In many parts of Samoa it's an established village law that outsiders pay a set fee to swim at the local beach or waterhole, or to visit a cave, lava tube, waterfall, etc. Unlike Tonga, where the king owns all land and no entry fees need be paid, in Samoa such places are very much village property. Sometimes the required amount is posted on a sign and collected at a regular booth, but other times it's not. It's usually S$2 to S$5 either per person or per vehicle. In a few places, such as Falealupo on Savai'i, separate fees are charged for each individual thing you wish to see or do in the village. The upside of the fees is that such places are usually kept clean, and Samoa is generally a much tidier country than Tonga due to its communal ownership in which everyone has a stake.
However, you should be aware that a few rip-offs have become associated with this—sometimes an unauthorized person will demand payment, and you can't really tell if it's for real. We recommend that you only pay customary fees of this kind if there's a sign clearly stating the amount or someone asks for the money beforehand, thus giving you the choice of going in or not. Resist paying anything if someone tries to collect as you're leaving (unless there's a sign), and never give the money to children. If there's a dispute or you're in doubt about the authenticity of a customary fee, politely say you want to give the money directly to the pulenu'u. He will straighten things out quickly. Keep your cool in all of this—the Samoans respect courtesy far more than anger or threats.
This can work two ways in Samoa, both you being intimidated by the unfamiliar surroundings and the Samoans being put off by your intrusiveness. Because Samoan culture is a group culture, people can be overfriendly and unwilling to leave you alone. Of course, this doesn't apply in Apia, but in remote villages you may be viewed with suspicion, especially if you arrive in a taxi or rental car, the daily hire of which costs more than an average Samoan villager might earn in a month. You can easily smooth the situation over by smiling, waving, and saying talofa to those you meet. Be the first to say hello and everyone will feel a lot more comfortable.
Another unique Samoan characteristic is musu, to be sullen. A previously communicative individual will suddenly become silent and moody. This often seems to bear no relation to what's happening at the time, and when a Samoan becomes musu, the best approach is just to sit back and wait until they get a grip. Too many rapid fire questions from a foreigner about Samoan culture can trigger a musu reaction. Samoan culture is complex and some things are meant to be discussed only by the matai.
Continue to Customs: Fa'a Samoa »