Volume 67 1958 > Volume 67, No. 3 > The social organization of an urban village in Samoa, by Susan Hirsh, p 266-303
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THIS IS A study of the social organization of an urbanized Polynesian village. Most of the major island groups of Polynesia have urban areas or settlements. These areas are of interest not only for their importance as centres of administration and marketing, but also for the change in the way of life among their islander residents.

The study began as a background investigation for the study of Samoan migrants to New Zealand. Since no community studies of Western Samoan society have been published, it was important to gain some understanding of contemporary village life, particularly that of the Apia urban area where many of the migrants originate.

The intention of this report is to discuss the social organization of one selected village in the Apia area. Four major questions will be considered:

  • (1) How is the village defined as a community and how is it composed?
  • (2) What sort of social groupings occur in this village, who belongs to them, and what do they do?
  • (3) What are the basic principles of the social organization of the village?
  • (4) What comparisons may be drawn, on the basis of this information, with non-urban villages?

The field work for this study was done from June to October, 1957, under the sponsorship of the United States Educational Foundation in New Zealand. I selected the village as the result of the friendship of one of the villagers whom I had known in New Zealand, and who returned to Samoa shortly after I arrived. Because of the crowded conditions in the village, I did not want to impose on my friend's hospitality, so I found accommodation in a boarding house located in the village within easy reach of the villagers and their activities.

As a young woman I did not receive the formality and attention that would have been due to an older male researcher. I counted this a distinct advantage since most of the descriptions of Samoan society have come from persons who were received and treated formally. I was interested in observing the villagers in their daily lives and an informal role in the village seemed best.

Most of the information in this report is based upon direct observation. I conducted a formal census of the village households late in my stay in the village, using a young woman of the village as an interpreter, but other than this did not conduct formal interviews either in English - 267 or in Samoan. I had several months of preliminary tutoring in Samoan and found what knowledge I had of the language to be a stimulant to conversation, but I felt that it was not practical to spend any great amount of time in learning the language when my period in the field was to be so short. Although Samoan only is ordinarily spoken among the villagers, there were enough of them who could communicate adequately in English to supply a certain amount of information. As I could understand the substance of almost every conversation, although I could not converse fluently myself, a great deal was learned by listening to the villagers talking among themselves.

The villagers have been left anonymous, although this is simply an objective study and not concerned with either commendation or criticism of the lives of those who are being described. For Samoans take pride in tradition and in doing things the “real Samoan way” and since I am describing certain changes from the traditional way of life, I prefer to do so without disclosing the identities of the people involved.


My gratitude is extended to the United States Educational Foundation in New Zealand for their financial assistance in my field work. Thanks are also due to the Hon. G. R. Powles, High Commissioner of Western Samoa, for permission to enter the territory and undertake research. Acknowledgement is given to Professor W. R. Geddes and other members of the Anthropology Department, University of Auckland, for discussions of the field materials and criticism of the manuscript.

  • aiga—a group based upon kinship; a relative.
  • aiga e tasi—a group composed of all related persons residing in the same village.
  • ali'i—a chief, the holder of a family title.
  • ekalesia—a member of the village church.
  • fale—a Samoan house.
  • faife'au—a Samoan pastor.
  • fono—the village council of matai.
  • malae—the village meeting ground, a grassy area in the centre of the village.
  • matai—a chief; generic term including all types of chief.
  • pulenu'u—the government representative of the village.
  • sua—a food offering.
  • tama'ita'i—a group of women who belong to the village (have not married into it).
  • taule'ale'a—an untitled man.
  • tautai—a fishing expert.
  • tulafale—a chief, orator, the holder of a family title.
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The comparisons in this study will be with the social organization of the traditional and non-urban Samoan village. Samoan society has been fairly well-described during the period of European contact, 1 including anthropological accounts, and from these sources a summary of village organization may be made.

The early post-European village, according to the early missionary George Turner, 2 was an organized group of family-households. These families, under the leadership of their elected male leaders, formed a group that was economically self-sufficient and socially as well as geographically isolated, except for political association with a number of other nearby villages.

Turner described the typical village as a collection of from three to five hundred persons, divided into between ten and twenty families. The “village family” was a “combined group of sons, daughters, uncles, cousins, nephews, nieces, etc., and [might] number fifty individuals. They [had] one large house as a common rendezvous, and for the reception of visitors, and four or five other houses, all near each other. The families were classified into two status groups; one or more, in some cases the majority, of families were of chiefly status whose members traced their descent to ‘the ancient head of some particular clan’.” 3

The family was the producing and consuming unit. Families were called upon to contribute a share of the food required for the village guests or for special celebrations. The entire family assembled twice daily for meals, once before noon and then in the evening for the largest meal of the day. Men, women and children were all seated together while they ate. The family head was also the religious leader of the family, and he would offer a prayer to village and family gods before the evening meal. The family head was also the holder of valued possessions, such as fine mats, which were distributed to him by the village chief on ceremonial occasions or which members of his family manufactured. If he needed more of these valued items than he held at a particular time to pay a special craftsman for services or to use as special gifts, he could go freely to any of his relatives and ask for their contributions.

The heads of all of the village families were members of the village council. This group met regularly and had jurisdiction over inter-family affairs. The head of a chiefly family of the village was the leader of this council. He was considered the leader of all the village families and would call upon them for contributions to village occasions, but for his personal or family needs he went to his own relatives. The heads of the village families were members of a district council, which had jurisdiction over inter-village affairs and warfare, which was usually an inter-district affair. The formation of this district council was by - 269 common consent among the various villages. One village was considered the capital of the district, where district councils were held, and the chief of the capital village was considered to be the king of the district.

The village council was, according to Turner, the legislative body and court of appeals. One of the heads of family was a sort of Prime Minister, with the special duties of calling council meetings and delivering messages and information from the chief to the heads of family. Punishments were decided upon by the council; these were usually in the form of fines of large quantities of food, but in particular cases were severe physical punishment for the individual involved.

Law and order in the village was reinforced by religious sanctions. If the offender were unknown in a case that was brought before the council, each villager was required to swear to his or her innocence while touching the physical representative of the village god, usually some natural object, such as a stone or shell. A certain number of offences were prevented by individual curses; an individual could invoke the power of his family god against theft by putting a tapui on his crops, a tabu indicated by certain signs, such as a leaf tied around the trunk of a tree.

There were special craftsmen in every village who were employed by the various family heads to do special work. These specialists were house carpenters, boat carpenters, tattoo artists, medical practitioners. There was also a special village priest. Sometimes this was the village chief, but more often a member of a particular family which had hereditary right to the priesthood. The priest set the days for the annual feasts in honour of the village deity, received offerings from the people to the deity, and had the right to decide whether or not the village might go to war. There was no village temple or church; the physical representatives of the village gods were kept in the village reception house.

Later writers on Samoa have given more detailed descriptions than Turner, but they give similar information on twentieth century Samoan villages. Except for some changes, such as the introduction of Christian practices, all of these later accounts agree in substance as to the general organization of villages, with family-household groups with titled male leaders, the fono (council of heads of family), the specialists in certain skills who serve the entire village, and the district fono.

The ceremonial organization of the village has been extensively described in later accounts. These have discussed three groups as the core of the village ceremonial system; the fono, the aumaga (a group of taule'ale'a, the untitled men of the village), and the aualuma (the unmarried women of the village).

The fono is composed of two kinds of matai (chiefs, titled heads of family); the ali'i (chief) and the tulafale (popularly called “talking chief”). The fono is the focus of village ceremony. The other two groups serve the fono; the aumaga provides the labour force and the aualuma provides hostesses and entertainers. The leader of the aumaga is the holder of the manaia title and is usually the son of the leading ali'i of the village. The leader of the aualuma is the holder of the taupou title - 270 and is usually the daughter of the leading ali'i. She is the official hostess for the fono and usually the official server of 'ava (kava, the drink made from the root of Piper methysticum).

This village organization is today usually considered to be uniform throughout Samoa. However, there do exist variations on this general picture which are relevant to a discussion of culture change in Samoa.

First of all, villages vary in the degree and nature of the organization of untitled men. At one extreme the taule'ale'a are not members of an organized group but are individual servants of the matai, while at the other the taule'ale'a have their own council with equal voice in village affairs to the fono. In one village reported, the untitled men have assumed the name aualuma for their group; and in some villages the manaia rather than the taupou serves the kava.

The organization of village women is another way in which contemporary villages vary. In some villages all of the women, married or unmarried, regularly meet for group work, such as weaving fine mats. In others the women work as individuals and gather only with other members of their families. In some villages there is only the Women's Committee, a European introduction to aid in health administration. In others there are two traditional women's groups, the wives of the matai in one and the sisters and children of the matai in the other. In still other villages there is a single group known as the tama'ita'i, which is composed of all adult women in the village who belong to (are born in or move into, but are not married into) the village. In some cases the tama'ita'i meet together as a female counterpart of the fono.

It is not within the scope of this study to present the total range of variation in village organization. However, Samoan villages are usually considered to be quite uniform in organization and it is well to point out that variation in groupings does exist. This is important to consider if the traditional village organization is to be used for comparison with the urban community to be described.


