Reminiscing about the end of summer? Join us this week for a trip to Samoa! This island nation is located in Oceania in the South Pacific, and it consists of two main islands, Savai’i and Upolu. Apia is the capital city, which is located on Upolu. Samoa is neighbored by several islands, including American Samoa, Tokelau, Niue, Tonda, and Fiji. However, the International Date Line places Samoa 24 hours ahead of its closest neighbor, American Samoa.
Polynesian voyagers arrived in Samoa over three millennia ago, and the oldest human settlement on the island dates back to 1000 BC. As the island’s first settlers, they shaped the Samoan language and Samoan cultural identity that is still cherished today. European contact with Samoa began in the early 18th century after it was sighted by a Dutch explorer in 1722. Another European visit followed in 1768, but contact ceased until English missionaries, whalers, and traders arrived in the 1830s.
Other European nations, like Germany, also showed interest in the commercial prospects of Samoa, as did the United States. However, the enterprises these western nations established in Samoa put their commercial interests before the natives. Tensions between colonial contenders erupted into an eight-year civil war in 1886, but the destruction of several warships by severe weather events stalled what would have become a full-blown war. Unfortunately, the first conflict was soon followed by another civil war when disputes over who laid claim over Samoa reignited between Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In 1900, the conflicting nations reached a resolution that resulted with the eastern island-group becoming American Samoa, while Germany laid claim over the western islands.
However, the events of World War I rocked Samoa’s history once more, particularly when it was seized under New Zealand’s control and then hit with the Influenza pandemic of 1918. By the late 1920s, resentment toward New Zealand’s colonial rule paved the way towards national independence that was spearheaded by the Mau, a non-violent popular movement. Samoa finally won its independence in 1962 with the passage of the New Zealand Western Samoa Act, which was followed by a friendship treaty.
In Samoa’s long history, at least one thing has remained constant: the traditional code of conduct that puts ‘aiga, or extended family, at its center. With “the Samoan way,” it’s not about you, it’s about us; there’s no I, only we. As such, an important family event is the traditional Sunday feast. The men in the family bear the task of preparing the feast, which includes preparing food in an umu, an earth-oven that uses hot rocks to produce steam. These dishes consist of freshly-caught fish, pork meat, sliced taro, and coconut. Another important custom is the ‘ava ceremony in which a ceremonial beverage is shared in rank-order during special occasions, such as the bestowal of matai chiefly titles.
Even though the Samoan diaspora population is twice as large as the native population, family ties are still maintained. In fact, remittance payments from the diaspora comprise about 20% of Samoa’s GDP. Like the family unit, religion also plays an integral role in Samoan culture, as Christianity is practiced by nearly 100% of the entire population.
Samoan culture is celebrated in several artforms, as well. Tattooing, for example, is an important rite of passage for men, but women can also be tattooed. The traditional dance is called siva, and it’s one of the few aspects of Samoan culture untouched by Western influence.