CULTURE OF SAMOA

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CULTURE OF SAMOA
The fa'a Samoa, or traditional Samoan way, remains a strong force in Samoan life and politics. Despite centuries of European influence, Samoa maintains its historical customs, social and political systems, and language. Samoan mythology include many gods with creation stories and figures of legend such as Tagaloa and the goddess of war Nafanua, the daughter of Saveasi'uleo, ruler of the spirit realm Pulotu. Other legends include the well known story of Sina and the Eel which explains the origins of the first coconut tree.

Samoans are deeply spiritual and religious people, and have subtly adapted the dominant religion of Christianity to 'fit in' with fa'a Samoa and vice versa. As such, ancient beliefs continue to co-exist side-by-side with Christianity, particularly in regard to the traditional customs and rituals of fa'a Samoa. The Samoan culture is centered around the principle of vāfealoa'i, the relationships between people. These relationships are based on respect, or fa'aaloalo. When Christianity was introduced in Samoa, most Samoan people converted. Currently 98% of the population identify themselves as Christian. The other 2 percent either identify themselves as irreligious, or do not belong to any congregation.

The Samoans have a communal way of life with little privacy. They do almost all their activities collectively. An example of this are the traditional Samoan fales (houses) which are open with no walls, using blinds made of coconut palm fronds during the night or bad weather.


As with many Polynesian islands with significant and unique tattoos, Samoans have two gender specific and culturally significant tattoos. For males, it is called the Pe'a and consists of intricate and geometrical patterns tattooed that cover areas from the knees up towards the ribs. A male who possesses such a tatau is called a soga'imiti. A Samoan girl or teine is given a malu, which covers the area from just below her knees to her upper thighs.

The Samoan word for dance is siva and the style is similar to Tongan dance with gentle movements of the hands and feet in time to music and which tells a story, although the Samoan male dances can be more physical and snappy. The "Sasa" is also a traditional Samoan dance, in which rows of dancers perform rapid synchronised movements in time to the rhythmn of wooden drums or rolled mats. Another dance, performed by males is called the fa'ataupati or the slap dance, creating rhythmic sounds by slapping different parts of the body. This is believed to have been derived from slapping insects on the body. The form and construction of traditional architecture of Samoa was a specialised skill by Tufuga fai fale that also linked to other cultural artforms.

Contemporary Culture
Albert Wendt is a significant Samoan writer whose novels and stories tell the Samoan experience. In 1989, his novel Flying Fox in a Freedom Tree was made into a feature film in New Zealand, directed by Martyn Sanderson. Another novel Sons for the Return Home was also made into a feature film in 1979, directed by Paul Maunder. The late John Kneubuhl, born in American Samoa, was an accomplished playwright and screenwriter and writer Sia Figiel won the 1997 Commonwealth Writers' Prize. Momoe Von Reiche is an internationally recognised poet and artist. Popular bands include The Five Stars, Penina o Tiafau and Punialava'a. There are also many contemporary Samoan artists living around the world. These Samoan artists include writers, filmmakers, visual artists, actors, directors, singers and dancers. In contemporary dance in New Zealand Lemi Ponifasio is a director and choreographerand Neil Ieremia'sc company Black Grace has received international acclaim with tours to Europe and New York. The arts organisation Tautai is a collective of visual artists including Fatu Feu'u, Johnny Penisula, Shigeyuki Kihara, Iosefa Leo, Michel Tuffery, John Ioane and Lily Laita. In film, director Sima Urale is an award winning filmmaker. Urale's short film O Tamaiti won the prestigious Best Short Film at the Venice Film Festival in 1996. Her first feature film Apron Strings opened the 2008 NZ International Film Festival. The feature film Siones Wedding co-written by Oscar Kightley was financially successful following premieres in Auckland and Apia. In music, the cover of the song Sweet Inspiration by The Yandall Sisters reached number one on the charts while King Kapisi was the first hip hop artist to receive the prestigious New Zealand APRA Silver Scroll Award in 1999 for his song Reverse Resistance. His music video Reverse Resistance was filmed in Savai'i at his villages. Other successful Samoan hip hop artists include rapper Scribe, Dei Hamo, Savage and Tha Feelstyle whose music video Suamalie was filmed in Samoa. In comedy, Laughing Samoans, the Naked Samoans and Kila Kokonut Krew have enjoyed sold out tours. Actor and director Nathaniel Lees has featured in many theatre productions and films including his role as Captain Mifune in The Matrix movie trilogy. In theatre, published playwrights include Oscar Kightley, Victor Rodger, Makerita Urale and Niuean Samoan playwright Dianna Fuemana. Tusiata Avia is a performance poet. Her first book of poetry Wild Dogs Under My Skirt was published by Victoria University Press in 2004.

International influences like hip hop impact on Samoan culture. According to Katerina Martina Teaiwa, PhD from the University of Hawai'i at Manoa, "Hip hop culture in particular is popular amongst Samoan youth." This is not surprising considering the large amounts of migration between Samoa, Hawaii, and the United States mainland, specifically California. In addition, the integration of hip hop elements into Samoan tradition also "testifies to the transferability of the dance forms themselves," and to the "circuits through which people and all their embodied knowledge travel." Dance both in its traditional form and its more modern forms has remained a central cultural currency to Samoans, especially youths.