Apia, with its surrounding urban district, is located on the coastal plains facing a bay in the centre of the north coast of the island of Upolu. The urban area is difficult to define geographically. The census restricts it to the districts of Faleata East and Vaimauga West, an area that includes some fifty recognized villages. 4 However, in terms of concentration and influx of population, the bordering districts of Vaimauga East and Faleata West should be included. This extends the urban area to many villages along the coast in both directions from Apia which have easy access to the commercial centre and include in their populations many of those employed in Apia.

Samoa's population is increasing rapidly, but the population of the Apia area is expanding not only because of the high birth rate but from an influx of children to attend the central schools, of titled men who - 271 wish to be near to the central government, of adults seeking employment, and of families and individuals coming for various other reasons. In addition there is a daily movement to and from Apia of persons living in more distant villages, by means of frequent buses on Upolu's roads and daily boat service to the island of Savai'i. According to the 1956 government census, the population in the Apia area had increased by 30.5 per cent since 1951. However, the Vaimauga East district increased by 40.1 per cent and the Faleata West district by 71.2 per cent in the same period. This would indicate that the influx of population in the past five years has been more to the villages near Apia than to the central urban district. This may indicate that the central area is approaching the saturation point, but it may also be that Samoans find it possible to obtain the benefits of the urban centre while living in more distant villages that still have agricultural land. The district of Aleipata, in contrast, which is one of the most remote districts from Apia, increased by only 1.8 per cent in the five year period, well below the level of natural increase of the population and indicating a considerable movement out of the district.

In 1956 the total population resident in the two Apia urban districts was 18,153 persons. This comprises 25.8 per cent of the population of the island of Upolu and 18.7 per cent of the total population of Western Samoa.

The villages within the Apia urban area vary greatly in size, from 28 persons in the smallest to 1059 in the largest. The sex ratio 5 for all urban villages is 104, but the individual village sex ratio may be as high as 250, and there are a number of districts, such as those containing the hospital or schools where the population is almost entirely of one sex. In general, there is a slight predominance of males in the residential villages.

Most of the villages contain primarily traditional or semi-traditional Samoan fale (houses), and many of them have been invaded by European or part-European homes. Some of the villages have adequate land for agriculture and use it as a primary food source, but many are nearly or entirely landless, depending upon food obtained in the outer districts or purchased in town. The villages are side-by-side and back-to-back, but the housing is not congested in most areas, with the families preferring to house more persons in the existing fale than to build new fale on the existing land.

The villages of the Apia area appear to vary greatly in the degree to which they are organized; some contain many independent Samoan or non-Samoan households without traditional social organization, while other villages are highly traditional and highly organized. It is difficult to generalize, since no survey of a range of villages has been done, but it is evident that a wide variation can be found.

Many of the Apia villages are dependent upon wage-earning, especially those villages where traditional land is not available for agriculture. According to a report on four Apia villages, 64.6 per cent of - 272 males over fourteen years of age (excluding full-time students) and 13.7 per cent of females in the same category were wage-earners in 1956. 6

The Apia urban area is distinct because of the various institutions that transcend village boundaries. Aside from the political superstructure of the Fono of Faipule, with representatives from all of the districts of Western Samoa, there are central government and mission schools. These offer not only superior primary and secondary education, but a certain amount of training in special fields, such as agriculture, religion, nursing and teaching. 7 Medical services, including a central hospital, are available to the residents of the Apia villages. The entire area is served by a central commercial district, where transportation and marketing are concentrated. The villages are all served by urban water and power supplies. In addition, entertainment and religious facilities are centralized in or near Apia, serving and administering the outer districts and other islands.

The Apia area also contains distinct social classes and groupings, other than the villages, with a concentration of nearly all Europeans and a large proportion of part-Samoans resident near Apia. 8 The Europeans comprise, with the exception of a few individuals, a separate social community from Samoans and part-Samoans. Although they are distributed geographically throughout the area, they tend to associate with each other. Their contacts outside their own group are more with part-Samoans than Samoans.

The part-Samoans are an extensive group in numbers and seem to constitute two distinct social groups. A relatively small number of part-Samoan families, distinguished by their connections with a number of local European family names, form a group which is marginal to the Samoan population on the one hand and to the full-Europeans on the other. The majority of part-Samoan families, in contrast, seem to lead lives identical to the full-Samoans who have moved into Apia, leased or purchased land for residence, and live outside any village organization. However, there is a good deal of contact between part-Samoans and their Samoan relations, with family obligations persisting even where social distinctions exist.

This is the context of the village to be described.

The village is located on the coast near Apia. It is within easy walking distance of the Apia shopping district along the macadamed road that leads around the island. The village faces the open sea and reef and occupies three or four acres of land, less than two of which are traditionally owned by the village. All of the land is used for residential purposes, although there are a few food plants and trees around - 273 the fale and a few pigs and chickens. The fale are grouped much more closely than is the case in the villages outside the Apia district.

The block of land traditionally held by the village is an irregular wedge in shape. The central portion is a grassy malae, the village meeting ground, and the malae is bordered by two rows of houses on the inland sides. The villagers that do not live on this traditional land reside on freehold or government lots toward Apia and inland from the village land. The villagers also use a vacant block of government land between the road and the water for grazing horses, playing cricket, and village fishing activities. The entire village is flanked on the landward side by several other villages.

FIG. 1
Land use and ownership in village and vicinity (Adapted from Lands and Survey map)

Village housing may be categorized as primarily semi-European, the traditional fale consisting of a stone platform and thatched roof supported by a circle of poles. Only one fale among forty-eight is truly traditional in this sense, although sixteen are nearly traditional, with a concrete or raised wooden foundation as the only variation. The remaining fale are still distinguishably Samoan, with only partial wooden walls and frames supporting a tin or corrugated iron roof. Only one house in the village is completely European, enclosed entirely by walls with windows.

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The village has community property in the form of a church, shower, and fishing fale and trap. The latter structures are located on the beach and the other two border the malae. All other property is owned by individuals or households, including horses, bicycles, outrigger canoes, food plants and trees, fale, and household furnishings.

Two factors distinguish this village from many Apia villages; access to the sea and the lack of agricultural land. However, it is comparable to other Apia villages in its density of housing, geographic fragmentation due to the intrusion of residences and properties belonging to non-villagers, inclusion of migrants from other districts of Samoa, and easy access to the commercial centre.


The village community can be initially defined by the villagers themselves; they distinguish the two hundred and seventeen persons who “belong” to the village from the large number of other Samoans who live in the vicinity of the village.

Some of the characteristics of this village population are particularly relevant to the discussion of the community's social organization. Four of these characteristics will be discussed; its large proportion of youth, its large proportion of immigrants from other parts of Samoa, its balance of the sexes, and its daily mobility.

The villagers range in age over nearly a century, but the village population is younger than the average for Western Samoa, which is renowned for its large proportion of children. 60 % of the villagers are under nineteen years of age, while in 1956 half of the Western Samoan population was eighteen or under. Appendix A 9 gives full information on age and sex of villagers, while Table 2 reports their age and sex by age groups. 10

The rate of natural increase in the village is thus extremely high. Married couples in the village have an average of six children each, and most of these couples are still of child-bearing age, so the village population is at least trebling in the present generation.

Age Group Age M F Total %
Small Children Under 5 12 20 32 14.7
School Children 5-19 52 51 103 47.5
Young Adults 20-35 23 19 42 19.4
Adults 36-60 15 18 33 15.2
Elders 61-98 4 3 7 3.2
Total   106 111 217 100.0
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Age Group Age M F Total Village Total % Migrants in Group
Small Children Under 5 2 1 3 32 9.4
School Children 5-19 16 11 27 103 26.2
Young Adults 20-35 12 10 22 42 52.4
Adults 36-60 5 14 19 33 57.5
Elders 61-98 2 3 5 7 71.7
Total   37 39 76 217 35.0

In addition to the high birth rate, the village population has expanded from immigration. At present 35% of the villagers and 56.1% of the village adults were born in other parts of the urban area or have come from the outer villages. They have become residents of the village for one of three reasons; the availability of land by lease or purchase in the vicinity, marriage with a villager, or the hospitality of kin who live in the village.

Six village households have come to the village because of the availability of land for purchase or lease, rather than due to prior relationship to residents of the village. 11 The original migrants of these households were married couples who were childless or with only small children. Of these three couples established residence in the village about 1935, one in 1952, and two in 1956. One of them moved onto land owned by one of their parents, but the others either purchased land owned by Europeans or rented it from Europeans or the government.

Three other households have taken up residence in the village as larger family units, two of which included kin other than the children of the couple. These residents moved onto village land because of relationship to villagers; two of the households are closely related to some of the villagers and the other is the household of the pastor of the village church, who, by custom, resides on village land.

A number of the present villagers have moved into the village as individuals rather than as members of a migrating household group. Ten of the villagers have taken up residence in the village following marriage to a villager, living either with the spouse's parents or in a new fale. They comprise less than half of the total of thirty-five marriages in the village, indicating that there is a tendency in this village towards locally endogamous marriage or marriage out followed by residence elsewhere. Nine of these ten persons are women, showing a tendency toward vivilocality among the villagers.

