A gem in the South Pacific, Samoa is has a uniquely hospitable culture. Key to the culture is Fa’a Samoa, or the Samoan Way, which puts respect of elders and service to family at a premium.
Taking part in the Samoan Way
Fa’a Samoa guides everyday life and has three structural elements: chiefs (matai), extended family (aiga) and the church. The chiefs have the responsibility of overseeing family and political duties in their village. Extended families include parents, siblings, children, grandparents, cousins, in-laws, and beyond. Christianity has been widely accepted into Samoan culture.
To pay respect to the church, it’s advised that visitors avoid walking through villages during the evening prayer curfew. The sound of a conch shell or bell opens and ends this 10-20 minute prayer that typically takes place between 6-7pm.
Sundays are observed as a day of rest, so while attractions and activities might be running, it is encouraged to take a slower pace and keep quiet to pay respect.
If visiting a church, women are advised to wear a dress or skirt and men are advised to wear trousers and a shirt. In the village, especially in someone’s home, visitors should avoid wearing skimpy clothing. Even when leaving a beach, visitors should wear a sarong, cover-up, or other clothing.
What to do when exploring
Staying in a fale is a great way to experience the Samoan way of life! But if you are visiting one, there are a couple rules to follow:
If an elder is seated, do not stand
Do not point your feet at others in the fale - instead, tuck them under your legs or cover them with a lavalava (traditional sarong) or mat
Whilst exploring, do not be surprised if you are asked to pay a small entry fee to lagoons, bays, or fields, as they are likely property of a village or family. In fact, if no one is around to ask permission to swim or explore, it is best to wait.
And as is advised for travel in all villages around the world, it is polite to ask permission to take photos - especially of people.
What to expect to eat
Papaya, star fruit, mango, pineapple… how fresh the fruit is in Samoa! These bright, delightful treats complement the earthy flavours of root vegetables - such as taro and breadfruit, that are staples in the Samoan diet. Of course fish plays a major role in the cuisine here, with crayfish, snapper, tuna, and more typically on offer. A favourite dish is oka, a raw fish marinated in lemon juice, coconut cream and flavoured with chili and onions.
Many drinks will incorporate the same tasty flavours, especially coconut. Since Sunday is the day of rest, hotels and licensed restaurants will not sell or serve alcohol on this day.
Key words and phrases
While English is spoken by most Samoans, it is polite and helpful to have a few key Samoan words and phrases:
- Goodbye: tofa
- Thank you: fa'afetai
- Please: fa'amolemole
- Yes: ioe
- No: leai
- Maybe: masalo