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Samoa Travel Guide

Mat-weaving Session
A group of Samoan women weaving mats.


Samoans live in 362 villages near the seashore. Families share their work and food, and everyone has a place to live and a sense of belonging. It's difficult for individuals to get ahead in this communal society because as soon as anyone obtains a bit of money they're expected to spread it around among relatives and neighbors. Each immediate family has its own residence, called a fale (pronounced fah-LAY), which may be round or oval. Without walls, it's the least private dwelling on earth. The only furniture may be a large trunk or dresser. A fale is built on a stone platform, with mats covering the pebble floor. Mats or blinds are let down to shelter and shield the fale from storms—a very cool, clean, fresh place to live.

Most food is grown in village gardens, and cooking is done in an earth oven (umu). Families are large, eight children being "about right." The men wear a vivid wraparound skirt known as a lavalava. The women of the village are often seen working together in the women's committee fale, making traditional handicrafts. The fono meets in the fale taimalo. Also a part of each village is the cricket pitch—looking like an isolated stretch of sidewalk. Notice too the tia, stone burial mounds with several stepped layers under which old chiefs are buried. The small wooden platforms along the roadsides of Upolu are intended to protect garbage from dogs and other animals.

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