The numerical balance between the sexes has not been upset by this large influx of persons. The female migrants into the village have outnumbered slightly the males (Table 2), and the total population has again a slight predominance of females. However, in contrast to the - 276 drastic imbalance of sexes in some Apia villages, this village has a remarkably normal ratio, in spite of the large proportion of immigrants.

The village population reflects its proximity to and dependence upon the Apia urban centre in its daily mobility. With seventy-three of the children attending school 12 and twenty-five adults holding wage-earning positions in Apia, 13 almost half of the population of the village leaves each week-day morning and is absent most of the day. As far as daily activities are concerned, then, the village population consists of thirty-one small children, thirty school-aged children, and fifty-eight adults, thirty-eight of whom are women.

The large majority of the wage-earners in the village population falls within the young adult group. Table 3 reports the wage-earners by age group. This means that the majority of the adults concerned with daily affairs in the village is over the age of thirty-six, while a minority of the younger adults is contributing the financial support of the village households.

  Wage-Earning     Village     Total
  M F Total M F Total  
15-19 0 1 1 11 3 14 15 14
20-35 14 4 18 8 16 24 42
36-60 4 1 5 9 19 28 33
61-98 1 0 1 3 3 6 7

The villagers live in household groups known as aiga (“families”). The household group shares common sleeping and eating facilities. It is the unit of everyday living, the group that deals with practical matters and offers the closest and most frequent social contacts for individual villagers.

Each of the nineteen village households shares the use of from one to three fale and one or more cook houses or fireplaces. These buildings are usually close together, forming clusters throughout the village, but in the case of two households the fale are separated by several hundred yards and a number of intervening buildings. The physical arrangement of the village is presented in Fig. 2.

Household Composition

The village households range considerably in size, varying from seven to twenty-nine persons (mean size is eleven persons). They also vary in their age composition. Some households have a predominance of adults with very few children, while others do not contain persons over the age of thirty-five and have a predominance of children. Table 5 reports the size and age composition of household groups.

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FIG. 2
Location of village households

From Table 4, reporting the genealogical relationships within and between households, it is evident that households are formed primarily on the basis of kinship ties. Two village households contain persons who are not related to the other members, but these are only three persons in the total group.

The households may be classified into three groups on the basis of the sorts of kin that they contain:

  • (1) Seven households (3, 6, 7, 8, 13, 15, and 16) that contain only a nuclear family (a man, his wife, and their children);
  • (2) Six households (1, 4, 5, 17, 18, and 19) that contain a nuclear family plus additional kinsfolk;
  • (3) Five households that contain more than one nuclear family or a composite of part of a nuclear family and a relatively large number of additional kinsfolk, and in two cases non-kin.
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It is clear that the basis of the composition of all of these households is a nuclear family.

The kinship composition of the households is related to their age composition:

  • (1) In the first group of households, the eldest child of the married couple is between eleven and twenty-two years of age;
  • (2) In the second group, the eldest child is between eighteen and thirty years of age;
  • (3) In the third, although this group is complicated by the fact that some of the children have left their parents' household, the eldest child ranges from twenty-four to forty years of age.
Number of Persons Number of Households
7 1
8 3
9 4
10 2
11 2
12 2
13 2
14 2
29 1
        AGE GROUP              
Household Number 0-4   5-19   20-35   36-60   61-98    
  M F M F M F M F M F Total
1 1 3 3 2 2 1 1 13
2 3 6 6 6 3 3 1 1 29
3 2 5 1 1 1 10
4 1 3 3 2 1 1 11
5 2 4 3 2 1 1 13
6 1 1 3 2 1 1 9
7 1 2 2 1 1 7
8 2 2 3 1 1 9
9 1 1 2 1 1 1 2 1 1 11
10 2 3 3 2 2 2 14
11 4 4 1 1 1 1 12
12 4 1 2 2 1 2 12
13 1 3 2 1 1 8
14 2 2 2 1 1 1 9
15 1 3 1 1 1 1 8
16 2 1 1 3 1 1 9
17 2 2 3 2 2 1 1 1 14
18 1 2 1 1 2 1 8
19 1 2 2 1 2 1 1 10
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From this information it is apparent that as the children of a married couple grow up the household will be more likely to include other kinsfolk.

This sort of variation by the age of the nuclear family might be explained as a change in household pattern among the more recently formed households. This explanation would be based on the assumption that the households are tending more to become restricted to nuclear families, and that the traditional extended family-household is reducing in frequency over time. Although these village households represent only a small sample, there is some evidence to suggest that the variation in kin composition is better explained in terms of a cycle of household development.

First of all, the married couples in the nuclear family vary considerably in age, indicating, at least, that it is not only the youngest adults that limit their households to the nuclear family. Also, there is no indication that the younger married couples are reluctant to include additional kinsfolk in their households; two households (10 and 14) of young married couples have a relatively large number of additional kin. The youngest married couples who include these additional relatives are immigrants to the village. It is likely that the fact that they do tend to include them earlier in the development of their nuclear families than do those that originated in the village is related to the closer ties they have with persons in their village of origin who might want to move to Apia.

The development of the household group as reflected in this village appears to be a cycle. The household is established by a young couple who build their own fale or are offered one by kinsfolk. Married couples usually remain with one of their parents until they begin having children, but all married couples in the village with more than one infant have their own fale. Unless a fale is available near their parents' household, they must move some distance, because of the crowded conditions in the village, to find one or find space to build one. This spatial factor seems to be related to the subdivision of household groups as none of the married children of villagers remain a part of their parents' household if they move some distance away from them. The village households that are divided geographically are households in the third phase of development and are composite kin groups and not divided into nuclear family units.

These nuclear family households do not include additional kin until their eldest children reach adulthood. The first extension of the household group is the inclusion of the spouses of these older children. Then, as they leave to form their own households, other kinsfolk may replace them. This second extension is usually to include parents of the married couple or their siblings. At this stage few households include persons of more distant relationship.

As the household numbers are gradually depleted by the departure of the older children, cousins, siblings' children, or children of close friends may join the group. However, if one or more of the married children remain in their parents' household, this third stage of extension of the group does not occur.

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The household cycle is completed when the parents die and one of the married children takes over the fale. In no case have married siblings stayed in the same household after their parents died; one of them remains and the rest move away to form independent households. A remaining parent or a few additional kin may remain with this married couple, but as their numbers reduce by death, marriage, or migration, the household group is once again a nuclear family.

No definite patterns of recruitment of additional kinsfolk appear among the households. Households in the second and third stages of development include primarily kinsfolk who are contemporaries or younger than the married couple, except for the three households that include a parent of one of the couple. No households include aunts or uncles or any other kin of the older generation, while seven have siblings of one of the spouses and two more contain cousins. Five households contain siblings of the wife, while three contain siblings of the husband. These tendencies do not amount to a definite pattern, however, and the only clear basis of recruitment of kin seems to be age. This is relevant to the system of age ranking in the household, which is discussed in the following section, for the authority of the married couple as household heads would be inconsistent with the acceptance of older kinsfolk into the residential group.

The Household Group

The relationships of persons within the household is largely governed by a strict age-ranking. Age is equated with authority; an elder person is expected to give orders to and to discipline a younger person, and the latter is always expected to obey and usually does so. Age is also equated with respect; deference to older persons, particularly adults, is expected of children, and a lack of respect is a punishable offense.

The division of labour within the household is based primarily upon this age-ranking. Work is usually assigned to the youngest person or persons capable of doing the particular task. The care of infants and small children, for instance, is largely the responsibility of school-aged children rather than adults. The assignment of tasks is also a matter of the age of persons who are available; a large number of persons, particularly school children and young men, may be absent most of the time.

Most of the daily household work is performed by women and girls, but men are also seen at the same tasks, if less frequently. The preparation of food and the care of clothing is generally done by women, while the fire- and oven-making are usually the province of the men. Pre-school boys and girls are usually responsible for supplying fire-wood, which they gather along the beach or road while they play.

Responsibility for the maintenance of the household rests on its two leaders, usually the married couple. Each household has a male and female leader (with the exception of two that are led by widows), who co-ordinate the work of the members of the household and assure the - 281 daily supply of food for them. Each household is identified in the village by the names of these two leaders, being called ‘so-and-so's family,’ using one of their names.

Household heads are responsible for the behaviour of the members of their group. This pertains mainly to the training and discipline of the children and young people. The training of children in the basic avoidances begins in infancy; a child learns first not to touch objects in the household unless they are given to him and to stay away from adults. He is removed from the fale a good proportion of the time, usually in the care of older children, and when he learns to walk he spends most of each day away from his elders in the company of other young children on the beach or road. The training is negative, things the child must not do, and children learn the basic avoidances remarkably early. Infants of a year or less respond to verbal warnings of their elders if they are in danger of erring. As the child grows older the avoidances become more numerous; as they move about the village, they are required to stay away from other fale and not to play with village property, such as the church bell. They also learn to be quiet when they are with their elders in such situations as church or evening prayers. When these avoidances are not observed, children are usually punished.

