterly trade winds blowing from April to October. The wet summer season occurs between November and April, while the dry winter season comes between May and October. Independent Samoa lies in the cyclone belt and is hit period-
ically by cyclones, especially between November and April. The soil, formed from eroded basalt and ash deposits, is of poor quality.
CULTURE AND LIFESTYLE
The people of Independent Samoa are steeped in culture and traditions that emphasize social hierarchies, courtesies, and customs. These govern their social, religious, and political lives. The country’s system of government is called faamatai. It relies on a network of extended families (or aigas). each of which is governed by a chief (matai). Wealth and food are distributed on the basis of need; honor and social standing are shared equally by all members of the aiga. The matai represents the family on the village council, delivers justice, and ensures that all customs are properly observed. The matai is also responsible for remembering the ancient folklore, family genealogies, and the stories of the old gods and passing them onto posterity.
Thousands of years of Samoan culture are still passed down through poems, genealogies, and mythologies. Dancing and singing also play a very important part in Samoan culture. The fiafia is a vil-
The Art of Tattooing
According to one legend, the art of tattooing was brought to Samoa by two sisters Tilafaiga and Taema. While visiting the daughter of King Tuimanua of Fiji, the sisters were given a tattooing instrument as a gift from the royal family. While they were swimming home, they held onto the precious gift and sang the chant the Fijians had taught them: “Women are tattooed, and men are not.”
But the sisters were tired after their long swim and stopped at Savai’i, where they were taken into the high chief’s guesthouse and treated like royalty until they had recovered from their exhaustion. Before continuing their swim home to Manua, they gave the tattooing instruments to the chiefs and the people of Savai’i. But when they taught the chant to the people of Savai’i they reversed the chant, and its meaning, and sang the first part last, so the Savai’ians learned the chant backward: “Men are tattooed, and women are not.”
The people of Savai’i began to tattoo the young men in accordance with the erroneous chant the sisters had taught them, and tattooing became a mark of distinction among the young men of Samoa, except on Manua, where the king banned the practice. In Samoa tattooing is called pea.
Unlike the rest of Polynesia, Samoa retained traditional tattooing, and the practice is an integral part of initiation into Samoan culture primarily for men, but also for women. Some motifs used in Samoan tat-
toos are for women while others are used only on men’s bodies.
Only Samoans born into a family with ancestors who belonged to a tattoo guild are allowed to become tattoo artists. It is a privilege that can only be inherited, and apprentice tattooists must work under the supervision of an experienced artist before they can work independently. Wives of tattoo artists are called meanai (which means “artist’s helper”) and are also honored because they wipe the blood off the person being tattooed. While someone is undergoing the process, relatives and friends of the family come from far and near and bring food, robes, and tapacloths to help pay the artist and his wife for their labor.
The process of pea is undergone when children reach adolescence. It is highly ritualized with songs to be sung and taboos for those who undergo the ordeal. There are numerous tools used to make the tattoos including several combs for making lines of different widths, a pot that holds the combs, and a mallet made from the central rib of a palm leaf that is used to strike the combs. There are five stages in the tattooing process, which can take up to several months to finish because of the pain and inflammation of the skin. Young women sometimes hold down a man being tattooed to keep him from moving around too much and damaging the tattoo. They also sing a song to distract him and keep his mind from focusing on the pain. It is considered disgraceful for a man to complain about the pain involved.
lage play or musical presentation performed by a number of villagers. Both the siva (a dance performed by women acting out impromptu stories with their hands) and the sa sa (a dance performed to the beating of a wooden mallet) are performed.
Tattooing is another significant rite in Independent Samoa. When they are about 12 or 13 years of age, Samoan males visit the tattooist (tufuga) and get tattooed from their waists to their knees. The tattoos represent the strength of a man’s heart and his spirituality.
Samoan, a language related to Tongan and other Polynesian languages, is the language of Samoa. English is also spoken by many people. Most Samoans are devout Christians, and the Sunday church service is the most important event of the week.
