The fa’a Samoa, or traditional Samoan way of life, continues to be a powerful influence in Samoan culture and politics. Despite centuries of European influence, Samoa has managed to preserve its ancient traditions, social and political institutions, and language. The Samoa ‘ava ceremony, for example, is a major and somber rite performed at key events such as the bestowal of matai chiefly titles. The beautifully woven ‘ie toga is an item of considerable cultural significance.
Many gods with creation tales and legends exist in Samoan mythology, including Tagaloa and the goddess of battle Nafanua, the daughter of Saveasi’uleo, king of the spirit world Pulotu. Other stories include the well-known tale of Sina and the Eel, which recounts how the first coconut tree came to be.
Some Samoans are spiritual and religious, and have quietly modified Christianity, the main religion, to ‘fit in’ with fa’a Samoa, and vice versa. Ancient beliefs continue to coexist alongside Christianity, especially in respect to fa’a Samoan traditional traditions and ceremonies. The Samoan culture revolves on the concept of vfealoa’i, or interpersonal ties. Respect, or fa’aaloalo, underpins these partnerships. When Christianity was established in Samoa, the majority of Samoans converted. Currently, 98 percent of the population considers themselves to be Christians.
Some Samoans enjoy a communal lifestyle, engaging in activities as a group. Traditional Samoan fale (houses) are an example of this, since they are open with no walls and utilize shades made of coconut palm fronds during the night or in inclement weather.
Although Samoan male dances may be more sharp, the Samoan term for dance is siva, which consists of distinctive delicate motions of the body in rhythm to music and that tell a narrative. The sasa is a traditional dance in which rows of dancers execute fast synchronized motions to the beat of wooden drums (pate) or rolled mats. The fa’ataupati, or slap dance, is another male-performed dance that involves slapping various areas of the body to create rhythmic noises. This is said to have come by slapping insects on the body.
Tufuga fai fale specialized in the form and construction of Samoan traditional building, which was also connected to other cultural artforms.
Samoans have two gender-specific and culturally important tattoos, similar to other Polynesian cultures (Hawaiian, Tahitian, and Mori). It is known as the Pe’a in men and comprises of complex and geometrical designs tattooed on regions ranging from the knees to the ribcage. A man with such a tatau is known as a soga’imiti. A malu, or sarong, is presented to a Samoan girl or teine to cover the region from just below her knees to her upper thighs.
Albert Wendt is a well-known Samoan author whose books and short tales depict the Samoan experience. Martyn Sanderson turned his book Flying Fox in a Freedom Tree into a feature film in New Zealand in 1989. Another book, Sons for the Return Home, was adapted into a feature film directed by Paul Maunder in 1979. John Kneubuhl, who was born in American Samoa, was a successful playwright, screenwriter, and novelist. Sia Figiel’s book “Where We Once Belonged” received the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for fiction in the South East Asia/South Pacific area in 1997. Momoe Von Reiche is a well-known poet and artist on a global scale. Tusiata Avia is a poet who performs. Wild Dogs Under My Skirt, her debut collection of poetry, was released in 2004 by Victoria University Press. Dan Taulapapa McMullin is a writer and artist. Sapa’u Ruperake Petaia, Eti Sa’aga, and Savea Sano Malifa, the editor of the Samoa Observer, are among the other Samoan poets and authors.
Popular local bands in music include The Five Stars, Penina o Tiafau, and Punialava’a. Sweet Inspiration, a version by the Yandall Sisters, hit number one on the New Zealand charts in 1974. In 1999, King Kapisi became the first hip hop musician to win the coveted New Zealand APRA Silver Scroll Award for his song Reverse Resistance. The Reverse Resistance music video was shot in Savai’i among his villages. Scribe, Dei Hamo, Savage, and Tha Feelstyle are other famous Samoan hip hop singers whose song video Suamalie was shot in Samoa.