All elders may scold children, but if the offence is serious enough or if the child cannot be taken or sent away, he is beaten or formally shamed. Beatings are not frequent, but they are apt to be severe when they do occur. A man uses his wide leather belt for this purpose and a woman uses her hands or a handy object. Formal shaming is reserved for more serious offences, such as breaches of respect for elders or failing to carry out responsibilities. Shaming consists of making the offender kneel within reach and of verbal reprimands, and is occasionally accompanied by physical punishment or throwing stones or a handy object. Shaming is the usual manner of punishment of adults in the village and is usually applied only to older children within the household. 15

Discipline within the household, then, is a matter of rather severe treatment for breaches of a relatively small number of rules, and is usually done by a household head or an adult. Adults consider themselves responsible only for persons in their own household; other children will be driven away from the area with stones and angry remarks.

The heads are also representatives of their household group in village affairs. They are contacted when the household is requested to contribute to community activities, they receive the household's portion of distribution of property or fish, and they have a voice in community affairs according to their rank. The household groups are ranked by the status of the head, usually the man, but in some cases the woman. This point will be more fully discussed under village organization, 16 but it is - 282 relevant to the discussion of the household as such since rank position is related to both the demands that are made upon a household's resources and the portion of distributions that it receives. High ranking households give more to the church, for instance, but they also receive more fish from the community trap. At a celebration, such as the wedding of an important villager, the ali'i asks for larger contributions from the important households, but in return they receive portions of the accumulated return gifts, which may not be numerous enough to go to all village households.

The content of relationships within households varies considerably. Persons of different ages tend to be relatively formal with each other and show few signs of affection or interest, even when they are closely related. The exception to this is the treatment of infants; adults often are highly affectionate toward infants, cuddling and fondling them, while they are overtly indifferent to their other children. Open expressions of affection in public are exclusively between persons of the same age and sex, or by adults for small children. Children seem to associate freely among their agemates, whether members of their own household or of others, and only adults appear to have more permanent attachments. Spouses occasionally show affection to and interest in each other in public, chatting or joking together, but away from home they associate almost entirely with their own sex.

Household Activities

The primary concern of the household is the provision of food, clothing, and shelter for its members. Secondary activities pertaining to village affairs vary from household to household; some take part in all village activities and therefore have more contributions to make as a group, while others are less frequent in their participation in community activities.

The economic support of the household is primarily based upon wage-earnings; at least one member of each household earns a regular or irregular salary or income. The major portion of the household's food must be purchased from the town market or from trucks that periodically pass through the village with breadfruit from other villages.

Supplementary income comes from community fishing, which contributes both food and return from sales to non-villagers for part of each year. Villagers also earn extra money through the sales of handcrafts to tourists or shops and through piecework sewing for a local tailor. Household food is also supplemented through the collection of sea urchins and shellfish at low tide by the women.

Most households are also partially dependent upon gifts of food from kin in agricultural villages, as well as upon the small crops that they grow around their fale or on the land of other villages behind Apia. These two sources are not adequate for the support of the villagers; only one household claims that its crops and contributions from kin provide adequate food for its needs.

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The villagers are obviously dependent upon their part in the urban economy of the Apia area. They vary in the extent to which they draw upon the various potential resources, but wages are not adequate to maintain them in independence from kin in other villages, nor do they enable them to meet the occasional responsibilities that arise from their association with kin outside the village or from their participation in the activities of their village.

Participation in village activities draws upon household resources quite regularly. Money donations, usually amounting to one to two pounds, are given by each household to the church once a month and to the pastor once a year. Households belonging to the church also give sua (first portions) of the food from their ovens each Sunday. Sua is also given to the head ali'i of the village on Sundays, and he calls upon the households related to him to contribute to family celebrations yearly or more often. He also requires all households to contribute to special feasts and occasions in the village, which occur monthly or more often. These obligations amount to a large proportion of the household's monetary income, as well as of their labour and food resources.

The provision of food, purchases of clothing and other household supplies, and special expenses, as well as these fairly regular extra demands are a matter of daily concern rather than the result of planning or accumulation of supplies. The village households draw upon various resources as the situation demands and depends on the possibility of borrowing from kin when the usual sources are inadequate. They do not frequently call upon other villagers to help but do so freely when it is necessary. Kinship and friendship insure against a complete lack of food and provide a source of money or goods for special occasions.


The household groupings in the village are called ‘families’ (aiga) by the villagers, but there is also another corporate grouping, the family-group. To distinguish the family-group from the household group and a larger kindred group (an inter-village association of family-groups and related households) the villagers refer to it as aiga e tasi (first family).

Seven of the village households are independent families that are not related to each other or to the other twelve households that comprise the family-group. These single family-households are also aiga e tasi.

The household within the family-group is identified by the name of its head and the family-group is identified by the name of its ali'i; the household is ‘so-and-so's aiga’ while the family group is ‘the so-and-so aiga.’ The former appears, with the use of the possessive, to merely indicate the circle of kin who are dependent upon a certain person, while the latter is a title for the group itself.

The family-group consists of all persons residing in the same village who claim common descent, including in this case some one hundred and forty-three persons. Their descent is traced through the oldest living generation; the heads of household are related through the - 284 generation represented by the male heads of Housholds 3 and 9. 17 Household 10 is the most distantly related genealogically but its female head claims membership in the family-group because her mother did so. This was a sufficient explanation, although she could name a common ancestor when questioned. Likewise the head of Household 7 is a member of the group because he was raised in a village household, not because he calculates his relationship; he is simply aiga, which is adequate as far as the villagers are concerned.

Until about 1930 this family-group operated as a single household under the leadership of its ali'i. It was composed of at least thirty-five persons at that time and its ali'i is remembered by the present villagers as a strong and effective leader. On his death there was disagreement as to the choice of a successor. The title was unoccupied for some years before the family-group chose two men to hold the title simultaneously, the present ali'i of the village and the head of ali'i of the next village. Most of the men of the village, other than the siblings of the former ali'i, were young adults at this time, either recently married or about to marry. With the addition of spouses and the birth of children there was a fairly rapid expansion of the family-group at a time when it was without leadership. It is likely that the nuclear families began to operate independently and that the family was economically divided by the time a new leader was elected over five years later. By then the family-group had sub-divided into households and has continued to do so. The newest household was formed in 1949 (Household 8).

The family-group now meets only on rare ceremonial occasions. The most important ties between its members are informal. The last occasion on which it met formally was the wedding of one of the sons of the ali'i several years ago. Most ceremonial occasions in the village are a community affair, but, as will be discussed in the next section, the village has grown around this family-group, and village affairs are largely a matter of the activity of the family-group since this composes a majority of the community.

Special kinship relationships can be observed daily practised among the members of the family-group. These also apply to the independent family-households, but are more clearly distinguishable in their kin content among the members of the family-group than from relationships within households.

Kin relationships among villagers may be put into two categories; avoidance and obligation.

Avoidance between adolescent and young adult kin of the opposite sex is a striking feature of village life. In spite of the crowded conditions in the village, where siblings and cousins sleep and eat in the same fale, young people of the opposite sex have as little to do with each other as possible. Most households arrange for boys and girls to sleep separately, sometimes housing the boys in a cooking fale if another sleeping fale is not available, but they still must associate frequently, both in household work and in village activities. They speak to each other only when they are required to do so, to give orders - 285 or messages, and if they are approached by persons they should avoid they react with annoyance or anger. Parents avoid leaving young people alone in the fale, and, in any case, young men and women spend most of their time away from the fale.

The separation of the sexes and their formal behaviour when they are together is in vivid contrast to their behaviour with non-villagers. When young men come to village dances, for instance, as tourists or sailors from ships in the harbour, the young women of the village flirt and joke with them, while they never act this way toward kin. The older village boys customarily wander through other villages and towns on moonlit nights to find girls, but they do not approach or joke with girls from their own family-group.

The avoidance between matai and the rest of the villagers is also striking. Matai visit informally only other matai, sit separately at church and village dances, and have their own fale on the beach where they remain during the hours of waiting for fishing. Their wives also tend to remain apart from the other village women, but this is not so marked. They do not frequently visit the fale of untitled persons but they sit with them on the beach, and only the wife of the ali'i has a special seat during church and village dances. There is no indication that the children of titled persons are included in this avoidance; they associate freely with their age-mates in the village.

This avoidance is mutual, for the villagers treat their matai with respect. They never casually visit their fale, nor do they approach them for casual conversation. Children are taught to stay away from the matai and their fale; there is not only the threat of punishment by their own parents or household heads for annoying the matai, but also the possibility that the matai themselves will discipline them.

All members of the family-group are subject to aiga obligation, a well-known feature of Samoan society. All those who are kin are obligated to share money and property freely, although these are recognized as individual possessions. Property may be taken by kin without permission and must be given freely when requested, and borrowing and lending is fairly frequent among villagers. This usually involves money, but also extends to special possessions such as bicycles and cooking equipment. Most personal possessions, such as clothing, bedding and books remain within the household.

This exchange of property occurs only between persons of the same rank and age group. Villagers do not go to their matai for loans, nor do the matai ask them for contributions except for specific occasions when donations are requested from all households. Children and young people do not make requests from adults in other households, although they are often sent as messengers by adults. In general, aiga obligation is between contemporaries.

