I came across an article from Samoa Observer, the local newspaper in Samoa about a woman very upset about some Chinese workers doing intense labor on Sundays. I thought it was worth asking the question: How to not offend a Samoan?
Before we get into the actual article, let me say that I have been on both sides of this discussion. I lived in American Samoa and there is some very emotional charged political discussion that people are very passionate about. One of them is immigration from Samoa. I got into the dialog (American Samoa is part of America which is my country) and it left many offended and some feeling humiliated. I could of handled it much better than I did.
Samoans are very passionate people and they take their religion very serious. This would include how they see the day of Sunday. It is actually against the customs of some villages to even walk on the road on the first day of the week. Most Samoans go to church, eat a large meal and just sleep the afternoon away. That is unless there is a NFL game (American Samoa) or a rugby game (Samoa) on television.
A Samoan woman wasting away the day in a village in Samoa.
Sundays matters to Samoans!
In the article, it talks about a woman, Tuilaepa Soiamoa Grey, that is very upset about some Chinese workers who are doing labor on Sunday and she feels it is very disrespectful of Fa’a Samoa (Samoan culture) and hypocritical of the government for not stopping them from doing it.
This is what he told the newspaper and the basis of her concern.
As a Christian country, our day of worship is on Sunday, I have nothing against the government’s decision to make Samoa a Christian state. I fully support it….But what I find contradictory and hypocritical, is when the government changes the Constitution, yet allows foreigners to disrespect our day of worship by continuing to do hard labour on Sundays….It’s really disturbing that I cannot have a peaceful Sunday when these Asians are doing hard labour work…What’s more annoying is that their actions are a clear indication they have no respect for the laws of the land. Samoans take the day off, they attend church and if you don’t go to church, you still cannot do such heavy work on Sundays….There are six days they can do their work, but at least spare us the Sunday so we can worship peacefully.
She is not alone in her feeling, either. I would say that most Samoans, especially older ones, share this view. The whole country basically is closed for commerce on Sundays and it is hard to even find a shop to buy a coke. I know. I have been, done that and got the tshirt (and coke).
She goes on to tell them,
“A proverb comes to mind, when in Rome do as the Romans do, and this is one aspect these Asians should adhere to, when in Samoa, do as Samoans do, and that is going to church on Sundays…If you don’t go to church, please read the Bible but don’t, do any hard labour work on Sundays,”
Local Samoans preparing for Sunday’s Umu
Don’t offend a Samoan!
It is not good to be offensive (unless you have to take a moral stand for some reason) but it is really not smart to offend a Samoan. They are happy and easy going people but they have the blood of a warrior. They will let offense run deep if you are not careful. I say that as someone who had to take a stand on an issue and there is a few people who still remind me about it from time to time.
The easiest way to avoid doing this is simply make sure you know the basics of Fa’a Samoa and one of the things at the top of the list is their value of Sundays. They take this very serious. Make sure you are mindful of it and prepare yourself on Saturday for the closed down economy. A trip to the market is a smart move.
There is no national rules about what to do or not do. It all depends where you are and every villages can handle their governance a little different. It is smart to just ask the locals what is expected of you while in their lands.
As a general rule, those closer to Apia and those close to tourism sites are more relaxed in the rules about people moving around and others see the tourists as exception to the village rules for Sundays.
Fire dancing is very popular in Samoa!
No need for egg shells
With that said, you do not have to spend the whole time you are in Samoa concerned about if you will offend some random Samoan because you are from a different place and a different culture. They are mostly understanding of that. If there is some major thing happened, they will normally tell you very nicely about what they are concerned about.
The fact of the matter is many of these villages, especially along the South Coast and Savaii benefit directly from tourism. The last thing they want is people to circulate reports that they had a bad experience in Samoa. Samoans in places like Maninoa are heavily involved and employed by people visiting the surf breaks.
While in Samoa, I never had a problem on Sundays. It is a day to just relax and do some reading. Growing up in Missouri, we had an easy day on Sundays after church but Samoa takes it to a whole new level and that is not completely a bad thing. Having some rest is good for everyone at the end of the day.
I hope anyone that does end up in Samoa has an amazing time and enjoying the beaches, waterfalls, bananas, coconuts as well as the cultural norms surrounding Sundays. It is unique and a gentle reminder of what our grandparents did in America a century ago on Sundays.