Samoan Etiquette: Samoa Customs & Traditions
Samoan Etiquette: Samoa Customs & Traditions

Samoan Etiquette: Samoa Customs & Traditions

© SamoaPocketGuide.com

What are the Customs in Samoa?

When welcomed into a new country, it’s only fitting to respect the local customs and traditions. As a religious country, Samoa certainly has some rules when it comes to dressing respectfully, as well as for Sunday behaviour. On the other hand, some customs and protocols date back thousands of years, which are essential to know when in a village or even when visiting natural attractions. We go over them all in this guide to Samoa’s customs and traditions!

If you were looking for the other type of “customs”, head to Arriving in Samoa: Airport Customs, Biosecurity & Arrival Process

10 Dos and Don’ts in Samoa

  1. DO seek permission when visiting a beach or natural attraction and pay the entry fee
  2. DO wear respectable clothing in villages and to church
  3. DON’T wear just your swimmers anywhere other than the beach or resort
  4. DO move slowly and quietly through villages on a Sunday
  5. DON’T haggle
  6. DON’T stand if elders are seated
  7. DO be patient and accept a slower pace
  8. DON’T do watersports on a Sunday
  9. DO ask permission before taking photos
  10. DO say “tulou” if passing in front of someone.
Samoan Etiquette: Samoa Customs & Traditions© SamoaPocketGuide.com

Visiting Natural Attractions and Beaches: Asking Permission and Paying Your Entry Fees

Possibly one of the most important cultural etiquettes for visitors to understand in Samoa is that most of the amazing natural attractions and beaches you’ll be visiting are not on public land. They are owned by families and communities who are in charge of maintaining these sites, even the roads to some of the more remote areas. With that, locals usually charge a small entry fee to their attractions, which is only accepted in cash (Samoan tala).

Samoa Entry Fees

Entry fees for Samoa’s attractions range from ST$5 to $20 per person, children under five sometimes go free, and some sites charge per vehicle from ST$20 to $40.

Beach and Surf Fees

Yes, locals even have customary land rights to the beaches in Samoa. Your entry fee to most beaches usually gets you a day fale for your use, which is a traditionally constructed open-air hut on the beach. While there is an entry fee for using the beach, there is usually an additional charge for surfing, which can range from ST$10 to $40 per person.

Note that surfing on a Sunday is generally not allowed, but most beach fales are still available and open for use on a Sunday – see the 10 Things to Do in Samoa on a Sunday.

Photography Fees

Some locals may even charge an additional fee for photography if you want to use professional equipment like drones and DSLRs. Some of these fees range from a semi-reasonable ST$50 to the large sum of ST$450 to $5,000 if used for commercial purposes. Even if you’re genuinely not using the footage for commercial use, that fact can get lost in translation and the site attendant may want to you pay a fee anyway.

On the note of photography, it’s customary to also ask permission before taking photos, especially if it involves other people and if it’s at a more intimate attraction or setting.

Where You Don’t Need to Pay Entry Fees

In the rare case when attractions are on government-managed land, entry fees are not permitted. For instance, the waterfalls and walks of the O Le Pupu Pu’e National Park and Lake Lano’oto National Park are free, as are various reserves such as the Mt Vaea Reserve in Apia where you’ll find the Tomb Walk and Vailima Botanical Garden.

See free attractions stated in the 50 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Samoa.

Samoan Etiquette: Samoa Customs & Traditions© SamoaPocketGuide.com

What to Wear in Samoa

As a deeply religious country, wearing modest clothing is important to Samoans, especially in more traditional settings like villages (which are pretty much everywhere outside of Apia and your resort).

A lavalava (sarong) is the most practical and acceptable way to cover up while exploring the islands for both women and men, which are widely available to purchase from markets and gift shops if you haven’t already got one. Otherwise, trousers, long skirts, blouses and shirts are all very acceptable. Shorts and T-shirts are also Ok if they are not too short or revealing.

For more tips on what to wear, take a look at What to Wear in Samoa: Clothes Packing List.

Swimwear in Samoa

An important rule for wearing swimwear in Samoa is that swimwear should stay at the beach or your resort. You should definitely not walk around any village in your swimwear. Be sure to cover up any swimwear or take the time to get changed after visiting the beach.

Needless to say, being nude at the beach (or anywhere in public) is also not acceptable in Samoa.

What to Wear for Church in Samoa

When going to a church service, wear respectable and, if possible, formal clothing. Ideally, men should wear long trousers and a shirt while women should cover their knees and shoulders. Think your “Sunday best”! Also note that you should not wear flowers to church.