The sense of obligation is particularly strong between brothers and sisters, especially adults. Women go to their brothers for special assistance, such as to ask for labour and finance to build a new fale. Most of the adult siblings in the village are men, so most of these sibling ties are with persons in other villages.

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Kinship ties are also occasionally expressed in gift-giving. Gifts are sent mainly to parents of new-born children, persons who are about to be married, or persons who are dedicating a new fale. These are not frequent occasions and they do not appear to be obligatory beyond a very close circle of kin.

Kinship ties and obligations also extend outside the community and serve as the main source of outside contacts for the villagers. All of the villagers keep in contact with closely related persons in other villages and have a reciprocal obligation with them to provide food, money and hospitality whenever these are requested. This permits a certain amount of visits to other villages, where related households exist; the villagers do not visit villages where they have no recognized kin, but they often stay for short periods with kinsfolk.

As well as these personal ties with close kin in other villages, the main family-group is associated with three other related family-groups in a large group called by the same name as the village family-group. This kin group, with its branches in Falealili, Manono, and Savai'i meets several times a year at feasts or celebrations held by one of them and convenes to elect its head matai (the ali'i of this family-group) and to celebrate occasions such as the marriage of a person of high rank. It seems to be organized more on the basis of the residential association of its members than on a principle of lineage; although its members can trace their genealogical relationship, they do not represent the entire range of persons of that degree of relationship. This unit is basically a group of local corporate groupings, rather than a descent group in its own right.


The village is not a collection of unrelated and related households that happen to live in physical proximity, but a social grouping in its own right. The village has a number of formal organizations that cut across household and family-group associations, a number of regular activities, property owned in common, and a defined hierarchy of leadership.

The Growth of the Village Group

The villagers have considered themselves to be a separate community for less than a year. A certain amount of information about the process of its formation can be inferred from stories of incidents that the villagers remember from their own experiences. At best this information is fragmentary, as this is a topic about which they do not speak freely. However, the present village organization must be explained at least partially in terms of the history of the village, so some general statements should be made.

The village group has become an independent community as a result of at least thirty years of dispute, antagonism and a certain amount of violence. These factors have not always been overt; the reported incidents have been separated by a number of years.

The village, just a year before the investigation, was formally a - 287 part of a larger village, although it had been separating from it socially over a period of years. The various incidents of dispute are extremely varied in content, from minor family disagreements to serious quarrels and fights. The content of these incidents cannot be discussed in this report, but it is evident that the process of village formation was not an easy one.

At present the village is still recognized by the government as a part of the former village for census and administrative purposes, but it is clearly a distinct and relatively self-contained community, having severed all other formal and nearly all informal relations with the rest of the former village.

The village's former associations not only included being a part of a larger traditional village, but also close connections with two other nearby villages. The three villages had a common fono, joined together for all important occasions and supported a single church. It is not clear when these common activities ceased, except that the building of the church in this village in 1922 probably marked its religious separation. At present the villagers still remember their association with the other two villages but do not invite them to village celebrations, nor are they included in the activities of the other two villages. Their explanation is that the expense involved in the three-village activities is prohibitive.

The present village is the result of a division of the former village along geographical lines. After the familiar Samoan pattern, the village was divided into two sections, one on the beach (identified by the suffix -tai) and one about a mile inland (using the suffix -uta). These two sections are now separate villages, the social division having corresponded to the geographical division; only one household has changed its residence to the other section since the process of division began.

The incidents that reflect the process of village division date from 1929. From the age composition of the present village, this was a time when a large proportion of the villagers were young adults. A large proportion of the present village population has come from their enlarging families.

Family-group A was the only group resident in this section of the village at this time. It was not an independent family-group but a portion of a family-group that was divided between the two geographical sections of the village. The present village is based upon the portion of this family-group in the beach section. The immigrant family-groups (households) are not traditionally a part of the village and have come since the former village began to divide and so are not an essential part of its formation.

The long-lived social cleavage reflected in the series of incidents reported by villagers, following a division of the head title of the main family-group and village, resulted in the formal separation of the two halves. The inland portion of the village withdrew its support of the church in 1956 and began to hold its own services. The fono of the former village no longer meets, and the only contacts between the two new villages are individual and informal. A few close kin visit each other, a few individuals, including one matai, from the inland - 288 section join in community fishing with this village, and the same matai attends the village church and other activities. The two sections of the family-group associate very little; some of the adult villagers are not even able to identify the members of the related family-group in the inland village.

Formal Village Groups

The villagers participate in a number of formal groups that recruit their membership from several if not all village households. These groups are the boys' club, the church and church choir, the fono, the tama'ita'i, and the Women's Committee.

The boys' club was begun in 1957 by one of the young men of the village, under the sponsorship of one of the Apia churches, to replace a similar organization that had been discontinued in 1956 when the village church became independent of the mission. It is a group of fifty-seven older boys and young men, including a few boys from nearby villages. The boys meet weekly in the afternoon for marching practice, sports and a service in the village church. They gained the full approval of the adult villagers soon after their inception by competing in an inter-club athletic competition in Apia and winning first place. A village feast was held following this victory, to which the members of the sponsoring church were invited. There has been some discussion about beginning a comparable girls' club, but no action has been taken yet.

The church is an independent Protestant group under the leadership of a Samoan pastor. Its activities will be discussed more fully later as a general village activity, 18 but it has a definite membership which does not include all participating villagers. Villagers apply for membership in young adulthood, after having attended church school for a number of years. With the approval of the pastor, they are accepted as members and may take communion at the monthly special services. Church members are called ekalesia and are to be found in all but three village households.

The church also sponsors a youth choir, which is one of the most important village activities for the older boys and girls and young adults of the village. Nearly all of this age group belong to the choir. It practices weekly or more, often under the direction of the ali'i.

The two traditional groupings in the village are the fono and the tama'ita'i. Neither of these groups holds regular formal meetings, but they often gather informally to discuss topics of concern or plans for special occasions. They gather formally only for special celebrations; when village feasts are held, they are served as two separate groups apart from the rest of the villagers.

The fono consists of three matai. It no longer serves as a village council, the village meeting substituting for it in this respect. The matai are responsible for the organization and planning of village activities and make all decisions regarding these, supervising the labour of the villagers and making requests for contributions from households. The tulafale is the traditional mayor (tu'ua) of the village, as well as - 289 the pulenu'u, and he receives official visitors on the rare occasions when they come to the village, usually without calling the other matai.

The tama'ita'i is a group of adult women who ‘belong’ to the village, i.e. who were born in or moved into the village for other reasons than marriage with a villager. Twelve of the village women are tama'ita'i, about half of whom are quite active in village affairs. They form a group of close friends who visit frequently with one another and consult each other on issues of village concern. They have a recognized leader, through whom they voice their opinions in village meetings.

The Women's Committee is a government sponsored group consisting of all adult village women and is a well-known feature of the Samoan village. Its initial purpose was to facilitate public health and education programmes, but it has become a group with more general interests.

The leader of the Women's Committee is, by custom, the wife of the head ali'i of the village. It had the added leadership of a European honorary president for a few years, a person who resided near the village and whose interest in its activities was a stimulus to a number of community projects.

The Women's Committee meets irregularly but frequently to discuss current plans and issues in the village. Lengthy discussions are held on the beach or in someone's fale on the suggestion of the President, particularly after village meetings have been held. The women of the village are intensely concerned with its affairs and do not hesitate to disagree or express their opinions, sometimes provoking lively disputes.

Village Structure

These formal organizations are supplemented by a general village organization, on the basis of which village activities are conducted. Village organization includes divisions on the basis of age, sex and a hierarchy of leadership.

Age-Groups. The basic principle of village organization, as of that of the household, is age-ranking. Whereas in the household persons are individually ranked, in the village persons are divided into age-groups. These age-groups, which I have called small children, school children, young adults, adults, and elders, can be distinguished by the fact that they perform different roles in village activities. The passing of a person from one age-group into the next is marked by a rather sudden change in role in village activities, although the specific age at which this takes place is somewhat flexible. The age of change in groups is varied among school children because some of them continue longer than others in school and may thereby postpone joining young adult activities. Also, the change into adulthood is a gradual process; adult status is attained only with age, and although persons may be clearly no longer in the younger category, it may take many years for them to be recognized as adult by their elders.

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FIG. 3
Seating arrangement in village church
  • 1. Plaques
  • 2. Faife'au (pastor)
  • 3. Pulpit
  • 4. Glass case
  • 5. Collection table
  • 6. Children
  • 7. Organ
  • 8. (a) Choir girls; (b) Choir boys
  • 9. Ali'i (titled men)
  • 10. Man watching children
  • 11. Wife of Ali'i
  • 12. Wife of Faife'au
  • 13. Adults
  • 14. Porch

The formal organizations of the village include only one or two age-groups in their membership. General village activities include more age-groups and church is an activity that includes villagers of all ages. The seating pattern in the village church (Fig. 3) reflects clearly the differentiation of age-groups; small children and children are seated in front, young adults with older school children are in the centre facing the organ, and adults and infants are seated in the back.

