UBC Community, Partners, and Alumni Publications

Western Samoans also known as “Tagata Sāmoa” Pitek, Emily


The Samoan Archipelago is located in western Polynesia, which lies in the central Pacific. Together, the islands consist of about 3,000 square kilometers in land area. The Fiji-Tonga-Samoa area was settled between about 1500 and 1000 BC by “people belonging to the prehistoric Melanesian Lapita culture” (Bargatzky, 2009). Today, the Manu'a Island group (Ta'ū, Ofu, and Olosega), Tutuila, and 'Aunu'u, comprise the Territory of American Samoa, which was claimed in 1900. Western Samoa—including 'Upolu, Manono, Apolima, and Savai'I—was a German colony from 1900-1914, then administered by New Zealand until becoming an independent state in 1962. The first permanent European missionaries arrived in Western Samoa in 1835 (LMS and Methodists), followed by Roman Catholic priests in 1845 (Bargatzky, 2009). Christianity gained rapid influence, and today, most Samoans are devout Christians of either the Protestant or Roman Catholic denominations. This entry focuses on the time before Christian influence (about 1825), when it was still possible for ethnographers to study the traditional religious beliefs. At this time, Western Samoans possessed a pantheon of supernatural beings and ancestor-spirits, as well as religious practitioners and leaders who held great social and political influence. At the time this entry focuses on, the Western Samoan religious and political aspects of life were interwoven to the point that they are best characterized as coterminous.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


Attribution 4.0 International