Story: Samoans

Page 3. Culture and identity

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Fa‘asamoa – Samoan culture

The concept of fa‘asamoa is essential to Samoan identity, and consists of a number of values and traditions:

  • aiga (family)
  • tautala Samoa (Samoan language)
  • gafa (genealogies)
  • matai (chiefly system)
  • lotu (church)
  • fa‘alavelave (ceremonial and other family obligations).

There are also the associated values of alofa (love), tautua (service), fa‘aaloalo (respect), feagaiga (a covenant between sibilings and others) and usita‘i (discipline).

The fa‘asamoa practised in Samoa may differ from that in New Zealand. Not every Samoan has the same understanding of the concept. What remains constant is maintaining the family and links with the homeland. Money, prayers, support, food, material goods, and even relatives themselves, circulate within families around the world – wherever Samoan people live and work.

Fa‘asamoa in New Zealand

In 1998 one New Zealand-born Samoan described what it means to follow fa‘asamoa:

‘The fa‘asamoa is: go to church, be a good Samoan, and that means to try your best at education, and looking after family, and go to family functions, plus that we've got to look after them when they're old.’ 1


Most Samoan-born migrants speak Gagana Sāmoa, the Samoan language, fluently. For them, proficiency in the language distinguishes those who are truly Samoan. However, many children born or raised in New Zealand do not speak Samoan, although they can understand it. For New Zealand-born Samoans, fluency is not crucial to identity; it is enough that they understand the language, can communicate with island-born family members, and adopt their parents’ fa‘asamoa beliefs. Some learn the language through their jobs, or by helping their elders communicate with schools and officials. Others pick up Samoan through membership of an autalavou (church youth group). 

In 2018, 50% of people of Samoan ethnicity could speak Samoan (down from 64% in 2001). It was the third most-spoken language in New Zealand. 

Aiga – family

The central element in Samoan culture is the aiga (family). Within the family, giving and receiving tautua (service), fa‘aaloalo (respect) and alofa (love) are crucial in social relations. Young people are expected to serve and show respect to elders, and can expect in return to receive love, protection, honour, a name to be proud of, and support when this is needed.

Many younger Samoans have difficulty accepting tautua and fa‘aaloalo, and the unquestioning obedience required of children. Older members appreciate these concepts because they are now receiving tautua and fa‘aaloalo from their children and extended family members.

Honouring continued ties

The continuing connections between Samoa and New Zealand inspire New Zealand-born Samoans to become involved in Samoan education programmes or enrol their children in them, so that they can learn Samoan culture, history, language and identities.

In 2020 there were 41 Samoan aoga amata (early learning language nests) in New Zealand. A number of primary and high schools had special language units in which Samoan was the main language of instruction, and Samoan models of collective decision-making and shared leadership were employed. Students could be assessed in Samoan language unit standards for the National Certificate of Educational Achievement. Samoan language and wider Pacific Studies undergraduate and postgraduate courses were offered at a number of New Zealand universities.

  1. Quoted in M. Anae, ‘Fofoaivaoese: identity journeys of New Zealand-born Samoans.’ PhD thesis, University of Auckland, 1998. › Back
How to cite this page:

Lupematasila Melani Anae, 'Samoans - Culture and identity', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 14 July 2024)

Story by Lupematasila Melani Anae, published 8 Feb 2005, reviewed & revised 7 Sep 2022 with assistance from  Lupematasila Melani Anae