Samoan communities in Aotearoa

A starting point for building your understanding of Samoan culture. It includes some common concepts, terms and phrases that families in Aotearoa might use and value. Read it alongside the related page Pacific peoples and cultures in Aotearoa.

Land and people

Samoa has 2 main islands, Upolu and Savai’i, and 10 small islands. American Samoa was part of Samoa until the early 1900s. 

is the indigenous language. There are different levels of language, gagana o le fa’aaloalo (formal language) and gagana mo aso uma (common-use language), that are used according to the audience and situation. Gagana Samoa is rich with idioms, riddles and implicit meanings that can only be fully appreciated by native speakers.

Society and family roles

Chiefs of extended families are called matai. Some matai are appointed before they have developed their leadership capability and are mentored over time to take on responsibility in the future. 

Every household has a lead person or people. It is often not a . A matai does not hold sole authority in Samoan families. They must consult widely before representing the family’s interests.

Many Samoan families are headed by women who may or may not carry matai titles and responsibilities but are nevertheless leaders and decision-makers. Women’s role in leadership is something Samoans have in common with matrilineal communities in other parts of the Pacific.

Children are the future of families. Their wellbeing, safety, prosperity, and dignity are concerns for the collectives to which they belong.

O au o matua fanau.

Children are the precious offspring of parents.
(Samoan proverb)

Culture and values

Fa’a Samoa

Fa’a Samoa is the way of life and umbilical cord that attaches Samoans to their culture. It encompasses the invisible and visible. It forms the basis of the principles, values and beliefs of Samoans. 


Alofa is the showing of love, compassion and empathy.


Central to Fa’a Samoa is the notion of , service to God and to others. It stems from the values of alofa (love), responsibility, hospitality, caring, and dignity. Service means actions that are carried out with consideration and integrity, and based on ideas of selflessness, and putting others before oneself.

Vā tapuia

are divinely appointed, mutually respectful and sacred inter-relationships between:

  • people

  • people, the land and the environment

  • people and inanimate objects

  • people and the divine.

Violations of vā tapuia are believed to result in spiritual and physical consequences.


A very important vā tapuia is , which is the relationship between a brother and sister. Interpreted in the widest sense, feagaiga includes relationships between kin of the opposite sex. In a non-traditional context a version of this relationship exists between Samoan young people and colleagues of the opposite sex.

Vā fealoa’i

Vā fealoa’i are respectful, dignified and harmonious relationships between people, including observing relational and cultural protocols.


encompasses identity and belonging. This refers to a Samoan person’s role, place and responsibilities to others in the (family), village and extended family. For children born or raised predominantly in Aotearoa, identity markers may include their school, religious affiliation, suburb or town.


Faiā are genealogical and historical connections to kin and community. This includes ancestral lineages and kinship ties. Knowledge of faiā is important, as is knowledge of the associated roles and responsibilities of individuals in their families.

Family terms

Samoan English
daughter (mother to a daughter)
daughter (father to a daughter)
son (mother to a son)
son (father or mother to a son)
boy, child (of any sex)
grandchild, grandchildren
child (formal)
(or) tamaiti children (informal)
children (formal)

Common greetings and phrases

Samoan English
Greetings, hello
Greetings, hello (formal)
(or) Welcome, come in (formal)
How are you? (singular, to 1 person)
I’m well thank you. How are you?
Thank you
Excuse me (before saying something that may offend, or when crossing in front of someone)
Goodbye (formal)
(or) Goodbye (informal)
Fa’amalie atu (or) Fa’amālulu atu Sorry, my apologies
Blessings upon you, all the best

Working with Pacific peoples: Va'aifetū

Most of the information in this article comes from Va'aifetū, the Oranga Tamariki cultural practice tool for working with Pacific children and their families. Read it to find out more about Pacific cultures and building relationships with Pacific peoples.

Working with Pacific peoples: Va'aifetū | Practice Centre(external link)