Lemi Ponifasio is an internationally renowned director and choreographer known for his dance company MAU. Black Grace, Neil Ieremia’s group, has also garnered worldwide recognition, with tours to Europe and New York. Hip hop has had a large influence on Samoan culture. “Hip hop culture in particular is popular amongst Samoan youth,” says Katerina Martina Teaiwa, PhD, of the University of Hawaii in Manoa. Hip hop music is popular in the United States, as it is in many other nations. Furthermore, the incorporation of hip hop components into Samoan culture “attests to the transferability of the dance forms themselves,” as well as the “circuits through which individuals and all their embodied knowledge move.” Dance, both traditional and contemporary, has remained a key cultural currency for Samoans, particularly adolescents.
Tautai is an artistic organization comprised of visual artists Fatu Feu’u, Johnny Penisula, Shigeyuki Kihara, Iosefa Leo, Michel Tuffery, John Ioane, and Lily Laita.
Sima Urale, the director, is a multi-award winning filmmaker. In 1996, Urale’s short film O Tamaiti received the coveted Best Short Film award at the Venice Film Festival. Apron Strings, her debut feature film, premiered at the 2008 New Zealand International Film Festival. Oscar Kightley’s co-written feature film Siones Wedding was a commercial success after screenings in Auckland and Apia. The Orator, released in 2011, was the first completely Samoan film, filmed in Samoa in Samoan, with a Samoan cast presenting a distinctively Samoan tale. Tusi Tamasese wrote and directed the film, which garnered widespread critical praise and attention at film festivals across the globe.
Laughing Samoans, the Naked Samoans, and Kila Kokonut Krew have all sold out tours.
Nathaniel Lees, an actor and director, has appeared in a number of stage plays and films, notably his role as Captain Mifune in The Matrix trilogy. Oscar Kightley, Victor Rodger, Makerita Urale, and Niuean Samoan writer Dianna Fuemana are among the published playwrights.
Rugby union, Samoan cricket, and netball are the most popular sports in Samoa. Samoa’s official football code is rugby union. Volleyball is very popular in Samoan communities.
Rugby union is Samoa’s national sport, and the national squad, dubbed the Manu Samoa, is regularly competitive against teams with far larger populations. Samoa has participated in every Rugby World Cup since 1991, reaching the quarterfinals in 1991, 1995, and the second round in 1999. Manu Samoa came close to defeating eventual world winners England in the 2003 World Cup. Samoa also competed in the Pacific Nations Cup and the Pacific Tri-Nations tournaments. The Samoa Rugby Football Union governs the sport, and as members of the Pacific Islands Rugby Alliance, they also contribute to the international Pacific Islanders rugby union squad.
There are two club competitions: the National Provincial Championship and the Pacific Rugby Cup. In 2007, they also won the cup in Wellington and the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens, for which Samoa’s Prime Minister, who is also the Chairman of the national rugby union, Tuila’epa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, proclaimed a national holiday. They were also the IRB World Sevens Series Champions in 2010, closing off a successful year for the Samoans that included victories in the USA, Australia, Hong Kong, and Scotland Sevens events.
Pat Lam and Brian Lima are two prominent Samoan footballers. Furthermore, numerous Samoans have played for or are currently playing for New Zealand.
Rugby league is mostly played by Samoans residing in New Zealand and Australia, with Samoa reaching the quarterfinals of the 2013 Rugby League World Cup, comprised of NRL, Super League, and local players. Many Samoans, New Zealanders, and Australians of Samoan ancestry play in Britain’s Super League and National Leagues. Workington Town’s Francis Meli, Ta’ane Lavulavu, St Helens’ Maurie Fa’asavalu, Whitehaven’s David Fatialofa, and Setima Sa have all signed with London Irish rugby club. Other notable players from New Zealand and Australia have also represented the Samoan National team. The domestic Samoan rugby league tournament included ten teams in 2011, with intentions to increase to twelve in 2012.
Samoans have made significant contributions to boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, and sumo; several Samoan sumo wrestlers, most notably Musashimaru and Konishiki, have attained the highest ranks of Ozeki and yokozuna.
American football is sometimes played in Samoa, reflecting the sport’s widespread popularity in American Samoa, where it is sanctioned at the high school level. The National Football League presently has around 30 ethnic Samoans, many of whom are from American Samoa. According to an ESPN report from 2002, a Samoan man (either an American Samoan or a Samoan residing on the mainland United States) is 40 times more likely than a non-Samoan American to play in the NFL.