Because of its long relationship with the United States, American Samoa continues to observe many U.S. holidays including Martin Luther King’s Birthday (January 17), Presidents’ Day (February), St. Patrick’s Day (March 17), Mother’s Day (second Sunday of May), Memorial Day (last weekend in May), Father’s Day, Independence Day (July 4), Labor Day (first weekend of September), Halloween (October 31), and Thanksgiving (fourth Thursday of November). Some of these observances are public holidays in Samoa.
In Samoa the basic food is derived mainly from tropical crops, root vegetables, coconut products, fresh fruit, pork, chicken and, above all, seafood. The traditional Polynesian meal involves cooking in a raised earthen oven (umu). The traditional Sunday meal is nearly always cooked in the umu.
At ceremonial gatherings and village meetings the juice of the ava plant is consumed in a ritual called the ava ceremony. The drink serves as a mild tranquilizer, an analgesic, an antibacterial and antifungal agent, a painkiller, and a diuretic; it is high in fiber and low in calories.
NEW YEAR’S EVE/DAY
Observed by:General Public Observed on:December 31–January 1 As in many other countries around the globe, New Year’s Day in Samoa is celebrated enthusiastically by people of all communities. Festivities start on the last day of the departing year (New Year’s Eve). This occasion is celebrated with parties, get-togethers, and banquets. Everyone usually spends the next day with their loved ones in a lingering spirit of festivity. They look forward with great hopes to a pleasant year.
NATIONAL WASTE AWARENESS DAY
Observed by:General Public Observed on:February 4 This is a holiday of fairly recent origin that is celebrated under the aegis of the United Nations. Its underlying purpose is to create awareness in the minds of the public about the significant amount of waste that is being created around them in the course of their dayto-day activities. Reducing future waste and recycling existing waste (if feasible) is extremely important here. These themes are emphasized in speeches and talks organized by the government and environmental organizations.
Related public holidays and special observances organized to emphasize the ongoing degradation of the environment, and its consequences, are Chemical Awareness Day (March), Biological Diversity Day (May), Climate Change Day (July), Ozone Day (September), and Arbor Day (November), the culmination of Environment Week.
Observed by:General Public Observed on:April 17 Flag Day in American Samoa is one of the year’s biggest island events. The Independent State of Samoa now commemorates more than a century under the U.S. flag with Samoan dances and singing, colorful parades, and the famous Fautasi Long Boat Race festivities.
Observed by:General Public Observed on:April 25 ANZAC is an acronym for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The name was created in 1914 (during World War I) to represent the grouping of the Australian Imperial Force and New Zealand Expeditionary Force stationed in Egypt. On April 25, 1915, the ANZACs began their combat at Gallipoli, located off the Aegean Sea in Turkey, where hundreds of ANZAC soldiers were killed or mortally wounded.
Because of their long association with New Zealand, Samoans observe ANZAC Day as a legal holiday.
The highlights of this day in Samoa are homage to and remembrances of all those who laid down their lives at Gallipoli as well as in other major battles.
MOTHERS OF SAMOA DAY
Observed by:General Public Observed on:First Monday in May The origin of Mother’s Day can be traced back to the spring celebrations of ancient Greece in honor of Rhea, the Mother of the Gods. During the 17th century people in England celebrated a day called Mothering Sunday on the fourth Sunday of Lent (the 40-day period leading up to Easter) to honor all the mothers of England.
In Samoa Mother’s Day is celebrated to honor all mothers, young and old, for their invaluable gifts of life and love. The governor of Samoa delivers a special address that pays tribute to motherhood. There are special religious services, and mothers everywhere on the islands are showered with flowers, candies, hugs, kisses, and greeting cards galore.
Observed by:General Public Observed on: June 1–3 Though Samoa actually became independent from the rule of New Zealand on January 1, 1962, the people decided to postpone the main celebration of their freedom until a later date because New Year’s Day was already a public holiday. The result was three days of widespread celebration with singing, dancing, and feasting. There are also canoe races and many other competitions.