Village leadership is related to this age-grouping. Three of the village leaders are elders and none of the leaders is under forty-five years of age. Leadership is not automatically assumed with age but age is a pre-requisite for assuming leadership on even informal occasions.

Sex Differentiation. Villagers are also divided in village activities according to sex. Small children associate in mixed groups, but the rest of the villagers, even when they are engaged in the same activity, are separated into male and female groups. For instance, while waiting on the beach during fishing, men and women always sit, work and chat apart. In most village activities, however, different tasks are assigned to the male and female groups.

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The role of women in the village reflects their superior numbers in daily activities and the great extent to which they concern themselves with village affairs. The recognized leaders of the village include four men and three women and women are active in the supervision of their household members in village activities. Since the majority of adults present in the village during the day are women, they are often put into the position of representing their households in community work or preparations for special events.

Village Leadership. The seven persons who act as leaders in village activities are the two matai of Family-Group A, the head taule'ale'a (untitled man), the head tama'ita'i, the President of the Women's Committee, and the pastor and his wife.

The ali'i of Family-Group A is the head of the village group. His second-in-command, the tulafale, and the head taule'ale'a (brothers who are aged 76 and 82 respectively), together with the ali'i supervise and direct all village activities.

The head tama'ita'i and the wife of the ali'i (President of the Women's Committee) are the leaders of the women of the village. As well as holding offices at the head of the two women's groups, they act as the main channel of communication between the male leaders of the village and the households. Since contributions from households to village activities are usually supervised by women, requests usually go through their leaders.

The pastor and his wife are considered by villagers to be the protectors of village peace and morality, as well as leaders of church activities. They are always consulted in village discussions and their opinion is highly respected by villagers. However, they are also subject to the opinion of villagers; on one occasion when the pastor had given permission for one villager to conduct prayer meetings in the church, the villagers protested and he withdrew his permission.

These seven leaders serve as the voices of the community during village meetings. These usually follow a large amount of informal discussion on the part of villagers, but when the issue cannot be resolved a village meeting is called by the ali'i. Two such meetings occurred during the four months I was in the village. At village meetings, only the seven village leaders discuss the issue (with the exception of remarks in defence by a person who has been accused of misconduct, if that is the subject of the meeting). The other villagers gather around the circle of leaders to listen. They are usually satisfied with their leaders' decisions but, if not, discussion by the women's groups or by smaller groups is held until the issue is resolved.

Village Activities.

The village group engages in three regular activities, community fishing, church, and evening dances. These activities are comparable in some respects to those of a non-urban village but in other respects are unique. The proportion of time that is spent on and the importance of these activities in contrast to the activities of household and - 292 family-group, particularly in regard to fishing, seem to be a product of the proximity of the village to the urban centre and its lack of agricultural land.

Community fishing takes place from July to the end of the year, the period when mullet come on to the reef to spawn. The village is advantageously located for this sort of fishing; schools of mullet enter the Apia channel and move along the reef in front of the village, where the villagers have set a large trap in their path.

The basic equipment of community fishing is owned by the village. Large nets, the fishing fale on the beach, the lookout tower and the trap itself belong to the group. The canoes that are used by lookouts and for setting the net and the hand nets used by women are individually owned.

The purchase and maintenance of the community fishing equipment is made possible by a sort of corporate organization devised by the villagers. Several years ago a system of shares was initiated. It was decided that each household participating in the actual fishing would pay £1 per share and those who did not help in fishing would pay £2 10s 0d per share. Each share would receive a definite proportion of each distribution of fish from the trap. At present there are a number of Apia residents who purchase shares in the trap and thus help to sponsor an activity from which both they and the villagers profit. Mullet is sold in the local market and from house to house at the price of five to eight shillings per fish. The money from the purchase of shares is held and spent by the ali'i.

The fishing group usually consists of around twenty men and twenty women, including a few older school children in the afternoons. The villagers fish every day but Sunday or occasions when their leaders announce a day of rest. A typical fishing day begins with the distribution of the fish which were caught the previous day and left in the trap. The apportioning of fish is based upon the ranking of village households, although a number of non-villagers are included in the distribution because of the share system.

The fish in the trap are speared by a few young men, heaped into canoes and brought to the beach. They are unloaded onto the sand and put into piles of ten so that the ali'i can estimate the size of the catch. The first few fish go to the matai and the pastor. Next, one hundred fish, representing the hundred shares in the trap are laid in ten rows of ten, head to tail. The names of the shareholders are read from a list by the ali'i and a fish is handed or thrown to a child in the household of the shareholder.

During the distribution the matai stand in a row behind the piles of fish, with the villagers in a large circle around them. Spirits are high while the fish are passed out, with good-natured chatter interrupted by attempts to gain silence so that the ali'i may be heard.

The next fish are given to village households in numbers proportionate to their rank. Extra portions are also given to households that may have received only a small portion of the last catch. At the end of the distribution each household has been given at least one or two fish - 293 and, depending upon the size of the catch, may have as many as ten. The largest portions go to the ali'i and the pastor. The ali'i is traditionally allowed to take any portion of the catch he desires but he is careful to see that each village household has a fair share. To do this, when fishing is poor, he may wait several days before he holds a distribution. Also, if a special feast is planned, the fish may be held in the trap for a number of days to insure that the supply will be adequate when it is needed. Distributions are sometimes held in the evening rather than the morning.

Following a morning distribution the villagers return to their fale to prepare for work, school or household chores. The lookouts take their posts and the whole village is on call. When the fish are sighted a whistle is blown by the lookouts and word passes along the beach to the villagers, who drop their activities and run to help in the fish drive.

There are often periods when fishing is particularly poor and the villagers' enthusiasm dwindles. On one occasion when they were not prompt in coming to the beach, the head taule'ale'a announced that they must all remain on the beach in the afternoons instead of waiting in their fale. Following this announcement, much more time was required of the villagers in fishing and most of this time was spent wating on the beach. A few of the villagers use the hours of waiting to work on handicrafts for sale, but most of them sit and talk, sleep or play games.

A great deal of anxiety surrounds the inactivity of waiting and the lack of fish. The explanation of the villagers for the lack of fish is usually in social terms; the fish don't come if someone has stolen the trap money, if persons who don't belong to the village are present, or because the next village has ‘stolen’ the fish as they passed by. When there is no convenient explanation of this sort the villagers are apt to show their irritation in arguments or disagreements among themselves, usually on a topic quite irrelevant to fishing.

There is a practical reason for their anxiety over a lack of fish; some households depend upon their share of fish as an important source of income and food. However, it would seem that there has long been jealousy regarding their fishing rights. The villagers remember a tradition that all persons using the reef or channel were required to bring a food offering to the ali'i or else would lose their lives at sea.

Community fishing is one of the few village activities that involve traditional specialists. The three tautai (fishing experts) serve as lookouts. They are middle-aged men, appointed by the ali'i and paid with an extra portion of each catch. They spend their days on the lookout tower, with at least two of them on duty at any time. A number of young men assist the lookouts, stationed in canoes and on platforms next to the open end of the trap. They locate the fish shoals as they pass and signal to the tautai with flags.

The villagers are divided into four groups in fishing; men, young men, women, and leaders (Fig. 4). When the lookouts signal that the fish are approaching, the villagers gather on the beach, crouch and cease talking. The leaders stand next to the tower and when the fish pass into the trap command the young men to set the nets across the open end of the trap. The men follow close behind the young men and hold - 294 the net as it is placed, and the women form a line behind the men with handnets. The leaders go in front of the net and direct the drive with shouts of direction and encouragement. The fish drive has the atmosphere of a football game, with loud calls and joking and an air of excitement that contrast with the quiet period of waiting on the beach.

FIG. 4
Village pa (fishtrap) showing positions of fishing group

The drive begins when a spearman, a young man who assists the leaders, locates the fish within the trap. The net is moved by the men toward the apex of the trap to force the fish into the circular trap at the end. As the space becomes smaller the mullet leap into the air over the men's heads and the women catch as many as possible in their nets. When the fish have been forced into the circular trap and the entrance is closed the nets are taken to the beach and folded by the young men and the rest of the villagers return to compare their luck with the hand nets and wait for the next run of fish. Occasionally three of four runs come within a few hours' time, so fishing is sometimes a fast and strenuous activity.

The fishing day ends at sundown. In the last light of day the villagers return to their fale to shower, cook, hold evening prayers and have their main meal of the day. While the rest of the villagers return, eight or ten young men remain in the fishing fale to spend the night. There is always the danger that the new wire netting on the trap will be stolen, so the young men of the village have been divided into five groups, each of which guards the trap for a week in turn. Their families bring their evening meal to them and may remain with them to eat and chat.

Two semi-traditional distributions occasionally occur during the fishing day. If the villagers are on the beach in the morning, the female household heads give a shilling or two towards the purchase of food, - 295 usually bread. Children are sent to town to buy the bread and one of the younger women distributes it to the women. She stands in front of the seated circle and throws loaves to them in order of their rank and age. Women of highest rank receive the greatest number of loaves. The bread is then given to her household members by each woman.

