Food and Economy
Food in Daily Life. Samoans eat a mixture of local and imported foods. Local staples include fish, lobster, crab, chicken, and pork; lettuce and cabbage; root vegetables such astalo, ta’amu, and yams; tree crops such as breadfruit and coconut; and local beverages such as coffee and cocoa. Imported foods include rice, canned meat and fish, butter, jam, honey, flour, sugar, bread, tea, and carbonated beverages.
Many families drink beverages such as tea throughout the day but have a single main meal together in the evening. A range of restaurants, including a McDonald’s, in the capital are frequented largely by tourists and the local elite.
Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Sharing of food is a central element of ceremonies and features in Sunday meals known astoana’i, the feasts that accompany weddings and funerals and the conferring of chiefly titles, and annual feasts such as White Sunday. Special meals are marked by a larger than usual amount of food, a greater range of delicacies, and formality. Food also features in ceremonial presentations and exchanges between families and villages. The presentation of cooked whole pigs is a central feature of such events, and twenty-liter drums of salted beef are increasingly popular. Kava (‘ava), a beverage made from the powdered root of Piper methysticum, made and shared in a ceremonially defined order at meetings of chiefs (matai) and less formally among men after work.
Meals: are supplied at 3 set mealtimes. Students can bring snacks if they wish, but this is not a requirement.
Water: Water-borne, food-borne and other infectious diseases (including typhoid, hepatitis, filariasis and tuberculosis) are a risk, with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time. We advise you to boil all drinking water or more importantly drink purchased bottled water, and avoid ice cubes and raw and undercooked food. Seek medical advice if you have a fever or if you are suffering from diarrhoea.
Accommodation for Samoa:
Accommodation in town (see above image). For students undertaking the Industry Study Tours (Samoa) the accommodation situation is very modest. You will first stay in Apia, Lynn’s Getaway, which is like a big house with rooms and it is similar to staying in a hostel, but without the bunk beds. It is comfortable and homely, but very basic. Avoid drinking the filtered water at Lynn’s Getaway and purchase bottled water at the nearby shop. The accommodation has twin share or single rooms, with the majority of students sharing (and at times three to a room). The bathroom facilities are also shared. Please remember, your individual requests may not always be met. Be prepared to share and have realistic expectations while staying in Samoa.
Accommodation in the village (see above image) will be in Poutasi village. We will be staying in the community hall, which may not include the possibility for gender division and therefore our Western expectations of privacy will not be possible. It is very basic and the bathroom is unisex.
The village community is supplying us with the accommodation, because it is important that we stay within the community to develop rapport. Poutasi village accommodation will allow for group sharing, depending on numbers. At times, males may be able to stay in the traditional Falei’s with mozzie nets like locals. Remember, your individual requests may not always be met. Be prepared to share and have realistic expectations while staying in Samoan villages.
Mosquito nets: Please bring your own mosquito net. You can buy small travel mosquito nets pretty readily from camping shops. Also, bring light, coloured clothes with long sleeves to wear especially at night. Mosquitos are more attracted to dark colours as it camouflages them. Also bring effective mosquito repellent for tropical climates.
Hygiene in both situations is very basic: For example, Poutasi village is more basic compared to Apia. Poutasi village has cold showers only. We will be staying within walking distance to shops in both instances. Bring sanitary wipes and soap for maintaining hygiene and to prevent sickness.
Additional information: Remember to bring thongs/sandals for showering, pillow case and sheet (just in case), bring light coloured, long sleeve tops and long pants (as village life is much more traditional, which includes beach swimming). White (long sleeve/long pants) clothing is expected for church on Sundays. You will need to bring enclosed and comfortable footwear for hiking and long walks. Hats and sunscreen.
Reflections to consider from a student who has been to Samoa on a study tour (from La Trobe University).
Basic Economy. The agricultural and industrial sectors employ 70 percent of the workforce and account for 65 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). The service sector employs 30 percent of those employed and accounts for 35 percent of the GDP. Much of this sector is associated with the tourist industry, which is limited by intense competition from other islands in the region and its dependence on economic conditions in source countries.
The economy ran large trade deficits in the 1990s. Products are exported to New Zealand, American Samoa, Australia, Germany and the United States, and imports, intermediate goods, foods, and capital goods come from New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, and the United States. The economy is highly dependent on remittances from expatriates in New Zealand, Australia, the United States, and American Samoa and aid from New Zealand, Australia, and Germany. These remittances are declining because overseas-born children of migrants have attenuated their connections with the nation, whose geopolitical significance has declined since the Cold War ended.
Land Tenure and Property: Much agricultural production comes from the 87 percent of the land held under customary tenure and associated with villages. The control of this land is vested in elected chiefs (matai), who administer it for the families (aiga) they head. The remaining 13 percent is land held by the crown and a small area of freehold residential land around the capital.
