Photographer Jocelyn Carlin

American Samoa and Samoa

Christianity and Fa'asamoa
'Fa'asamoa is the dominant social force, a concept that dictates how Samoans are meant to behave. Life revolves around the family group, the aiga, and the obligations that the family owes the aiga, the church and the community who all acknowledge one person as leader or Matai. The holder of this honoured title is the orator or the chief, and is responsible for the welfare of the group. He or she is held in the highest respect and receives many services and the total co-operation of the aiga in return. Fa'asamoa is the body of custom and usage. It's a mental attitude to God, to fellow men and his surroundings. It's a distinctive lifestyle. It is not the physical make-up, the mood or the passion of one man. It is a collection of spiritual and cultural values that motivate people…it's the heritage of people.'
Tupuola Efi, leading Samoan Politician in Mau, Samoa's Struggle for Freedom. Michael J Field, Polynesian Press 1984-91

The Reverend John Williams of the London Missionary Society arrived at the village of Sapapali'i on the big island of Savai'i in 1830. He made his way directly to Malietoa Vainu'upo 11, the Tafa'ifa or supreme chief. Sa Malietoa received John Williams as the messenger for a new God whose word was spreading rapidly in the Pacific. The historical meeting was the beginning of what is now legendary integration of religion and culture; and was the first radical shift sideways from traditional cultural development - a radical change influenced by an outside or foreign source.

Cultural practice continued as a matter of course, but the new faith assimilated quickly and thoroughly throughout all Samoa. The new white god replaced the fear of war and starvation with the fear of sin, and that was manageable. In the Christian teachings people could recognise obvious parallels to their traditional beliefs. On the other hand missionaries soon identified aspects of cultural practice as pagan behaviour and banned it.

Political contact was established consistently with Europeans throughout the 19th century. Britain, Germany and the United States all established consulates in Samoa and when traditional Samoan succession could not be established in 1898, England relinquished any interest in Western Samoa to Germany while the United States took the eastern Samoan islands that are now American Samoa.

For over 100 years the two Samoas have been governed separately, however 3000 years of cultural development, genetic inheritance and the over-lapping of Christianity into that, ensures the Fa'asamoa in both nations remains intact.

Other Galleries in this exhibition
Pacific Kiribati 09 | Environmental Stories from the Pacific Region | Pacific News -Tonga | Pacific News - Tonga2 | Another War Story | Tuvalu | Legacy Tuvalu - The Footprint on Funafuti | American Samoa and Samoa | Solomon Islands | Nauru/Kiribati/Fiji