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

Language

Most Samoan-born migrants speak the Samoan language fluently. For them, proficiency in the language distinguishes those who are truly Samoan. However, a number of the children born or raised in New Zealand do not speak Samoan, although they can understand it. For New Zealand-born Samoans, fluency is not important to identity; it is enough that they understand the language, communicate with their island-born family, and adopt their parents’ fa‘asamoa beliefs.

Because their parents do not understand English, those New Zealand-born Samoans who speak Samoan fluently are often obliged to speak Samoan in the home. Some have learnt it through their jobs, or by helping their elders deal with schools and government authorities. Others pick up Samoan through membership in the autalavou (church youth group). In 2013, 56% of people of Samoan ethnicity could speak Samoan (down from 64% in 2001), although only about 40% were born in Samoa.

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 Samoan social relations. Young people are expected to serve and show respect to elders, and can expect to receive love, protection, honour, a name to be proud of, and defence by the family when it is needed.

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

Footnotes:
  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:

Misatauveve Melani Anae, 'Samoans - Culture and identity', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/samoans/page-3 (accessed 14 November 2019)

Story by Misatauveve Melani Anae, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 25 Mar 2015