Trade: Samoa produces some primary commodities for export: hardwood timber, copra and coconut products, root vegetables, coffee, cocoa, and fish. Agricultural produce constitutes 90 percent of exports. The most promising export crop, taro, was effectively eliminated by leaf blight in 1993. A small industrial sector designed to provide import substitution and exports processes primary commodities such as coconut cream and oil, animal feed, soap, biscuits, cigarettes, and beer. A multinational corporation has established a wiring harness assembly plant whose production is reexported; and a clothing assembly plant is planned.
Classes and Castes: Samoan society is meritocratic. Those with recognized ability have traditionally been elected to leadership of families. Aside from four nationally significant chiefly titles, the influence of most titles is confined to the families and villages with which they are associated. Title holders gain status and influence not only from accumulating resources but also from their ability to mobilize and redistribute them. These principles work against significant permanent disparities in wealth. The power of chiefs has been reduced, and the wealth returned by expatriates has flowed into all sectors of society, undermining traditional rank-wealth correlations. The public influence of women is becoming increasingly apparent. A commercial elite that has derived its power from the accumulation and investment of private wealth has become increasingly influential in politics.
Social Welfare and Change Programs
The government is responsible for health, education, and welfare in cooperation with villages and churches. Health care and education are provided for a nominal cost. Families provide for their members’ welfare. The state grants a small old-age pension, and the Catholic Church runs a senior citizens’ home.
Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations
The most influential nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are the churches, in which 99 percent of Samoans participate and which actively comment on the government’s legislative program and activity. A small number of NGOs work for the rights of women and the disabled, environmental conservation, and transparency in government. Professional associations exert some influence on the drafting of legislation. These organizations have a limited impact on the life of most residents.
Gender Roles and Statuses
The organization of traditional production was clearly gendered, and the parts of this mode of production that remain intact are still gendered. The constitution provides for equality of opportunity, and there are no entrenched legal, social, or religious obstacles to equality for women. There is some evidence of growing upward social mobility by women.
Marriage, Family, and Kinship
Samoan society is composed of extended families (aiga potopoto), each of which is associated with land and a chiefly title. All Samoans inherit membership and land use rights in the aiga of their parents’ parents. They may choose to live with one or more of aiga and develop strong ties with those in which they live. Choices are determined by matters such as the availability of resources and status of various groups and personal preference. Aiga potopoto include resident members who work the land, “serve” the chief, and exercise full rights of membership and nonresident members who live outside the group but have some rights in its activities. Resident members live in clusters of households within the village, share some facilities and equipment, and work on family-land controlled by the matai.
Inheritance: Rights to reside on and use land are granted to members of a kin group who request them, subject to availability. Rights lapse at death, and matai may then reassign them. There is a growing tendency to approve the transmission of rights to parcels of land from parents to children, protecting investments in development and constituting a form of de facto freehold tenure. Since neither lands nor titles can be formally transmitted without the consent of the kin group, the only property that can be assigned is personal property.
Many residents die intestate and with little personal property. With increasing personal wealth, provision for the formal disposition of wealth may assume greater importance. This is not a foreign concept, since matai have traditionally made their wishes known before death in a form of will known as amavaega. The Public Trust Office and legal practitioners handle the administration of estates.
Child Rearing and Education: Younger people are expected to respect their elders and comply with their demands. Justification for this principle is found in Samoan tradition and Christian scripture. The only exception exists in early childhood, when infants are protected and indulged by parents, grandparents, and older siblings. After around age five, children are expected to take an active, if limited, part in the family economy. From then, until marriage, young people are expected to comply unquestioningly with their parents’ and elders’ wishes.
Great importance is attached to the family’s role in socialization. A “good” child is alert and intelligent and shows deference, politeness, and obedience to elders and respect for Samoan custom (aganu’u fa’a samoa) and Christian principles and practices. The belief that the potential for learning these qualities is partly genetic and partly social and is defined initially within the family is grounded in both Samoan and Christian thought.
Formal education is provided in secular and religious institutions. There are elementary, intermediate, and secondary secular schools run by the government or churches and church-linked classes that provide religious instruction. There is great respect and desire for higher education, and a significant part of the education budget is committed to supporting the National University of Samoa, the nursing school, the teachers training college, the trades training institute, and overseas training.
Religious Beliefs: Samoa is overwhelmingly Christian. The major denominations—Congregationalist, Methodist, Roman Catholic, and Latter-Day Saints—have been joined recently by smaller ones such as the SDA and charismatic Pentecostal groups such as Assembly of God. Clergy and leaders are prepared at theological training institutions at home and abroad. Small Baha’i and Muslim groups have formed in recent years.