The Independent State of Samoa is a group of islands in the South Pacific Ocean, halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand, and occupies an almost central position within Polynesia. Savai’i and Upolu are the two main islands, with three-quarters of the population living in Upolu. Savai’i is the largest and highest in the Samoan Islands. There are also four smaller islands, two of which are uninhabited. Samoans are basically happy people and they live by a code that is centered on family, faith, and culture.
1. The traditional house of Samoans has no walls
The people of Samoa live in a house called “fale.” It is usually round or oval in shape with pebble floors and a thatch roof supported by wooden posts, but it has no walls. The area is very open and the only protection from a bad weather is blinds made from coconut leaves. Ropes made from dried coconut fibers were woven tight, often with a complex pattern for design, around the wooden frame to bind the structure together.
2. Tattooing was a rite of passage for a man
A fun fact about Samoa is that the art of tattooing or “tatau” is very much a part of Samoan culture. Traditionally, it was a symbol of social status in the community. In males, it was considered a rite of passage from adolescence into adulthood given that it was a painful process that often took weeks or months to finish. The Pe’a or tattoo for males is often intricate in design and covers the body from the upper waist area to the knees. Each tattoo is beautiful and unique, and has special meaning for the wearer.
3. Samoa has a third gender
Fa’afafine is regarded as the third gender in Samoa. The term basically means “in the manner of a woman.” They consider themselves different from homosexuals in that they have a complete separate gender identity. The third gender has been widely accepted in Samoan culture for generations and as relevant as male and female.
4. It has its own ancient pyramid
Hidden deep within the thick jungle of the island of Savai’i is the largest ancient structure in the South Pacific known as the Pulemelei Mound or Tia Seu Ancient Mound. It is pyramidal in shape with a vast base measuring 65 meters by 60 meters that supports multiple layers of basalt stones to a height of 12 meters. When you look at it from above, it has a star shape, so it is also called star mound or star pyramid. The top was flat, which might have been used for religious ceremonies.
5. Men wear skirts in Samoa
It is not unusual for the traditional Samoan men to wear skirts whether in private or public. Also, they wear it with pride, an interesting fact about Samoa. The men’s skirt is called “lavalava,” which means cloth that wraps around. It is essentially a single rectangular cloth worn as a skirt and secured around the waist by knotting the upper corners. The design and length of the skirt that they wore would depend upon the occasion or the activity.
6. Samoans skipped a day in December 2011
As the clock struck midnight on December 29, 2011, a fun fact about Samoa is that they fast forwarded to December 31 as they crossed the International Date Line. Samoa went from being the last place on earth to see the sun set to being one of the firsts to welcome the new day. Losing a day made people born on December 30 missed out on celebrating their birthdays that year. The move from east to west of the International Date Line was to align their time zone with their biggest trading partners, Australia and New Zealand; thus, making it easier to conduct business with them.
7. The People of Samoa celebrated July 4 twice in 1892
The American traders persuaded the king of Samoa in 1892 to make the move from the western side to the eastern side of the International Date Line in order to better facilitate business with the United States. The switch happened on July 4, which gained the Samoans an extra day that year and enabled them to celebrate the U.S. Independence twice.
8. They celebrate all things Samoan at the Teuila Festival
An annual event is held every September to celebrate the nation’s culture through dance, music, food, and craft. The Teuila Festival, named after their national flower, Teuila or red ginger, is usually a week-long event that features the best that Samoans have to offer. The festivities include their traditional dance and the “siva afi” or fire knife dance, where the performers do acrobatic stunts or dance while twirling knives that are set afire on both ends. You get to learn about “umu” or the traditional way of cooking food by the locals using earth oven. There are also weaving, wood carving, and tattooing demonstrations. The shows and activities are held across the country.
9. Samoa and American Samoa are different
An interesting fact about Samoa is that the Samoan Islands were partitioned in 1899 with the western islands becoming a German colony and the eastern islands becoming a territory of the United States. In 1914, New Zealand took control of Western Samoa until 1962 when Samoans gained their independence. And in 1997, the government amended their constitution and changed their name from Western Samoa to Samoa.
10. Author of Treasure Island found a home in Samoa
Robert Louis Stevenson was a Scottish novelist who wrote the popular fiction Treasure Island and the Strange case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde. In 1889, his family settled in the island of Upolu. Robert bought more than a hundred hectares of land and named his estate Vailima. He took the name Tusitala, which is Samoan for “Writer of Tales.” He was well respected and loved by the people. The locals consulted him for advice and he became genuinely interested in their customs and politics. In December 3, 1894, he died at the age of 44 and was buried on a spot at Mount Vaea overlooking the sea. The words written on his tomb are from his poem, “Requiem,” and were translated to a Samoan song of grief. His Vailima home is now a museum dedicated to the final years of his life there.
Family is everything to the people of Samoa, and their communal way of living shows that. The extended family lives and works together, with their elders greatly respected. This is the “Fa’a Samoa” or The Samoan Way. They put much value on their culture and traditions, which is why their nation continues to thrive.
I hope that this article on Samoa facts was helpful. If you are interested, visit the Country Facts Page!