Also known as: Samoan; Tagata Samoa

Samoa is a group of large, volcanic islands in western Polynesia. In pre-Christian times, Samoans believed in a range of supernatural beings. Pan-Polynesian gods such as Tagaloa, conceived as the creator of the world in Samoa, were present. Beings called aitu, which had more local powers and, according to the interpretation of Cain (1971), were the spirits of miscarried or aborted children. Today, Samoans are overwhelmingly Christian, the largest denominations being Protestant.

Show Map of Location

Traditional Culture(1830)Expand All +
Belief +

Supernatural Beings

Nature Spirits Present, but not a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Stair (1897), pp. 210-241
Turner (1884), pp. 3-77
Nature god(s) Present, but not a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Stair (1897), pp. 210-241
Turner (1884), pp. 3-77
Ancestral spirits Present, but not a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Stair (1897), pp. 210-241
Turner (1884), pp. 16-77
Deified ancestor(s) Present, and a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Stair (1897), pp. 210-211
Cain (1971), pp. 174
God(s) Present, and a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Stair (1897), pp. 210-241
Turner (1884), pp. 16-77

Supernatural Punishment

Supernatural punishment for impiety Present (Source)
Stair (1897), pp. 223-224

Afterlife and Creation

One's actions while living can affect the nature of one's afterlife Absent (Source)
Stair (1897), pp. 217-218
The actions of others after one has died can affect the nature of one's afterlife Absent (Source)
Stair (1897), pp. 217-218
Myth of humanity’s creation Present, and evolutionary (Source)
Stair (1897), pp. 211-214
Primordial pair Present, and genealogically linked to humans now living (Source)
Turner (1884), pp. 3-15
Culture hero(es) Present, but not a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Stair (1897), pp. 210-241
Turner (1884), pp. 16-77

General Features

Forces of nature are controlled by or imbued with the supernatural Present (Source)
Stair (1897), pp. 238

Classes of Tapu

Social hierarchy tapu Present (Source)
Stair (1897), pp. 121-122, 127-128
Resource management tapu Present (Source)
Meleisea (1987), pp. 9
Kinship tapu Present (Source)
Cain (1971), pp. 176

Mana

Mana as a spiritual or religious concept Present (Source)
Schoeffel (1978), pp. 70-71
Mana linked to genealogy Present, linked to both paternal and maternal lines (Source)
Schoeffel (1978), pp. 70-71
Mana and social status Tightly coupled (Source)
Schoeffel (1978), pp. 70-71
Mana as a personal quality Present (Source)
Schoeffel (1978), pp. 71
Keesing (1934), pp. 146
Mana related to social influence or technical skill Present (Source)
Practice +

General Supernatural Practices

Headhunting Absent (Source)
Stair (1897), pp. 210-258
Turner (1884), pp. 16-77, 189-197
Costly sacrifices and offerings Present (Source)
Stair (1897), pp. 234-235
Largest religious community Larger than a local community, smaller than the society (Source)
Stair (1897), pp. 83-84, 210-241
Political and religious differentiation No overlap (Source)
Stair (1897), pp. 56-102, 210-241
Hanson (1973), pp. 3

Rites

Tooth pulling Absent from culture (Source)
Turner (1884), pp. 78-104
Scarification Present in culture, but not as a rite or feature of a rite (Source)
Buck (1930), pp. 658
Turner (1884), pp. 78-104
Piercing Absent from culture (Source)
Buck (1930), pp. 627-628
Turner (1884), pp. 78-104
Tattooing Present in the culture as a rite or feature of a rite (Source)
Turner (1884), pp. 88-89
Stair (1897), pp. 157-158
Genital cutting Present in the culture as a rite or feature of a rite (Source)
Turner (1884), pp. 81
Social Environment +
Population 50000 (Source)
Pirie (1963)
Green (2007)
Population of largest political community 1,000-9,999 (Source)
Stair (1897), pp. 56-102
Green (2007)
Importance of Patrilateral descent High (Source)
Bargatzky (1991), pp. 288
Importance of Matrilateral descent Medium (Source)
Bargatzky (1991), pp. 288
Kinship system Hawaiian (Source)
Bargatzky (1991), pp. 288
Polygamy Limited polygyny (Source)
Bargatzky (1991), pp. 288
Marital residence Patrilocal or virilocal - with husband's kin (Source)
Bargatzky (1991), pp. 288

