Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Samoans are Polynesian people who live on a group of small islands in the Central Pacific which constitute the territories of American Samoa and (since 1962) the independent state of Western Samoa. They are mainly root-and-tree crop horticulturalists, raising taro, yams, bananas, breadfruit, and coconuts. Their diet is supplemented by fishing, animal husbandry, and some hunting. Many families earn some money by selling coconuts or copra, the ripe coconut meat. Many Samoan families also earn income from children who live and work abroad, mainly in New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii and California.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


Oceania --Polynesia


American Samoa


OWC Code


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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in eHRAF World Cultures and are referenced by author, date of publication and eHRAF document number.

In addition to this culture summary, the Samoa Collection (OU08) consists of 15 documents, covering a wide variety of cultural and historical information, circa 1830s to 1990s. The earliest descriptions of Samoan culture and history in the collection were compiled by the missionaries John B. Stair (1887, no. 17) and George Turner (1884, no. 16) who lived in different parts of the island in 1838-1945 and 1840-1880, respectively. Five documents in the collection are ethnographic accounts and essays by Margaret Mead who, in 1925-1928, lived among Samoans villagers mostly in the Manuan group of islands in American Samoa (Mead, 1930, no. 2; 1928, no, 3; 1928, no. 11; 1928, no. 12; and 1929, no. 13). Mead's works cover a wide variety of themes relating to childhood, adolescent and sociopolitical organization, and are framed by the culture and personality theory. One document in the collection revisits some of the major arguments advanced in Mead's works, notably her portrayal of adolescent Samoan girls as sexually permissive (Shankman 1996: no. 13). The remaining seven documents in the collection further enrich the historical and cultural information on Samoa with additional themes and in-depth analysis including plant resources and indigenous botanical knowledge (Setchell 1924, no. 6), catalogue of traditional material culture (Buck 1930, no. 5), socio-political analysis of modern history of both American and Western Samoa (Keesing 1934, no. 6), post-war reconstruction of Western Samoa (Stanner 1953, no. 4), material culture and social change (Holmes 1958: no. 22), structures and processes in the Western Samoan Sala'ilua village (Shore 1982, no. 20), and recent changes in the economic options of households and individuals in Vaega and Neiafu villages in Western Samoa (Omeara 1990, no. 12).

For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in this collection, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

Overview by

Teferi Adem

'Aiga descent groups - use "LINEAGES (613)", with "KIN RELATIONSHIPS (602)"

Aitu, ancestor-spirits - use "CULT OF THE DEAD (769)", possibly with use "SPIRITS AND GODS (776)"

Ali'i, aristocratic titles given to heads of a descent group who embody the group's dignity - use "STATUS, ROLE, AND PRESTIGE (554)" with "COMMUNITY HEADS (622)"

'Aumaga, organization of untitled men - use "COOPERATIVE ORGANIZATION (474)"

aualuma, organization of untitled women (a group made up of the sisters and daughters of the community) - use "COOPERATIVE ORGANIZATION (474)"

Fono, council of heads (matai) - use "COMMUNITY HEADS (622)" and/or "COUNCILS (623)"

'Ie toga, fine mats - use "MEDIUM OF EXCHANGE (436)" and/or "MATS AND BASKETRY (285)"

Kava, local beverage prepared from hosting guests and important ceremonies - use "ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES (273)"

Malae, sacred central place of each community (nu'u) where the ranking high chief's assembly house is also situated - use "STATUS, ROLE, AND PRESTIGE (554)" with "SACRED OBJECTS AND PLACES (778)"

Matai, heads of households and residential communities - use "HOUSEHOLD (592)"with "COMMUNITY HEADS (622)"

Mau, a resistance movement in 1926-1936 against New Zealand - use "POLITICAL MOVEMENTS (668)"

Nu'u, self-governing, autonomous towns linked by political and ceremonial alliances - use "COMMUNITY STRUCTURE (621)" and/or "TERRITORIAL HIERARCHY (631)"

Musu, the state of sullen unwillingness to comply with orders (culturally tolerated outlet for anger) - use "TECHNIQUES OF SOCIALIZATION (861)" possibly with "DRIVES AND EMOTIONS (152)"

Siapo bark-cloth making - use "NONWOVEN FABRICS (287)"

Tama-a-'aiga, a very high-ranking titleholders (also called kings) - use "CHIEF EXECUTIVE (643)" with "TERRITORIAL HIERARCHY (631)"

Tulafale, orators who take a more official role when they speak on behalf of chiefs ( ali'i) - use "COMMUNITY HEADS (622)" or "LOCAL OFFICIALS (624)"

This culture summary is based on the article, "Samoa" by Thomas Bargatzky, in the Encyclopedia of World Cultures, Vol. 2, Oceania, Terence E. Hays, ed. Boston, Mass.: G. K. Hall &Co. 1991. Teferi Abate Adem wrote the synopsis and indexing notes in October 2007.

Indexing Notes by

Teferi Adem

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