Samoa Flag

Samoa Travel Guide

The People

Samoans are the second-largest group of full-blooded Polynesians in the world, behind the Maoris. About 89 percent of the population is Samoan and another 10 percent is part-Samoan (afakasi, or "half caste") with some European or Chinese blood.

Although half of Samoa's people live in the northwest corner of Upolu, from Apia to the airport, only 21 percent live in the capital itself. Due to large-scale emigration to New Zealand and the United States, the population growth rate is very low, averaging only 0.5 percent a year. In all, 120,000 Samoans live in New Zealand and 60,000 in the United States (compared to around 175,000 in Samoa itself).

While almost everyone in Apia speaks good English, the same is not always true in the villages. The Samoan language has similarities to Tongan, but the k sound in Tongan is replaced in Samoan by a glottal stop (rather like the English sound oh-oh). It's among the most sweetly flowing of Polynesian languages, and an entire special vocabulary exists for formal or polite discourse among the various levels of society.

The Samoan approach to life is almost the opposite of the European: Property, wealth, and success are all thought of in communal or family rather than individual terms. Eighty percent of the country's land is owned communally by family groups (aiga) and cannot be sold or mortgaged. The matai work to increase the prosperity and prestige of their aiga.

Samoans are very conservative and resist outside interference in village affairs. The Samoans have an almost feudal concern for protocol, rank, and etiquette. They lead a highly complex, stylized, and polished way of life. Today, however, they are being forced to reconcile the fa'a Samoa with the competitive demands of Western society, where private property and the individual come first. The greatest burden of adjustment is on the young, and Samoa has one of the highest suicide rates in the world.

Cooking Fale
a Samoan girl preparing food on Savai'i

Continue to   People: Social Structure   »