Local Customs in Samoa

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Customs, Culture and History in Samoa

Samoan Culture

Samoa is very religious, with most of the population following one of the Christian denominations. This means that Sunday is generally respected as a holy day and most shops and businesses are closed. You should not walk through villages on Sundays.

Many villages have a prayer curfew in place at sundown. This normally lasts around half an hour. You should be careful to avoid walking through villages at this time to avoid causing offence.

Samoan culture is governed by strict protocols and etiquette. Although allowances are made for foreigners, it is wise to avoid revealing clothing and to comply with village rules which are enforced by the village matai (chiefs), although Apia is quite relaxed in these traditions.

Women going topless is taboo, and they should only wear swimwear at the beach. Shorts should be knee length. Shirts should be worn when not at the beach. A lavalava (sarong) is nearly always acceptable attire.

Other simple things, such as removing shoes before entering a house (or, for that matter, budget accommodation), should be observed.

The main island of Upolu is known as the "modern" island, where most northern coast villages are quite relaxed with the old strict traditions, whilst Savai'i is the more traditional island, but has become more relaxed. But nude bathing is definitely taboo.

Samoan History

Samoans originally arrived from Southeast Asia around 1500-1000 BC. The oldest known site of human occupation dates back to that time and is at Mulifanua on Upolu island.

In 1830 missionaries from the London Missionary Society, notably John Williams, arrived and Samoa rapidly embraced Christianity. More recently, Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints) have constructed several sizeable churches.

By the end of the 19th Century Samoans had developed a reputation for being warlike, as fights had taken place between them and the British, Germans and Americans, who wanted to use Samoa as a refuelling station for coal-fired shipping and whaling and for commodities. On the island of 'Upolu German firms monopolized copra and cocoa bean production, while the United States formed alliances with local chieftains, mainly on the islands to the east, which were later annexed to the USA as American Samoa and have not been granted Independence. Britain also sent troops to protect business interests. Germany, America and Britain supplied arms and training to warring Samoans, stoking tribal battles. All three sent warships into Apia harbour when, fortunately for Samoa, a large storm in 1889 damaged or destroyed the warships, ending the conflict.

An important arrival was Robert Louis Stevenson, the Scottish author, who travelled to the South Pacific for his health and settled in Samoa in the early 1890s. His house at Vailima in Upolu and his grave on the hill above it can be visited. Stevenson was known as "Tusitala" (teller of tales) and this name lives on in one of Apia's hotels.

In the early 1900s an Independence movement began on the island of Savai'i. Known as the Mau a Pule this had widespread support throughout the country by the late 1920s. Supporters wore a Mau uniform of a navy blue lavalava with a white stripe, which was later banned by the colonial administration. On 28 December 1929 the New Zealand military fired on a peaceful Mau procession, killing 11 Samoans. New Zealand had occupied the German protectorate of Western Samoa at the outbreak of World War I in 1914. It continued to administer the islands until 1962, when they became the first Polynesian nation in the 20th century to re-establish independence. The country dropped the "Western" (which distinguished it from American Samoa) from its name in 1997. It celebrates Independence Day on 1 June.

To promote closer ties with Australia & New Zealand—Samoa's largest trading partners—driving switched from the right to the left side of the road in September 2009. It was the first country to switch sides in many years, although its small size made things less chaotic. Then, in December 2011, Samoa switched sides of the International Date Line—moving from the east side (UTC -11) to the west side (UTC +13). The move was to help businesses with ties to New Zealand which only shared 3 working days a week (Monday in NZ was Sunday in Samoa & Friday in Samoa was Saturday in NZ).

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