For most Samoans, the family is of the utmost importance. It is believed that each person is a representative of their family and thus should act in such a way that honours all family members. Each is expected to contribute to the family’s cumulative success. Much emphasis is placed on one’s willingness to share and cooperate with those around them. Indeed, in adherence to fa’a Samoa, many Samoans believe that a person should place their before all else.
Extended families (referred to as ‘aiga potopoto’) each have an associated land and chiefly title. The more immediate extended family unit is typically known as the ‘aiga’. Related aiga will typically live in close proximity to each other. Most commonly, a village will consist of several aiga, each with its own Matai. The Matai is selected on the basis of loyalty and service to the group and is responsible for the well-being of each member of the aiga. Often, the larger the aiga and the more members it has, the more influence it holds in village affairs. The Samoan system of a Matai and aiga helps provide a strong support network and helps individuals understand their responsibilities and duties within the network.
Younger people are expected to defer to their elders and those of higher status than them, such as the Matai. Children are taught from a young age to respect their elders, avoid shaming their family and to sustain certain aspects of tradition. From the age of five, children are expected to play an active role in the family. Samoans will often use the same word to refer to their father and uncles (tamā) as well as for their mother and aunts (tinā). This reflects the close relationship one may have with extended family.
The aiga potopoto system is also important to help determine the land one inhabits. All Samoans inherit membership and land use rights in the aiga of their parents’ parents. The land that is given to an aiga by the Matai is often the pride of that family. The land is passed down from generation to generation, usually to children who were well behaved and obedient.
Samoans tend to live in proximity with multiple generations of family, wherein parents, their married children and grandchildren all live together in separate houses in one land area. Samoans abroad may live in smaller households. They will maintain family ties with family in Samoa in various ways, such as .
Samoan society tends to be and this is reflected in the household structure. Women often maintain the home and take care of children, whilst men are seen as the primary income providers. Men are typically the key decision-makers; however, matriarchs are not uncommon. For example, within an aiga, there may be a female Matai. She is required to be connected to the family or village by blood and is a daughter of a Matai (specifically an Ali’i). If the Matai of the aiga is a female, she will be the head decision-maker of the family. Moreover, the public influence of women is becoming more apparent and more women are becoming a part of the workforce.
Dating and Marriage
Samoan youth tend to meet at church activities or in the village. Most dating in Samoa is done by the male visiting the female in the presence of her family. During these interactions, gifts may be presented to the female’s family. Messages may be sent back and forth through a friend or communicator (sometimes referred to as a ‘soa’). After some time, the family of the female may agree to let the couple marry. Sometimes, permission of the male’s family is also sought prior to marriage. It is generally very important to reach an agreement and forge positive connections between a couple’s families. Some believe in the saying "if you marry someone, you also marry the family".
The first marriage ceremony is generally a civil ceremony whereby the marriage becomes official in terms of the law. After a week or so, a church ceremony is often held for the couple. In contemporary Samoan society, a traditional wedding tends to be a Christian wedding containing many elements of Polynesian culture such as food and dance. One example is the bride’s taualuga dance, which is a dance nearly all Samoan girls are expected to be prepared to do at their wedding. Depending on how closely the two families live, according to fa’a Samoa, most weddings will also contain the traditional exchange of lauga (oratory speeches given by talking chiefs) and gifts (e.g. fine mats and money).
In some areas, couples will live together and may have children prior to marriage. This was once a common practice but is becoming rare in today’s society. The term ‘usu’ is considered the polite way to refer to this form of union. It is common for people not to consider a marriage as complete until the first child is born. During this time, some families will exchange a dowry that is usually symbolic.
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