Samoa - People, Culture & Language
Samoa's population is largely Polynesian, and number about 186,000. There is also a large Chinese Samoan community in Apia. Samoa is a traditional Polynesian society and for the most part, the people have retained a fierce pride in their cultural heritage. Fa'a Samoa – the Samoan Way – continues to play a vital role in village and community life.
There are over 362 villages in Samoa with a total of 18,000 matai (chiefs). Villages are made up of customary land owned by extended family units called aiga, whose head is a matai. Traditional authority is vested in the village matai. The central structure in each village is the church as well as the Fale Fono, where the chiefs meet to discuss village matters.
'Fa'a Samoa' has a strong focus on welcoming visitors, and 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.
- Avoid walking through villages during the evening prayer curfew (usually between 6pm and 7pm). This 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.
- Respect Sunday. Samoans observe Sunday as a day of rest and while many visitor attractions are open, you are expected to behave quietly and to travel slowly through the villages.
- 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 or topless (for women) swimming or sunbathing is not allowed.
- Women are recommended to wear a lavalava (sarong) rather than shorts or pants, especially if they attend church.
- Almost all shops are shut on Sunday, so be sure to buy what you need the day before.
- Shoes should be removed before entering a fale.
- Never stand within a fale when elders are seated.
- 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.
- Don’t offer children money, even if they ask.
- If in doubt about protocol, ask your host or a village member for advice.
Samoan is the national language, although English is the official language of business and English is widely spoken, but you’ll find the following Samoan words useful to learn:
Hello = Talofa (Tah-low-fah)
Goodbye = Tofa (Tow-fah)
Thank you = Fa'afetai (Far-ah-fay-tie)
Please = Fa'amolemole (Fah-ah-mor-le-mor-le)
Yes = Ioe (Ee-oh-e)
No = Leai (Le-ah)
Maybe = Masalo (Mar-sar-lo)
Tomorrow = Taeao (Tah-e-ao)
Goodnight = Manuia le po (Mah-nooh-ya-leh-poh)
How are you? = O a mai oe? (O-ah-my-o-he)
I am hungry = Fia ai (Fear-ah-ee)
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