Samoa Social Life and Customs

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"Fa'asamoa," an oft-repeated phrase in the islands, means the Samoan way - the way of our ancestors.

Fa'asamoa has kept Samoans strongly nationalistic, and suspicious to changes that might threaten the traditional structure of their way of life. In recent times, however, fa'asamoa has been able to bend allowing its people to withstand and absorb the ways of foreign traders, missionaries, and military forces. Today, fa'asamoa is facing its greatest challenge, as a new generation is brought up on foreign taught theories of individualism and personal freedom, which threaten the old traditions.

A very basic ingredient in Samoa life is the aiga (the family). At the head of each aiga is the matai, a position of rank and authority.

Much of the Samoan social system is based on status, such as whose fale has the highest roof. The extent of the roof on one's fales rises above the other fales in the village depends not only on the status of the owner, but also intertwines with the elaborate social structure that governs the Samoan way of life.

One of the attractions of Polynesia is its diversity. Native peoples of the Pacific are of similar origin with the related languages, customs, and cultures, yet, each is different.

It is still a land where status is more important than material possessions and the only Polynesian culture where the title is more important than the person.

Much of the culture is based on welcoming travelers to our islands, villages and homes. No place in the world is a visitor so lavishly received as in Samoa.

For centuries, fine mats, woven from the leaves of the pandamas tree, have been the symbol of wealth and prosperity. To this day, they are equated to the many hours, indeed sometimes years, of work put into the diligent weaving of the mat. In this way, the intrinsic value of the work in the mat is valued so highly, that for many years the mats were used for money and barter. Today, they are given mostly as gifts at special occasions like marriages, and to the bereaved families at funerals

Most Samoan villages have a church and a meetinghouse, which doubles as a cultural centre. Clustered around the village green are several fale—traditional oval-shaped houses with open sides and thatched or corrugated tin roofs supported by wooden pillars. Rolled palm-leaf mats can be let down at the sides of each house to offer protection from the elements. Many fale have been replaced by rectangular houses of timber or concrete blocks with walls and windows. Kitchens are often located in separate cookhouses.

Typical foods, grown or caught locally, include taro, yams, breadfruit, fish, and shellfish. Chicken and pork dishes are also eaten. Imported foodstuffs have become increasingly common, including Asian rice, frozen meats, and packaged foods and beverages from other parts of the world. Kava, a traditional nonalcoholic, euphoria-producing drink, is prepared from a tropical pepper plant and consumed at social events, mainly by matai, who customarily pour a small amount on the ground before and after drinking. Related customs include sitting cross-legged in a home before addressing one's host and refraining from eating while standing indoors or walking outdoors.

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