Observed by:General Public Observed on: Second Monday in October The Children’s Festival, or White Monday, formerly called Lotu a Tamaiti, is celebrated the day after White Sunday, which is a very special day for all Samoan children and young people. The children dress all in white and wear crowns of white frangipanis in their hair. While their parents wait inside the church for them, the children line up and walk to church as they sing hymns. Instead of listening to a sermon, the assembled adults listen as the children recite verses from the Bible and perform skits based on biblical stories. (Visitors are welcome as long as the proper attire is worn.) After the church service families return home to a feast of roast pig, coconut, taro, bananas, and cakes. On this one day the parents do not sit down to eat first, and children are allowed to eat as much as they like.
Observed by:General Public Observed on: Second Friday in November For more than a decade Samoans have observed Environment Week during the last week of October and the first week of November. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE) organizes public activities to focus attention on the environment, to improve community awareness, and to foster public participation in natural resource management and sustainable development.
Environment Week has a different theme each year that reflects global environmental issues such as the sustainable management of natural resources, climate change issues, biodiversity, and projects managed and implemented by MNRE. The week culminates by celebrating Arbor Day, a world event that focuses attention on the importance of reforestation at the global, national, and community levels. Because of Samoa’s rapid loss of its rain forest, Arbor Day is a public holiday and schools, government offices, and some businesses are closed.
Observed by:Christians Observed on:Last Sunday before Easter Palm Sunday is the sixth Sunday of Lent and the first day of Holy Week, commemorating the last week of Jesus’ mortal life. Jesus was the prophet of Christianity, and Christians believe him to be the second person of the Holy Trinity (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). The day is as much about the beginning of Jesus’ journey to the Cross as it is about his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. His arrival in Jerusalem was indeed the way to the Cross.
After two of his disciples had fetched a donkey for him to ride, they placed their clothes on it to make a comfortable seat. The disciples then cut branches and covered the path, and Jesus rode into Jerusalem, fulfilling the words of the Old Testament prophet Zechariah. People welcomed him by waving palm and olive branches, and strewing garments and branches on the road. There were different perceptions at work: Jesus rode in on a donkey, the humble entry of a peaceful nature by a spiritual king; the people of Jerusalem welcomed him with palm and olive branches and the laying of garments in his path because they wanted a worldly king to defeat the Romans. See also Volume III: CHRISTIANITY; EASTER;
HOLYWEEK; LENT; PALMSUNDAY
Observed by:Christians Observed on:Thursday before Easter The rituals observed on Maundy Thursday are based on a sequence of events supposed to have occurred during Jesus’ last meal with his Apostles. First Jesus washed their feet; then he announced that he had been betrayed by one of them. The traitor Judas left the table. Finally Jesus instituted the Eucharist—a ritual of consuming bread and wine as symbols of his body and blood, also referred to as Communion in Christian churches. In the Roman Catholic Church Maundy Thursday celebrates the institution of the Eucharist, the oldest of the observances peculiar to Holy Week, and gives priests an opportunity to prepare for the many rituals associated with Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter.
See also Volume III: CHRISTIANITY; EASTER;
GOOD FRIDAY; HOLY SATURDAY; HOLY WEEK; LENT; MAUNDYTHURSDAY; PALM SUNDAY; SPRING FESTIVALS
Observed by:Christians Observed on:Friday before Easter Good Friday, alternatively known as Mourning Friday, Sorrowful Friday, or Holy Friday, is a somber day for Roman Catholics and other Christians all over the world and is observed on the Friday before Easter. It commemorates the Crucifixion of Jesus more than 2,000 years ago. Some Samoans observe a fast only on Ash Wednesday (first day of Lent) for 40 days up to Good Friday and a partial fast from then until Easter. Some fast only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Public gatherings where special prayers, readings from the Gospels and Psalms, and singing hymns are features of Good Friday in Samoa. By its nature, this is a somber day for Samoan Christians.
