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The People of Samoa

by Samoa Koria,
San Diego, California

In 1995, the Pacific Islander community of San Diego held its first major community festival - more than 60,000 people came to the two-day festival, July 22nd and 23rd.

Organizing to overcome a perceived inviability of Pacific Islander people in San Diego, Chamorros, people of the Cook Islands, Fijians, Guamanians, Hawaiians, Maoris, people of the Marianas, Marshallese, people of the Federated States of Micronesia, Samoans, the Tokelau, Tongans, and others came together to put on this historic event.

With the theme of Hokule'a-Ho'oku'i I Ka Pakipika (Bridging the Pacific), the festival was a vivid expression of the Pacific Islander people's history, culture, arts, crafts and cooking. Central to the festival was the visit to San Diego of the Hokule'a ship (photo above) - a symbol of exploration among Pacific Islanders.

The festival received a lot of support in San Diego city and county and has lead to steps towards Pacific Islander empowerment including the establishment of various new organizations and the placing of Pacific Islanders on city and county commissions.

After the success of this first festival the planning of the second festival is well under way. The following article about the Samoan people was written by Samoa Koria a member of the education committee of the 1995 festival and was chair of the 1996 festival.

OUR GREETING: Talofa (Hello)

OUR PEOPLE: The Samoan Islands are part of Polynesia, and lie in the South Pacific about 2,400 miles southwest of Hawai'i.

Historically, the British, German, and American governments all vied for political domination of the Islands. Today, the Islands are divided into two regions:
  • Western Samoa - at one time under the German and New Zealand government rule, now an Independent country.
  • Eastern Samoa - known as American Samoa, a possession of the United States since 1900.

OUR HISTORY: For many years, we have lived a under "laid-back" lifestyle with no development of written language until missionaries arrived on the Islands in the early to mid-1600's. With the advent of a Samoan alphabet and language, we began to document stories of our lives and events of great importance to maintain valuable cultural, political, economical, and social pride. The intrusion of various "superpowers" divided our country into two regions with two different philosophies.

OUR CANOES: Samoans have constructed many types of canoes, each designed for a specific purpose. Here are just a few:

  • The "Paopao" is one used for fishing within the reef areas.
  • The "Va'aalo" is a bigger fishing craft used outside reef areas and for short distance travel.
OUR LANGUAGE: Samoan is our native language. The double-vowel sounds makes the Samoan language, along with other Polynesians, very soothing to the listener yet very powerful for oratorical commands.

OUR RELIGION: There has always been some worshiping to God. This means that you'll find Samoans into many different kinds of churches from Buddhism to Christianity. Also, our clergy nine times out of ten, come from the theological schools based on the Islands.

OUR COMMUNITY: We are divided into villages - each with a representative called the "matai" (chief of the family) who directs and facilitates all family business inside the village and out.

OUR FOODS: The coconut is an everyday part of our diet. The use of bananas and the taro root is our main staple. Pork, chicken, beef, and fish provide other parts of a daily meal.

OUR WAY OF LIFE: The Samoan "way of life" called Fa'a Samoa is based on respecting our elders and ensuring the well-being of our immediate family at any cost. This fundamental premise is what keeps our culture and language alive today to instill a sense of self-esteem and self pride.

OUR AGRICULTURE: With year-round tropical weather that exhibits wind, rain, and sunshine within an hour of the day, the land is very fertile to grow just about anything that will help for meal preparations for the day.

OUR MUSIC: Much of our music reflects growing trends of the time and always tells stories of how we live life in Samoa. Main genres produced and performed are religious. familial, country humor and "islandish" music.

OUR GOVERNMENT: In American Samoa, the political process is very similar to the election of state officials (governor, senators, etc.). However, Western Samoa is also very similar with the election of state officials (governor and legislatures) and we've adopted parliamentary procedures as the form of government.

OUR CITIZENSHIP: All who are born in American Samoa are United States nationals and are free to travel to the United States. All who are born in Western Samoa are considered "foreigners" and must therefore obtain visas to enter the United States.

OUR CULTURAL SYMBOL: Our official seal shown above bears the cultural symbols of our Samoan culture -- the Fue, the To'oto'o, and the Kava Bowl. The Fue represents wisdom, the To'oto'o (staff) represents authority. Together, these are used by the chiefs of the land and indicate their elevated ranking. The Kava Bowl symbolizes service to the chiefs. This bowl is traditionally used during the Kava Ceremony, one of the highest and most formal rituals of the Samoan culture. The 'Ava.

OUR UNIQUE FACT: From 1978 -1982, there were more Samoans residing in the United States (approx. 50.000) than in American Samoa itself (approx. 39.000).

OUR FAREWELL: Tofa Soifua (formal goodbye).

Published in In Motion Magazine - December 10, 1995.