Find out more about church etiquette in the 10 Best Churches in Samoa for Visitors.

Samoan Etiquette: Samoa Customs & Traditions© SamoaPocketGuide.com

Sunday Rules in Samoa

Samoa observes Sunday as a day of worship and rest as per Christian traditions. For this reason, many shops, tours, natural attractions and businesses decide to close (though, not all) and there are a few protocols to be aware of regarding Sunday in Samoa.

If you are travelling around Samoa on a Sunday, you are expected to behave quietly and move slowly through villages.

Resorts and restaurants stay open on a Sunday, but many shops, services, sites and tours do not operate on a Sunday. Some shops even close early on a Saturday. However, many convenience stores, supermarkets and markets are open early on a Sunday morning so families can prepare for their Sunday meal known as a “to’onai“.

Visitors are welcome at church services in Samoa; visiting the local church of your resort or beach fale is a good way to go. As mentioned, make sure you dress respectfully by covering your knees and shoulders. For more recommendations on churches to attend, check out the 10 Best Churches in Samoa to Experience as a Visitor.

The sale of alcohol is prohibited on a Sunday except at resorts/hotels and restaurants.

What Can You Do on a Sunday in Samoa?

There are still plenty of ways to enjoy yourself on a Sunday in Samoa, as some waterfall attractions are still open on a Sunday, while many beach fales at beaches accept patrons. Check out the 10 Things to Do in Samoa on a Sunday for ideas.

Samoan Etiquette: Samoa Customs & Traditions© SamoaPocketGuide.com

Village Rules in Samoa

Villages make up most of the settlements along the coast of Samoa. It’s highly likely that you’ll visit or pass through a village during your trip, so bear some cultural rules of etiquette in mind when visiting a Samoan village:

  • Wear modest clothing
  • Always ask permission when taking photos
  • Ask permission (and pay the entry fee) to visit natural attractions and beaches
  • Stop what you’re doing during “Sa” (see below)
  • Move slowly and quietly through villages on Sunday
  • Don’t eat while walking
  • Avoid losing your temper or raising your voice; it is uncommon for people to overtly express emotion in front of strangers.

Sa: Evening Village Curfew

In some but not all villages, an evening curfew is observed for prayer, known as Sa (sacred). A bell or a conch shell will sound at the beginning of the curfew, which usually begins between 6 and 7 pm. During this time, you’re expected to stop what you are doing (no walking or driving). Sa lasts for approximately 10-20 minutes. You’ll know when Sa has ended and when you can go about your business after the third bell or conch shell has sounded.

Samoan Etiquette: Samoa Customs & Traditions© SamoaPocketGuide.com

Rules in the Home in Samoa

If you’re lucky enough to visit a Samoan home, there are a few more rules of etiquette to observe:

  • Remove your shoes before entering a fale (home)
  • Don’t stand if elders are seated
  • When sitting, avoid pointing your toes at others by crossing your legs, folding them beneath you, or covering them with a mat or lavalava
  • You should always talk to someone at eye level or lower; if an elder is seated, sit down with them
  • Excuse yourself by saying “tulou” (excuse me) and perform a small bow if your movement obstructs someone’s view
  • Allow your host to seat you
  • When handed a cup of ‘ava (kava), take a sip and say “manuia
  • Bringing food to an event can cause offence because it implies that the host is not prepared enough
  • But bringing store-bought food goods is acceptable as a token of appreciation for staying at a Samoan’s home (as is money and goods that can’t normally be obtained without money – something of the value of ST$20-$40 is adequate)
  • Join in on prayers said before meals by bowing your head
  • Don’t begin eating until prompted to do so.

More About Samoan Customs and Traditions

That’s it for our guide to Samoan etiquette and how to respect Samoa’s customs and traditions. For more advice regarding the local culture, check out the following guides:

Finally, for all your other essential travel tips for the islands, head to The Best Samoa Travel Guide and 30 Tips for Travelling in Samoa.

Author

Laura S.

This article was reviewed and published by Laura, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Samoa Pocket Guide. Since arriving solo in the South Pacific over 10 years ago with nothing but a backpack and a background in journalism, her mission has been to show the world how easy (and awesome) it is to explore a paradise such as Samoa. She knows the islands inside out and loves sharing tips on how best to experience Upolu and Savai’i’s must-dos and hidden gems. Laura is also the editor of several other South Pacific travel guides.

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