Samoan Culture

Principles of the Samoan Culture

Fa’a Samoa, the Samoan culture is based on the principles of love (alofa), mutual respect (faaaloalo); reciprocity (feosia’i), sharing (fetufaa’i), and mutual support (felagolagoma’i).

Family and village structure

Matai are titleholders.  They are divided into 2 categories, chiefs i.e. alii;  orators (tulafale).  Women are divided into two categories, faletua and tausi, faletua i.e. wives of chiefs, tausi i.e. wives of orators. Untitled men (taulele’a )as a group are called ‘aumaga, (singular: taule’ale’a);  untitled women which includes women not married i.e. women not married to matai or hold matai titles, are honorifically addressed as  le nuu o tama’ita’i (literally the village of the ladies) and are known collectively as aualuma.  Each grouping i.e. Alii & Faipule which are the matai;  faletua ma tausi which are the wives of the matai;  the ‘aumaga i.e. the collective of untitled men, the aualuma i.e the collective of untitled women; has a specific role to play in the village governance.


An orator is a talking chief.  There is a culture of oratory which is highly developed, with its own style and language, mainly because communication before the arrival of missionaries was exclusively oral.


A ritual where the offending party pleads for pardon from the offended party.

Three elements sustain ifoga:  a sense of remorse and shame by the perpetrator, accountability by the family and village, and forgiveness by the victim’s family.  Traditionally the culprit(s) kneel covered in fine mats.  Ritual acceptance by the offended party occurs when they approach the ifoga party and pull away the mats.

Banishment (faate’a)

There are two forms of banishment:  banishment from participating in village life and banishment from the village proper i.e. where the offender/s would leave either on their own or with their families to reside outside village boundaries.

Traditions and custom around death, funerals and burial

Death has no place in Samoa. People bury their relatives in the front so that they still see them, talk to them, and be in their presence.

“Every Samoan who lives his culture speaks to the dead. The dialogue between the living and the dead is the essence of a Samoan spiritual being. It is this dialogue that provides the substance and direction to his life. In order to understand this dialogue, you need to analyse the mythological, the spiritual, cultural and historical reference points of Samoans.

If you want sight and insight into my psyche, you will have to speak to the gods who inhabit it. You have to eavesdrop on the dialogue between my ancestors and my soul…” [1]

Land is life in Samoa. Land is passed from generation to generation. The graves lie on the land, and underneath the homes are the reburied bones of ancestors. This is why it is hard to let it go of your land.

The events and cultural traditions depicted in The Orator are authentic portrayals of life in contemporary Samoa.

[1] p. 80 Su’esu’e Manogi: In Search of Fragrance  Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Ta’isi and the Samoan Indigenous Reference The Centre for Samoan Studies, National University of Samoa 2008)

Glossary and Pronunciation

Note the o in Samoan is a short vowel.
To’oto’o – pronounce the sound of the individual o’s is as in the “a” in talk.  It is a staff used by chiefly orators when making speeches in the open.
Fue – Foo-eh.  Fly whisk used by orators.
Ifoga – pronounced Ee-foh-nga.  A ceremony for a wrong committed where one party seeks the forgiveness of another by prostrating himself or themselves in front of the other party covered in fine mats.  Normally the offending party will remain prostrated until the other party removes the mats – which is a sign of forgiveness.


Vaaiga – pronounced Vah-ai-nga.  Literally means what was seen.
Saili – pronounced Sah-ee-lee.  Literally means to search or find
Litia – pronounced Lee-tee-ah
Sio – pronounced See-oh.
Poto – pronounced Po-toh
Tagaloa – pronounced Ta-nga-loh-ah – Samoan God who created world.