Fa'a-Samoa and the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa
Fa’a-Samoa is the cultural context for all sanctuary activities and functions. Fa'a-Samoa is often heard in American Samoa, and refers to the traditional Samoan lifestyle, or way of life. It is the foundation of Polynesia’s oldest culture – dating back some 3,000 years. It places great importance on the dignity and achievements of the group rather than on individual achievements. The traditional communal lifestyle revolves around the aiga, or family. Aiga are headed by leading matai (chief) or Sa’o, who manage the communal economy, protect and distribute family lands, are responsible for the welfare of all in their aiga, and represent the family in councils.
The Samoan people are very proud of their unique cultural heritage and they have been able to effectively maintain their traditional way of life. Over the past century, some traditions and customs have evolved to accommodate western influences. However fa’a-Samoa still informs daily decision making, both in the home and in the work place.
One aspect of fa'a-Samoa is the ancient concept of tapu. Samoans restricted use on areas that became overstressed in order to protect their resources. With the decline in subsistence fishing in the area, many of the new generation of Samoans are no longer familiar with the traditional management practices that govern the conservation of coral reefs. With the decline of awareness of tapu, the traditional cultural ethics of resource management were being lost as well.
The National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa adds a new dimension to local awareness of the treasures of the marine environment and the need to protect and preserve it. By equating the sanctuary with the concept of tapu, a fresh understanding of resource protection and management emerges, one which can have vital cultural and environmental significance.
NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa place a high value on partnerships with sanctuary communities and maintain great respect for fa’a-Samoa. In American Samoa, the relationship between the sanctuary and the village council is critical to the success of this partnership. The American Samoa Department of Commerce and Office of Samoan Affairs help facilitate the sanctuary’s community consultations in a manner that is culturally appropriate and respectful of fa’a-Samoa. This work includes consultations with saofa'iga ale nuu (village council meeting) and individual matai.
The sanctuary also makes a special effort to work with the American Samoan community with outreach programs for all ages. The sanctuary co-sponsors a summer environmental education program, and the Enviro-Discovery Program for 9- to 12-year-old children to explore sanctuary marine life and learn ways to protect sanctuary resources, and learn art forms using materials from the sea. Samoan cultural events and general community outreach/education programs are also run year-round. Community outreach and education programs are run year-round.