The second distribution is that of kava. On hot afternoons the matai occasionally direct a young man to prepare the drink and serve it to them in the fale. He prepares the kava in an iron bucket and serves it to them from a coconut cup. Late in the afternoon the kava remaining in the bucket is taken outside where the untitled men may help themselves.

Community dances in the evening are another of the regular activities of the village group. These were begun for a most unlikely reason, the inadequacy of the village's sanitary facilities. A government health officer had visited the village and suggested that the village should improve them. Most Samoan villages are required to construct fale laititi (little houses) over the reef but these are forbidden in the Apia area. The beach and a few latrines behind the fale were serving a village of over two hundred, so a permanent solution was needed.

A meeting of the Women's Committee was called, which suggested that the village raise money for a community septic tank by holding evening dance programmes for tourist groups. Arrangements were made to send notices to ships in port and to the tourist hotels, and the young women of the village were instructed in traditional dances by the older women. Within a few weeks the village was holding dances at least one and sometimes several nights a week.

The preparation for the dances is done by households. In the afternoons before a dance, small children are sent around the neighbourhood to collect baskets of flowers which the women and girls string into garlands. The dancers prepare their own costumes of tapa cloth and coconut leaves.

The dancers are older school girls and young women. About twelve of them perform the bulk of the dance programme under the leadership of two of the older women. Some of the other women sit behind the dancers near the young men who provide the music. The accompaniment consists of a guitar, a rolled mat drum and the voices of the dancers and other adults. The only men who perform in the programme are two knife dancers. Several other boys were practising the dance but performed only rarely.

Toward the end of each programme, one of the young men or women passes a basket for donations. At times the audience is generous, but more often only a small amount of money is collected. The villagers get angry when there is a poor return, but the over-all profit is good. When I left the village over £100 had been collected and there was talk of beginning work on the tank.

The villagers obviously enjoyed themselves in the presentation of these dances but they had difficulty in dealing with some of the practical problems involved. The biggest difficulty was publicity; the villagers called dances at the last minute or sometimes forgot to send notices at - 296 all. After many evenings with small audiences, the village leaders arranged for notices to be printed for circulation aboard the ships in port and in the tourist hotels.

The setting for the dance also needed improvement. The small children of the village found dance nights very exciting and spent the evening running around the malae and causing disturbances. This did not worry the villagers particularly, but complaints from the audience encouraged the head taule'ale'a to take the situation in hand. He or a young man thereafter sat the children in rows next to the audience or chased them away with a stick. The younger villagers also did not take long to learn that tourists are generous and they found it profitable to ask them for money and cigarettes. This was also controlled eventually through the active disapproval of the older villagers.

The village dances then settled into a comfortable routine, providing a regular income towards the village project and offering an opportunity for villagers to sell handicrafts to tourists. Perhaps more important, however, was the fact that the initiation of village dances, a traditional type of reception of visitors and an aspect of village ceremonial occasions that had almost ceased among them, provided a new form of entertainment for the village group.

Church activities occupy a considerable portion of the villagers' time and ensure Sunday as a day of rest. Even those villagers who do not attend church are required to spend the day leisurely, at home or visiting friends. This is enforced by the active disapproval of villagers; they do not hesitate to voice their disapproval, even to strangers, of persons who use Sundays for work or other activities.

The church is supported entirely by the villagers. The building was constructed by them first in 1922 and renovated in 1948; plaques on the walls at both sides of the pulpit list the names of the matai who contributed to its construction. The large stucco building is filled with wooden benches with a high pulpit in front, paintings on the walls above the pulpit and a glass case in front of the pulpit where pillows to support the Bible and banners for church celebrations are kept.

Church services are held twice each Sunday, from eight to ten o'clock in the morning and from three to five o'clock in the afternoon. All but a few individuals and the three household groups that belong to other churches attend these services. Adults tend to be irregular in church attendance, but the young people of the village are extremely regular in attending church.

Church is important to the younger villagers as the only community activity in which most of them participate. Even infants attend in the arms of the adults, while small children and the younger school children are seated in a special section near the front of the church. Their behaviour in church is remarkably good and any disturbance among them is dealt with by a young man, usually a son of the ali'i, who is seated next to them and equipped with a long switch.

The services of this church are identical to those of mission-sponsored churches, although it is now operating independently. A typical service consists of a number of hymns by the choir, a Bible read- - 297 ing, a long prayer and nearly an hour of sermon. Special services are held on the first Sunday of each month, when collections from each household are taken and communion is served for church members. A few of the older men are selected by vocal nomination from the male village leaders to serve communion.

The church collection is taken by the ali'i. Seated at a table in front of the church, he calls out the name of the head of each household (the men, except in the case of households led by widows). A school-aged child from the household is sent forward with the donation when the name is called, and the amount of the donation is announced by the ali'i. After the collection, announcements by the male leaders may be given or discussions of any coming church celebration take place.

The other activities of the church include Sunday School, held each Sunday evening for the children, and the church choir. The time of these gatherings is announced by the beating of a wooden gong through the village.

The church also holds a number of special services during the year, including a dedication day and a day in honour of the children of the church (White Sunday). For the dedication service, the family-groups invite their close kin from other villages. In honour of the anniversary of the construction of the church a special collection is taken for an open church fund and each household has its own feast and contributes toward the feast of the fono and tama'ita'i.

The church service for White Sunday is conducted by the children of the village. In the morning the children from each household present religious dramas and worship services. At noon each household gives a feast for the children, serving them before their elders. In the afternoon, the children from each family-group perform a costumed drama with a religious theme. With their new clothes and special gifts and importance in church and household, this is a very special day for the children of the village.

Other than these regular activities, the village group holds occasional celebrations for special purposes. Only a few of these occurred during my stay in the village, including a feast in honour of the victory of the boys' club team in an Apia athletic competition. Each village household was assigned the preparation of a portion of food for the feast. At dusk tables were moved to the malae, the food placed on them and the visitors from the Apia church that sponsors the boys' club and the older villagers stood around the table to eat. After they had finished the younger villagers ate and then the dance troupe entertained the visitors.

Another special occasion while I was in the village was a feast in honour of the opening of the fishing season. After the trap and fale were completed, the villagers prepared special ovens and ate together on the beach. The matai ate separately and afterwards kava was served to them. No special entertainment was held on this occasion.

The description of these village groups and activities shows a well-organized and active community. Community activities occupy much more of the villagers' time than do those of the household and family-group.

- 298

From the description of the daily activities of this village, over a short period of observation, one might conclude that it is a remarkably stable group. The history of its development, as best we can trace it, would seem to contradict this appearance of stability. The question of whether this process of village development is a normal pattern in Samoan society, perhaps only accelerated in the urban setting, must remain unanswered for lack of comparative information.

However, certain comparisons may be drawn between both the forms of social grouping that occur in this village and the content of village life with those of non-urban villages. The social groupings bear remarkable resemblance to those of more traditional villages. This village, like those described by Turner, is an organized group of households. Households are groups based upon kinship ties, with leaders who co-ordinate the efforts of their households and represent them in the community, and are the basic producing and consuming units. The village group is led by recognized leaders who direct community activities and discipline the villagers in matters of village concern. The community also includes a number of specialists who act as leaders in the activities in which they are skilled. It contains traditional ceremonial groups that function on special occasions and these occasions are supported by the contributions of household groups on the request of the village leaders.

The household group, with its evolution of composition, is difficult to compare. Turner does not discuss variations in household composition and the only published account of a contemporary Samoan village 19 contains no discussion of this matter though it provides the information that only one out of twenty-eight village households consisted of a nuclear family only. There is the possibility that a cyclic pattern of household development is due primarily to the high birth rate. With a limited amount of space for the household to develop and a large number of children, sheer numbers could discourage the inclusion of additional kin until numbers reduced with the departure of older children. However, this remains to be demonstrated by information from other villages, and again, this could possibly be a normal pattern in Samoan society that is accelerated in the urban setting.

The organization of the family-group, again, is difficult to compare due to a lack of information on kinship in any other Western Samoan village. The sub-division of the local kin group into separate households is confirmed as a traditional feature by Turner's statement that some villagers are almost entirely composed of related family-households. However, this must at present remain only a general comparison.

The village group seems to be composed and organized in a manner comparable with traditional villages. The inclusion of formal organizations, such as the church, Women's Committee and boys' club are obviously post-European features, but ones that occur in rural Samoan villages as well. The particular form of traditional organization, with - 299 comparable men's and women's groups, must stand against the apparent variety of group forms in contemporary villages and cannot be described as a new or contrasting form without further information.

Beyond these similarities and differences in group form, the life of these villagers appears to be quite different from that of non-urban villagers. The most obvious difference is the lack of traditional ceremonial activities. The fact that there are only three matai in the village, there is no taupou or manaia, no formal kava ceremonies or lavish feasts indicates that these more overt aspects of tradition have lost their importance. However the principles of organization underlying these traditional forms govern the new activities. Traditional systems, such as ranking, still underlie the villagers' activities.

