Samoa... the Treasured Islands

| June 26, 2014

The island paradise of Samoa has a distinctive culture and way of life, along with some quirky attractions. Ellen Cross, Australasia expert, takes us through her visit to Samoa, and why it’s worth the stopover.

Fale being constructed in 1902

Located within the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’ halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii, lie the 10 volcanic islands of Samoa. Only four of the islands are inhabited, with Upolu and Savai’i being the main two. Each of the islands has its own distinguishing features, but a constant that runs across all is that of Fa’a Samoa: the Samoan way of life.

Fa’a Samoa

The oldest Polynesian culture at nearly 3,000 years old, the Samoan way consists of three main elements: The matai (chiefs,) the ‘aiga (family), and the church.

The matai

There are more than 16,000 matai living in Samoa, and the system within which they work is complex. All the Samoan members of parliament are chiefs, and this system flows all the way down to leaders of local ‘aiga. Their role is to create harmony, and to manage the welfare of the people and their customary land. They are well respected and this system works alongside the modern political system of Samoa.

The ‘aiga

The most important aspect of Fa’a Samoa is family life. Families are often very large and extended, and each has their own matai to look up to. The importance of family is truly evident when travelling around the country. Driving through small villages, I saw many families gathering at the local fale (an open-sided hut) to catch up with their extended family. Samoan people are incredibly friendly and welcoming, so after spending time here you may find yourself an honorary member of a Samoan family.

The church

Religion is also another important factor in Fa’a Samoa, and most follow Christianity. Going out on a Sunday morning in Samoa, I saw many families all dressed up in their white Sunday best clothing on their way to church, and I often heard snatches of hymns being sung loud and proud from brightly decorated churches.

A church in Samoa - image by Simon_Sees


Volcanoes, Rainforests, Beaches and Flying Coconuts

The interiors of the islands are dominated by large, imposing, dark volcanic peaks that give way to tumbling lush green tropical rainforests, and meet the clear turquoise sea on a white sandy beach – it’s everything a tropical paradise should be.

One thing you may want to watch out for though, is the flying coconuts. The Alofaaga (or Taga) blowholes on Savai’i are like no other in the world. The waves shoot up through extremely narrow gaps in the lava rock, and take on the appearance of a geyser as the wave shoots up to hundreds of feet into the air. The local coconut man is always on hand to entertain the crowds coming to see this natural marvel. Timing his performance just right, he throws a coconut into the blowhole just before the wave comes in and whoosh! The huge jet of water spits out the coconut at high speed, looking like a cannon ball as it flies high and far out to sea.

Treasure Island

At Villa Vailima I was stood in what seemed like a traditional Scottish country house, with a grand fireplace, a smoking room for the men and a well-stocked library. I looked out the window to the perfectly manicured lawns and towards the dazzling turquoise of the South Pacific to check that I was definitely still in Samoa.

I was – I was just in the former home of Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson, most famous for writing the classics Treasure Island and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Villa Vailima

Stevenson had always struggled with his health, and had discovered that the sea air and climate of Samoa alleviated his symptoms. His time living in the villa on Upolu island was short, only four years, before he suddenly died aged 44. During his time in Samoa he had embraced Fa’a Samoa and the Samoans had taken him to their hearts. The house has been restored to its former glory and the library has a wonderful collection of first and translated editions of his works.

View Cox & Kings’ holidays to Samoa.

Only four hours flight from New Zealand and just over five hours from Australia, Samoa is the perfect Pacific island stopover for travelling between the two countries.

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