See also Volume III: CHRISTIANITY; EASTER;
GOODFRIDAY; HOLYWEEK; LENT
Observed by:Christians Observed on: Saturday before Easter Holy Saturday is the day Jesus lay in the tomb and the day before he rose from the dead on Easter Sunday. This was the Jewish Sabbath (the Jewish day of rest is
Saturday). It is also regarded as the second Sabbath after Creation. The final day of Holy Week, which begins with Palm Sunday and includes Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, it marks the threshold between death and resurrection, and is a day of silence and contemplation for devout Catholics.
See also Volume III: CHRIS-
TIANITY; EASTER; HOLY SATURDAY; HOLYWEEK; LENT
Observed by:Christians Observed on:First Sunday after Lent Easter is celebrated to mark Jesus’ Resurrection. For this reason, it is sometimes known as Resurrection Day. This day is of utmost importance because the fundamental teaching of Christianity is that Jesus, through his death, freed all his believers from the penalty of sin. It falls on the first Sunday after Lent and is celebrated by Christians the world over. On Easter entire families gather to celebrate. They often buy new clothes for this special day and go to church to offer prayers.
In Samoa Christians often buy new clothes for this special day and go to early church services to pray. Easter eggs have become associated with the festival because they are symbols of rebirth and regeneration, like the name Easter itself, taken from the ancient pagan spring festivals. The gaiety and festivities of Easter spill over to Easter Monday, which is mainly devoted to sports and outdoor activities.
See also Volume III: CHRISTIANITY; EASTER;
HOLYWEEK; LENT; SPRINGFESTIVALS
Observed by:Christians Observed on:Fifty days after Easter This is a religious event that commemorates the visitation of the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost) to about 120 of the first Christians, including Jesus’ disciples as well as other followers, 50 days after his crucifixion and resurrection. Pentecost is derived from the Greek word pentekoste, which means “fiftieth” and originally referred to the Jewish festival of Shavuot, observed on the 50th day after Passover (Pesach). Modern scholars believe that many of the traditions and celebrations were borrowed from pagan celebrations of spring. This holiday is spread over two days, alternatively known as Whitsunday and Whitmonday. On Whitsunday everyone puts on their best white suits and dresses and attends church services. Most businesses and government offices remain closed.
In Samoa this holiday honors children, and the entire holiday weekend is usually spent in leisure activities. See also Volume III: CHRIS-
TIANITY; EASTER; HOLY WEEK; PENTECOST; SPRINGFESTIVALS
Observed by:Christians Observed on:December 24–25 Christmas is a day of great joy for Christians all over the world. It celebrates the birth of Jesus, whom Christians believe to have been the Son of God. On Christmas Day Samoans attend church services early in the morning. Everyone dresses in new clothes and exchanges gifts and greetings. The holiday is also celebrated with family get-togethers and special dinners prepared for the occasion.
See alsoVolume III: CHRISTIANITY; CHRISTMAS
Observed by:Christians Observed on:December 26 Since Samoa was under the influence of New Zealand (a part of the British Empire) for a considerable period, some British customs and practices were incorporated into the local traditions. The British celebrate Boxing Day the day after Christmas. The name Boxing Day may be derived from the practice of opening church alms boxes used for collecting money for charitable purposes on this day. The origins of this holiday are also attributed to a former British tradition of giving cash or durable goods to servants for Christmas. In Britain gifts among equals were exchanged on or before Christmas Day, but the less fortunate were given gifts the day after. Samoans generally prefer to take part in outdoor activities and sports to enjoy this day. This holiday is also known as Christmas Bank Holiday. See also Volume III: BOXINGDAY; CHRISTIAN-
RISING OF THE PALOLO
Observed in:Savai’i Island Observed by:General Public Observed on:October–November Palolo are blue-green worms that resemble vermicelli, a thin type of pasta. They emerge from the coral reefs surrounding the Samoan islands to mate during the months of October and November sometime after midnight on the seventh day after a full Moon. This happens once in October and again in November. People from nearby areas flock to the reefs to witness this unique natural phenomenon. They also gather the palolo worm’s egg and sperm packets, which are considered delicacies on Samoa.