The villagers are concerned primarily with earning their livelihood in a rather insecure economic situation. The economic ties that underlie their association are probably as important as the social; if it were possible for villagers to subsist adequately without depending upon kinship obligation or the income from community fishing, this village group might conceivably be less active, less well-organized and not be able to apply its sanctions on the individual villager as effectively. However, some of the village households are economically self-sufficient, at least as far as their village ties are concerned, so we may point to economic factors as important primarily within the family-group.

Since a number of the activities of the village are economically demanding, it must be concluded that the activities of village society are important in themselves. The households bear the additional expense of time and labour in village activities without any necessary economic return. They persist in distributing fish from the trap, bread that has been purchased in common, as well as fine mats and tapa on the rare ceremonial occasions, primarily in terms of rank rather than of other standards.

Aside from matters that are directly economic, the villagers support the traditional principles of respect for age and leadership. The infrequency of serious offences which come to the attention of the village leaders and the support which the villagers give to their authority in these matters testifies to the importance of these principles.

In contrast to the non-urban villages, where households are occupied with agriculture and other traditional occupations, the households in this village are freed from some economic activity by their dependence upon a relatively small number of wage-earners. Related to this, the activities of the total community seem to be more frequent and important than in an agricultural village. For instance, the initiation of a highly-organized daily fishing programme is related to the amount of labour that is freed from other pursuits.

The clear definition of the membership of the village and its social self-sufficiency are probably related to the frequency and importance of community activities. While the agricultural village is generally geographically separate, this village is distinct because its members have common activities in which non-villagers do not participate. The pre-occupation of the villagers with these activities and their almost exclusive association with each other are startling in an urban setting - 300 where the range of possible associations outside the village is greatly enlarged by the concentration of population.

The associations outside the village that do occur contrast with agricultural villages. Visits to kinsfolk in other villages is a familiar pattern throughout Samoa, and non-urban villages have schools and a certain amount of wage-employment which occupy some of the village adults and a large proportion of the children. But for our villagers school and work provide daily contacts with non-villagers. These experiences ought to be reflected in some way in the village organization and the implications of these urban contacts must be examined.

The fact that the village developed after these contacts began indicates that the community is active and important in spite of influence from outside. Also, the fact that it developed in conditions where continuance of some ceremonial activities proved impossible probably contributed to its ability to withstand urban influence. The small number of matai, for instance, has prevented the continuance of a fono. The traditional ceremony involved in this and the economic support of the activities of matai would have placed demands upon the villagers that might have conflicted with their economic situation and changing interests. The existing village group depends not upon obligation of villagers to title-holders but upon their voluntary participation in the village's activities.

The voluntary character of village association is most vividly seen in the participation of immigrant individuals and households who are not required by kinship obligation, nor indeed permitted by traditional right, to join the village. In addition, persons who have lived in the village since birth vary in the degree to which they participate in community activities; some are continually active, while others are only marginally so.

On the other hand, it is evident that strong social sanctions still exist in the village group. The village leaders, with the support of the villagers, are capable of and do enforce certain rules of behaviour in the community. Obedience to leaders, respect for persons of status and respect for elders are rules to which villagers must conform if they participate in the activities of the community. These rules apply also to the household group. Observation of the villagers in their daily lives leads to the conclusion that these have not been discarded.

Those villagers who do not wish to conform may withdraw from village activities. Some have done this, particularly young men. However, the large majority of the villagers do participate and there is little indication of conflict within the village due to rebellion against leadership. A considerable proportion of the young adults of the village have left Samoa, but most of them continue their contacts with close kin in the village, sending gifts or money quite often, sponsoring them to follow, or supporting their visits to New Zealand and elsewhere. There is little indication that they are migrating in order to escape the restrictions of their former associations.

This urban village, then, with its non-agricultural economy and almost complete lack of traditional ceremony, is a community that is firmly founded on traditional principles. Some of the activities in which - 301 it engages are quite different from those of non-urban villages, but the sorts of social groupings that occur in the community and the basic patterns of social relationships among its members have been adapted but not disrupted. New persons join the community and some villagers leave, but the village group has stability in spite of its changing urban environment.

  • BARRETT, Ward. “Agriculture in Samoa.” University of California.
  • WARD, Gerard. “Wage-Earning in Apia.” University of Auckland.
  • GOVERNMENT OFFICES, Western Samoa. “Abstracts from the Official Census, 1956.” Apia.
  • ANNUAL REPORT, 1957. Department of Island Territories Report on Western Samoa for the Calendar Year 1956. Wellington, Government Printer.
  • GRATTAN, F. J. H., 1948. An Introduction to Samoan Custom. Apia, Samoa Printing and Publishing Company.
  • HOLMES, Lowell D., 1957. “Tau: Stability and Change in a Samoan Village.” Journal of the Polynesian Society, 66:301-338, 398-435.
  • KEESING, Felix, 1934. Modern Samoa. London, Allen & Unwin, and New York, Institute of Pacific Relations.
  • KRAEMER, Augustin, 1941. The Samoan Islands. Translation from the German. 2 vols. in 9. Rarotonga.
  • MEAD, Margaret, 1930. Social Organization of Manu'a. Honolulu, Bishop Museum, Bulletin No. 76.
  • TURNER, George, 1884. Samoa a Hundred Years Ago and Long Before. London, Macmillan.
- 302
Age M F Total
Under 1 1 2 3
1 3 0 3
2 0 11 11
3 6 5 11
4 2 2 4
5 4 6 10
6 7 6 13
7 2 3 5
8 3 4 7
9 3 2 5
10 3 4 7
11 1 4 5
12 5 4 9
13 2 3 5
14 4 5 9
15 2 3 5
16 7 2 9
17 4 2 6
18 2 1 3
19 3 2 5
20 2 0 2
21 1 3 4
22 4 1 5
23 1 0 1
24 2 3 5
25 1 0 1
26 2 1 3
27 1 4 5
28 2 2 4
29 0 0 0
30 0 1 1
31 1 0 1
32 3 0 3
33 0 1 1
34 3 1 4
Under 35 0 1 1
36 0 1 1
37 1 0 1
38 1 2 3
39 0 1 1
40 0 2 2
41 0 0 0
42 1 1 2
43 2 0 2
44 0 0 0
45 2 1 3
46 0 0 0
47 0 3 3
48 1 3 4
49 1 0 1
50 1 1 2
51 0 0 0
52 0 0 0
53 1 0 0
54 0 0 0
55 0 4 4
56 0 0 0
57 1 0 1
58 0 0 0
59 0 0 0
60 1 1 2
65 0 1 1
67 0 1 1
75 1 0 1
76 1 0 1
82 1 0 1
87 1 0 1
98 0 1 1
- 303
    Attending School     Not Attending School  
Age Male Female Total Male Female Total
5 1 2 3 3 4 7
6 3 5 8 4 1 5
7 2 3 5 0 0 0
8 3 4 7 0 0 0
9 3 2 5 0 0 0
10 3 3 6 0 1 1
11 1 4 5 0 0 0
12 5 4 9 0 0 0
13 1 3 4 1 0 1
14 4 4 8 0 1 1
15 1 3 4 1 0 1
16 3 2 5 4 0 4
17 1 1 2 3 1 4
18 2 0 2 0 1 1
19 0 0 0 3 2 5
Total 33 40 73 19 11 30

The village wage-earners are employed in a variety of occupations:

  • 3 self-employed carpenters
  • 2 office clerks
  • 2 shop clerks
  • 2 nurses
  • 6 labourers in the Public Works Department
  • 2 labourers in private companies
  • 1 watchman
  • 1 taxi driver
  • 1 seamstress in a tailoring business
  • 1 baker's assistant

One village household depends exclusively on the sales of its handicrafts, the married couple being employed in their manufacture and the woman engaged in selling the products every day at one of the Apia general stores.

Three of the village men claim to be unemployed, that is, they had been employed but were not at the time. All of these men lost their positions because of physical injuries. Many of the villagers, particularly young men, would like to earn wages but cannot find employment.

1   See References at the end of the paper for the major publications on Samoan society from which the following information has been abstracted.
2   Turner 1884.
3   Turner 1884:173.
4   Statistical information for 1956 was extracted from the unpublished report of the official census, held at the Government Offices in Apia, by courtesy of the Government officers.
5   Standard sex ratios are reported as representing the number of males per 100 females in the population.
6   The report on wage-earning in Apia, prepared by Mr. G. Ward of the Geography Department, University of Auckland, is to be presented as a part of a general geographical survey of Western Samoa. His report is based upon a sample of four villages, representing 9.1% of the total Samoan and part-Samoan population of the Apia urban area.
7   See Annual Report 1957:92f.
8   For a description of the official status system of Western Samoa, see Annual Report 1957:13.
9   See p. 302.
10   See p. 289 for a discussion of age groups.
11   Part of the village is on traditionally-owned land and in order to use such land a person must be related to existing residents.
12   See Appendix B, p. 303.
13   See Appendix C, p. 303.
14   Total does not include persons attending school.
15   Adults were never observed to be disciplined by other adults of their own household alone, but only by the village as a whole or its leaders.
16   pp. 286ff. below.
17   See Table 4, p. 278.
18   See p. 296 below.
19   Holmes 1957:316.