My Samoan Family


In my country the most important thing is the aiga (family). To Samoans the family is sacred. Samoan boys and girls learn early that nothing is worse than doing things that shame their families. If you do things that make your family proud of you, that is the best thing you can do in your life.

Samoans like to have many children. They believe that this makes the family strong and then when the father and mother are old, there will be enough children to take care of the parents.

The Samoan aiga is not just the father and mother and the many children. It also includes grandparents, uncles and aunts, and cousins. Even distant relatives are part of the aiga. Samoans speak respectfully of their uncles and aunts as “my father” and “my mother.” They call their cousins either “brother” or “sister” and are all very fond of each other.

Whatever a Samoan has he shares with his aiga. If a person likes something another Samoan has, it will promptly be given to him. Then the receiver will give something in return. It is unusual for a Samoan to try to become rich and obtain possessions just for himself.

In the aiga no one goes hungry, no one goes without, no one goes homeless. If one has, all have. If anyone has a great need, such as making a trip or going away to school, the matai (chief) of the family sends word to all the relatives, and everyone sends a share of the money needed.

For important events such as weddings, all the aiga from near and far bring money, food, gifts, or help with whatever is needed.

The matai of an aiga is usually the son of a chief who was also the son of a chief. But the family votes whether to accept him. If he is not a good matai, they can vote him out.

The matai has a big job. It is up to him to see that all members of the aiga have what they need to organize the family for village work and family activities, to see that all are taught to live properly, and to have family counseling to settle problems. A good matai means a good aiga, much like the patriarchs of the Old Testament.

One of the traditions many Samoan families keep is the lotu (a family prayer or devotional).

About dusk each day a drum sounds throughout the village, calling all the people to their homes for lotu. If you visit a Samoan village or just go through it, it would be courteous and proper for you to stop your car and wait quietly during lotu time. You are also welcome to join any family for lotu in their fale (house).

Some villages have their aumaga (young men’s club) along the road in their uniforms to stop the cars. They ask the drivers to pull off the road and either park or drive through the village slowly and quietly.

During lotu you can hear the sounds of hymns, scriptures, and prayers floating from each fale. Inside, the family circle is surrounded by the glow of the setting sun.

After lotu the little children play games near the fale. The young men and women gather in their groups to visit or plan what they will do the next day. The older people may visit as drowsy little ones drift off to sleep.

When the aiga has been gathered in, the father and mother know everyone is home and all is well.

aiga—eye-ing-a

fale—fah-ley

matai—ma-tie

aumaga—au-mong-a

lotu—lo-tu

Samoan Cooking

In a typical Samoan family, a young man does the family cooking in a umu (fire pit oven). His little brothers are usually right there to watch and help him. One of the first things this young cook does is to slash off a few palm fronds with his big bush knife. Then he slits them in half down the thick middle of the stem, fastening the rib into a loop and quickly weaving the leaf fringes into sturdy workbaskets.

Later, the older brother gets into his pao pao (dugout canoe) and goes to the plantation for taro (an edible root). By the time he returns with his baskets full of taro, his little brothers have a pile of wood ready for the fire.

When the fire is hot, the special rocks layered on top begin to glow red. The young cook slashes the leaf fringes off a small coconut tree branch, trims the green rib, and bends it in the middle to make fire tongs to arrange the hot stones in the cleared-out fire pit. Over them he spreads layers of banana leaves, taro, breadfruit, green bananas, a leaf-wrapped fish or chicken, more leaves, more hot rocks, and then leaves and earth. In a few hours the family’s food is cooked for the weekend.

pao pao—pow-pow

umu—oo-moo