Rites of Passage
On Samoa, the marriage customs of the nobility are quite different from those practiced by ordinary people. In either case, however, a marriage contract is not formalized until the boy and girl have reached puberty. For the nobility courtship rituals start with the selection of a number of girls from each village to live together in the high chief’s guesthouse as members of a group of women attendants known as the aualuma. The aualuma personally assist the village virgin (taupou), who is the daughter of the highest-ranking family, in receiving guests from the village. It is customary for elderly women of the village chief’s house to guard and chaperone these young women of rank. This practice is intended to preserve the maidens’ chastity.
Most of the guests in the high chief’s guesthouse are young men who try to gain the favor of the taupou’s attendants. These guests bring food and gifts with them. After the evening prayers are over, the taupou and her attendants dine together with their guests, after which they spend the rest of the night dancing and singing popular love songs. It is expected that they will exhibit their best of manners at such times.
A young woman of high rank is hardly ever consulted about her future husband. She considers it a great honor to marry the man who has been chosen for her by the village council. Any instance of marriage among relatives or between a commoner and a member of the nobility is frowned on. In this way the purity of the lineage is kept intact.
The taupou is seldom formally courted by her chieftain-fiancé. However, he gives her presents of food and other goods over a period of time. During a final visit the suitor, together with other chiefs of his village, meets the taupou in her village to obtain the formal consent of her parents and village council. Immediately after receiving this assurance in the chief’s guesthouse, the chiefs and other visitors shout the formal marriage shouts (tigi) at the tops of their voices. Tigis are the traditional means used for pronouncing a chief and his bride man and wife. They are shouted only for nobility and are not heard during the marriage of commoners. In reality the tigis are an exclamation of tribute to the bride and bridegroom.
The bride usually wears the royal robe that was made especially for her by her family on this occasion. This wedding robe is called the ie avaga. The last nights the taupou spends in her village are devoted to feasting and riotous dancing. If the guests plan to return with the newly married couple to the groom’s home on foot, it is customary for them to keep shouting the tigisas they pass through the adjacent villages.
The climax of the marriage ceremonies is the performance of the nunu (dowry exchange), which is usually held after the birth of the couple’s first child. Relatives and villages of the bride and bridegroom come together from all over the islands, bringing food, merchandise, money, and labor. This ceremony is held in the open air at the public ground (malae) in front of the chief’s guesthouse. The bridegroom’s side displays, for exchange and to match the bride’s collection, money, merchandise, yardage, goods, and roasted pigs. These huge quantities of goods include contributions from friends, relatives, and acquaintances that it will take several days to distribute and exchange.
For many generations it was customary for a chief’s wife not to live with her husband for more than a few months. She was honorably released and returned home to clear the way for another marriage. The village chiefs would take the matter in their own hands and look for another match in a well-to-do family. At one time custom sanctioned a dozen or more wives and concubines for a chief.
Elopement of the taupou with a suitor often happens when the village council disapproves of her desire to marry a man they regard as undesirable. Such a marriage is considered illegal. The eloping couple is liable to pay for their action with their lives if they happen to get caught. They are on dangerous ground until they reach the boy’s village.
Marriages of common people are quiet and regarded as insignificant. Usually the boy proposes to the girl’s parents. When the parents give their consent, the girl and boy are united as man and wife and live in the home of either the bride or bridegroom’s parents. After the couple receives a legal marriage certificate from the government, they exchange their vows in a church before a minister.
Polygamy has now been outlawed in Samoa by both the church and the government. As in other countries many practice common-law marriage illegally. However, Samoan women as a whole prefer legal marriage for the sake of their children.
Lesley Barclay et al., Midwives’ Tales: Stories of Traditional and Professional Birthing in Samoa (Nashville, Tenn.: Vanderbilt University Press, 2005); Peggy Fairbairn-Dunlop, ed., Samoan Women: Widening Choices (Apia, Samoa: Samoa Association of Women Graduates, 2003); Margaret Mead, Coming of Age in Samoa: A Psychological Study of Primitive Youth for Western Civilization (New York: HarperCollins, 2001); Evelyn Wareham, Race and Realpolitik: The Politics of Colonisation in German Samoa (New York: Peter Lang, 2002).