Conflict

(No) external warfare Rare or never (Source)
Turner (1884), pp. 188-196
Stair (1897), pp. 242-258
Conflict within community Low (Source)
Turner (1884), pp. 59
(No) internal warfare Frequent, occurring at least yearly (Source)
Stair (1897), pp. 242-243
Isolation +
Contact with other cultures Frequent, through trade, warfare, travel, etc. (Source)
Gunson (1990), pp. 179
Distance to closest landmass inhabited by a different culture (km) 366.7 (Source)
Daft Logic Distance Calculator (2014)
Distance to nearest continent 3803.0 (Source)
Daft Logic Distance Calculator (2014)
Pre-Austronesian population Absent: No evidence of human occupation prior to Austronesian settlement (Source)
Bellwood (1995), pp. 109
Hindu / Buddhist influence on supernatural belief No evidence of influence and not in region of known contact (Source)
Cribb (2000), pp. Map 2.21
Islamic influence on supernatural belief No evidence of influence and not in region of known contact (Source)
Cribb (2000), pp. Map 2.23
Christian influence on supernatural belief No evidence of influence but in a region where contact is likely (Source)
Bargatzky (1991), pp. 286-287
Subsistence and Economy +

Land-based means of subsistence

Animal husbandry as a source of food Medium (Source)
Buck (1930), pp. 119, 127
Land-based hunting performed by individuals Medium (Source)
Buck (1930), pp. 119, 127, 523-544
Land-based gathering Minor (Source)
Buck (1930), pp. 127-128, 546-551, 546
Land-based hunting performed by one or more groups Medium (Source)
Buck (1930), pp. 119, 127, 523-544
Agriculture / Horticulture Principal (Source)
Buck (1930), pp. 127-128
Bargatzky (1991), pp. 287

Water-based means of subsistence

Fishing and water-based hunting performed by one or more groups Major (Source)
Buck (1930), pp. 418-522
Fishing and water-based hunting performed by individuals Major (Source)
Buck (1930), pp. 119, 127, 418
Water-based gathering Medium (Source)
Buck (1930), pp. 119, 127, 136, 418

Commercial Activity

Trade / wage labour as a source of food Absent (Source)
Bargatzky (1991), pp. 287
Metalworking Absent (Source)
Buck (1930)
Physical Environment +

Geographical Range of Culture

Number of islands inhabited by culture Four or more (Source)
Stair (1897), pp. 21

Features of Island with Largest Culture Population

Island type (island with largest culture population or largest island if unknown) Volcanic high island (Source)
Bargatzky (1991), pp. 286
Island Size (km²) 1091.0 (Source)
'Upolu' (2019)
Maximum elevation (meters) 1100.0 (Source)
'Upolu' (2019)

Location

Latitude -13.9 (Source)
Keesing (1934), pp. 19
Google Maps (2014)
Longitude -171.8 (Source)
Keesing (1934), pp. 19
Google Maps (2014)
Post Contact History(1830-2014)Expand All +
Religious History +

Conversion

Role of social status in conversion process Primarily a top-down process. (Source)
Gilson (1970), pp. 74-76
Use of force in conversion Low (Source)
Gilson (1970), pp. 69-114
Adoption of a world religion Present and predominant (Source)
Bargatzky (1991), pp. 287-288
Resident missionary involvement in conversion process Present, and from non-Austronesian societies (Source)
Bargatzky (1991), pp. 287

Syncretic Movements

Syncretic religious movements Present, but did not survive to the present-day (Source)
Freeman (1958), pp. 4-13, 19, 21-22
Central Intelligence Agency (Samoa) (2014)
Central Intelligence Agency (American Samoa) (2014)
Secular History +

Demographic and Social Changes

Foreign government systems Present, and of high importance (Source)
Creevey et al. (2021)
Foster (2021)
Central Intelligence Agency (Samoa) (2014)
Meleisea (1987)
Immigration Absent (Source)
Meleisea (1987), pp. 31, 43, 106-107, 120-121, 129, 150, 156-170
Central Intelligence Agency (American Samoa) (2014)
Central Intelligence Agency (Samoa) (2014)
Language shift Low (Source)
Creevey et al. (2021)
Foster (2021)
Foreign education systems High (Source)
Central Intelligence Agency (American Samoa) (2014)
Central Intelligence Agency (Samoa) (2014)
Creevey et al. (2021)
Foster (2021)

Economic Changes

Changes in means of subsistence Medium (Source)
Creevey et al. (2021)
Foster (2021)
Keighley (2006), pp. 113
Exportation of goods to other cultures Present and substantial (Source)
Bargatzky (1991), pp. 287
Creevey et al. (2021)

Modern Infrastructure

Vehicles and roads Present and widely used (Source)
Foster (2021)
Creevey et al. (2021)
Air travel Present and long-distance (Source)
Foster (2021)
Creevey et al. (2021)
Sea port Present (Source)
Foster (2021)
Creevey et al. (2021)

Loss of Autonomy

Nature of loss of autonomy Largely voluntary (Source)
Meleisea (1987), pp. 42, 64-88
Loss of political autonoomy High (Source)
Bargatzky (1991), pp. 287
Current Culture(2014)Expand All +
Belief +

Religious Demographics

Institutional religious syncretism Medium (Source)
Va'ai (2012), pp. 79-80
Dominant world religion Christianity (Source)
Central Intelligence Agency (American Samoa) (2014)
Central Intelligence Agency (Samoa) (2014)
External Links
References
Bargatzky, T. (1991). Samoa. Encyclopaedia of World Cultures (Vol. II, pp 286-289). New York, NY: G.K. Hall & Co.

