Samoa Flag

Samoa Travel Guide

Church in Safotu
Twin towers soar above a village church
in Safotu, Savai'i.


Ever since Rev. John Williams landed in 1830, the Samoans have taken Christianity very seriously and Samoan missionaries have gone on to convert the residents of many other island groups (Tuvalu, the Solomons, and New Guinea). Every Samoan banknote bears a radiant cross and the slogan Fa'avae i le Atua Samoa (Samoa is founded on God). Yet while the Samoans have embraced the rituals of Christianity, concepts such as individual sin are less accepted.

Some 61,500 Samoans belong to the Congregational Christian Church, 26,5000 are Methodist, 24,750 Catholic, and 22,500 Mormon. The numbers of Mormons, Seventh-Day Adventists, and Assemblies of God are growing fast as the Congregational Christian Church declines.

During the 19th century, the main rivalry was between the British-connected Congregationals from the London Missionary Society active in Tahiti and the Cook Islands and the Australian-based Methodists or Wesleyans who dominated the Tongan and Fijian missionary fields. Although the Methodists landed in Samoa first, they later withdrew until 1857 at the behest of the church authorities in England.

Today each village has one or more churches, and the pastor's house is often the largest residence. Minister of religion is usually the best-paying job in the village and many pastors enjoy an affluent lifestyle at the expense of their congregations (often the pastor will be the only one in the village who owns a car). There's continuous pressure on villagers to contribute money to the church, and much of it goes into outlandishly huge and luxurious churches, which is rather scandalous in such a poor country. Donations are collected by parish treasurers at the church doors and the amount is read out with the person's name during the service. Those who haven't contributed can be asked to stand and explain why. Some villages have regulations that require villagers to attend church as many as three times on Sunday and choir practice weekly. Public education is neither free nor compulsory and many of the schools are church-operated. In 2006 the government banned showings of The Da Vinci Code at the behest of the powerful religious lobby.

There's a daily vespers called sa around 1800 for family prayers. All movement is supposed to cease at this time; some villages are rather paranoid about it and levy fines on offenders. It only lasts about 10 minutes, so sit quietly under a tree or on the beach until you hear a gong, bell, or somebody beating a pan to signal "all's clear." Even if you're in a car on the main road at vespers, some remote villages may not allow you to continue driving through the village, although most will. If you do get stopped by white-shirted morality police, just wait patiently in the car until you get an all clear signal after about 10 minutes (don't get out). Many villages also have a 2200 curfew.