Fa`a Samoa

A ceremony
Photo: NOAA

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, which dates back some 3,000 years.

Fa`a Samoa 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 a leading matai (chief) or Sa`o, who manages the communal economy, protects and distributes family lands, is responsible for the welfare of all in their aiga, and represents the family in councils.

One aspect of fa`a-Samoa is the ancient concept of tapu. Samoans restricted use on areas that became overstressed in order to protect our 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.

People dressed in traditional Samoan clothing
Photo: NOAA
A gathering of people in traditional samoan clothing
Photo: NOAA

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 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 United States government 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 councils) and individual matai.

The sanctuary also makes a special effort to work with the American Samoan community with outreach programs for all ages. Samoan cultural events and general community outreach and education programs are also run year-round.

People dressed in blue and white at a Samoan ceremony
Photo: Claire Fackler/NOAA