Bellwood, P. (1995). Austronesian Prehistory in Southeast Asia: Homeland, Expansion and Transformation. P. Bellwood, J.J. Fox, & D. Tryon (Eds.), The Austronesians: Historical and Comparative Perspectives (pp 113-114). Canberra, Australia: ANU Press.

Blevins, J. (2008). Some Comparative Notes on Proto-Oceanic *Mana: Inside and Outside the Austronesian Family. Oceanic Linguistics, 47 (2), 253-274. Retrieved from http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/ol/summary/v047/47.2.blevins.html

Blust, R. (2007). Proto-Oceanic *Mana Revisited. Oceanic Linguistics, 46(2), 404-423. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20172322

Buck, P. (1930). Samoan Material Culture. Honolulu, HI: Bernice P. Bishop Museum.

Cain, H. (1971). "The Sacred Child and the Origin of Spirits in Samoa". Anthropos, 66 (1-2), 173-181. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40457754

Central Intelligence Agency (American Samoa). (2014). The World Factbook: American Samoa. Retrieved from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/aq.html

Central Intelligence Agency (Samoa). (2014). The World Factbook: Samoa. Retrieved from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ws.html

Creevey, P. R., Foster, S. & Wendt, A. (2021). American Samoa. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/place/American-Samoa

Cribb, R. (2000). Historical atlas of Indonesia. Surrey, UK: Curzon Press.

Daft Logic Distance Calculator. (2014). http://www.daftlogic.com/projects-google-maps-distance-calculator.htm.

Foster, S. (2021). Samoa. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/place/Samoa-island-nation-Pacific-Ocean.

Freeman, J.D. (1958). The Joe Gimlet, or Siovili Cult: An Episode in the Religious History of Early Samoa. Canberra, Australia: Australian National University.

Gilson, R.P. (1970). Samoa 1830-1900: The Politics of a Multi-Cultural Community. Melbourne, Australia: Oxford University Press.

Google Maps (2014). Retrieved from maps.google.com

Green, R.C. (2007). Protohistoric Samoan Population. In Kirch, P.V. & Rallu, J. (Eds.). The Growth and Collapse of Pacific Island Societies (pp. 203-231). Honolulu, HW: University of Hawaii Press.

Gunson, N. (1990). The Tonga-Samoa Connection 1777-1845: Some Observations on the Nature of Tongan Imperialism. The Journal of Pacific History, 25 (2), 176-187. DOI: 10.1080/00223349008572634.

Hanson, F.A. (1973) Political Change in Tahiti and Samoa: An Exercise in Experimental Anthropology. Ethnology, 12 (1), 1-13. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3773093.

Keesing, F.M. (1934). Modern Samoa: Its Government and Changing Life. London, UK: Allen and Unwin Ltd.

Keesing, R. M. (1984). Rethinking "mana". Journal of Anthropological Research, 40(1), 137-156, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3629696.

Keighley, E.D.; McGarvey, E.D.; Turituri, P.; & Viali, S. (2006). Farming and Adiposity in Samoan Adults. American Journal of Human Biology, 18 (1), 112-122. DOI: 10.1002/ajhb.20469

Kirch, P.V. (1984). The Evolution of the Polynesian Chiefdoms. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Meleisea, M. (1987). The Making of Modern Samoa. Suva, Fiji: University of the South Pacific.

Pirie, P. N. D. (1963). The geography of population in Western Samoa (Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation). Australian National University, Canberra, Australia.

Sahlins, M. D. (1958). Social stratification in Polynesia. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press

Schoeffel, P. (1978). "Gender, Status and Power in Samoa." Canberra Anthropology, 1 (2), 69-81. DOI: 10.1080/03149097809508656

Stair, J. B. (1897). Old Samoa, or, flotsam and jetsam from the Pacific Ocean. London, U.K.: The Religious Tract Society. Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/oldsamoaorflots00staigoog/mode/2up

Turner, G. (1884). Samoa, a Hundred Years Ago and Long Before: Together with Notes on the Cults and Customs of Twenty-Three other Islands in the Pacific. London, UK: Macmillan and Co. Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/samoaahundredye00turngoog/mode/1up

Upolu (2019). Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/place/Upolu.

Va'ai, E.K. (2012). Religion. In Meleisea, L.M.; Meleisea, P.S.; & Meleisea, E. (Eds). Samoa's Journey 1962-2012: Aspects of History. Wellington, NZ: Victoria University Press.