Traditions and customs Samoa

Traditions and customs Samoa


It is known more as kava. A Polynesian legend evokes the appearance of this earth color drink, served to the first man by the Creator himself. Symbol of respect, sociability, communion with others, the 'ava is inseparable from the fa'a samoa, custom : it is still consumed in a ritual way during public meetings between matai (chiefs), on the occasion of national political ceremonies, religious meetings, or during the visit of a dignitary for example. The label is essential: not the one on the bottle, but the order in which the beverage is served, which must reflect everyone's social status!

The 'ava is taken from a local species of pepper plant (Piper methysticum). Its root is dried and pounded for a long time, then sprinkled with water, giving a slightly sticky liquid, filtered through hibiscus fibers before being poured into the tanoa (common bowl). It is then served in half coconut (ipu tau) in the order of protocol, with a good swig of welcome speeches and strong thanks. 

Is it good ? Not really. Is it bad? No more. The 'ava undeniably has a vegetal flavor, a little peppery (no wonder…). Slightly euphoric, it numbs the lips, the tongue, the head also if one consumes too much. It used to help men communicate with spirits and priests to enter a trance - which is why missionaries did their best to forbid it.


Birthdays, weddings, religious or civic meetings, sporting events, all occasions are good for dancing in Samoa! Find out if there is any public event planned during your stay.

Those who have had the opportunity to travel to the Pacific will have already realized: the samoan dance is present in most of the shows presented in the big hotels of the Polynesian area, from Hawai'i to Tahiti. More precisely, it is the spectacular fire dance (fire knife dance) masculine which we usually attend. The Samoans speak of ailao (or siva) afi. The principle: on a hectic rhythm of drums, juggle with a long stick-knife extended by torches at each end, until giving the impression, thanks to the speed reached, of creating a circle of fire.

The impressive fa'ataupati (Samoan slap dance) is also performed exclusively by men, without music, in a concert of chants chanted with warlike accents and hand clapping on the thighs, arms and chest.

As to gray, it's the dance of women, somewhat reminiscent of Tahitian tamouré, in a much less jerky and… more dressed version. In the siva, as in the Hawaiian hula, grace is essential. The gestures are symbolic; the arms, hands, fingers here evoke the elements. Funny: the lateral movement, tip of the toes and heels alternately joined, evoking something of Michael Jackson in Moonwalker (in softer)!

Women and men also practice seated dances (ma'ulu'ulu), punctuated by clapping of hands and drums; they are the only ones where we can see them happening side by side. The gestures evoke the daily activities of the past: crushing taro tubers to make poi or mulberry bark to make tapa, farmer, fisherman, rower in canoe ... 

Tapa (siapo)

Traditionally made throughout Polynesia and part of Melanesia, tapa is a kind of fabric made from bark. Still worn today during ceremonial occasions and dances, offered on the occasion of a marriage or burial, it is also now sold to tourists as a souvenir ...

Recipe ? Take young mulberry branches, clean them, peel them, then separate the outer bark (too hard and unusable) from the inner bark, or u'a (softer). Gather the latter in a bowl of water to keep it moist, successively scrape each piece meticulously with three different kinds of shells, place everything flat and tap bluntly using a specially designed square beater (i ' e), alternating its flat sides and those encrusted with teeth.

Alternatively, you could use some sort of 1m long beater with a flat end. The goal: to stretch the dough in width, until it forms a sort of thin pancake. It is time, then, to layer several of these "leaves" on top of each other and beat them again, until they become one big one. 

The siapo can then be tinted or decorated using natural dyes: the bark of the cedar of Java gives a deep brown, the burnt walnut of the bancoulier (Moluccan walnut) the black, the annatto seeds the red, the root turmeric yellow and banana sap purple. 13 stylized traditional patterns are used in representations: geometric elements, leaves, seashells, flowers, animal prints, etc.

  • More info on siapo

Tatau (Tattoo)

It is in Polynesia that the tattooing has reached its highest expression and in Samoa it has best survived modernity, despite fierce opposition from missionaries. Clan membership sign, he still scores the entry of young people into adulthood, with the realization of the pe'a, (or malofie) which draws on the skin a sort of "panties" with horizontal lines, between the top of the waist and the knees. Whole portions of the drawing are full: as much to say that the process, largely ritualized and accompanied by songs, takes time (two weeks in general).

It is also very painful : tufuga ta tatau traditionally uses shark teeth, sharp bones and shells, immersed in an ink drawn from the combustion of the walnut of the bancoulier. The pain endured is a rite of passage and symbolizes the attachment to fa'a samoa (see Traditions), the custom. Impossible to crack on the road: an unfinished tattoo would bring shame to the whole family.

Women have their own reference tattoo: the malu. Consisting of more spaced parallel lines, it extends from below the knee to the edge of the buttocks - an area traditionally hidden from view. Formerly reserved for the daughters of chiefs, malu has been democratized since the 1990s and has even become, in the Samoan communities of New Zealand and Australia, a symbol of cultural attachment to its origins. But now, rather than hiding it from others, we exchange photos on social networks ... Traditionally, in Samoa, women could also be tattooed on the fingers and lower abdomen.


- January 1 and 2: New Year.
- March-April: Good Friday and Easter Monday.
- Monday in mid-May: Mother's Day.
- June 1: Independence Day (the occasion for many festivities, including a big canoe competition).
- Monday following the second Sunday in August: Father's Day.
- Monday following the 2nd Sunday in October: White Sunday (Lotu-a-Tamaiti) December 25 and 26: Christmas and Boxing Day (many things close for 2-3 weeks around Christmas and New Year).

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