The Samoan Farewell: Understanding Samoan Funeral Traditions

June 13, 2024

Samoan culture is deeply rooted in the traditions and customs that have been passed down by families for centuries. In the heart of the Pacific Ocean, the Samoan islands are home to a culture with enduring respect for their families and a love for the land and ocean. Samoan funeral traditions are a great example of their community’s strong ties to family heritage. These elaborate ceremonies involve a series of events and rituals that span over several days. Often involving the entire community, Samoan funerals are filled with singing, dancing, gift exchanging, and Samoan prayers and hymns.

At Coastal Funeral Center, we serve a diverse community and recognize the importance of cultural sensitivity in funeral services. In this blog post, we aim to shed light on Samoan funeral traditions, offering insights into what to expect and how to respectfully navigate these ceremonies with confidence and reverence.

 

Fa’a Samoa: The Samoan Way

Samoa

At the center of Samoan culture is the concept of Fa’a Samoa, or ‘The Samoan Way,’ which embraces a deep respect for elders, ancestors and their community. When it comes to the passing of a loved one, Fa’a Samoa guides each aspect of the ceremony including interactions with the deceased and their immediate family. Samoans believe that their loved ones are never really gone but rather still with them in a spiritual sense. They also ensure their loved one’s final resting place maintains its beauty, is kept clean and well-maintained. 

With Fa’a Samoa comes the concept of Tapu, or sacredness, which is found through all Samoan traditions and culture. Tapu signifies a strict traditional purity and leads Samoans in the way they honor those who have departed including behavior, dress, and interactions throughout the mourning period. 

 

Aiga: The Importance of Family

Samoan funerals involve not only the immediate family but also the entire community. The word aiga means extended family and Samoans embrace this concept throughout their life. The Samoan community comes together to support, grieve, and honor the departed with the utmost respect. 

Typically, the maternal side of the family will handle preparing the body and preparing the traditional foods while the fraternal side takes care of the ceremonial rituals.

 

Funeral Preparations

The family will spend one to two weeks mourning their loved one and planning services before the funeral ceremony. Prior to the funeral, a tulafale (talking chief) is elected as the designated storyteller and funeral leader responsible for communicating to the deceased’s relatives and community members. The tulafale is also responsible for delegating tasks to other family members such as who will record what gifts are given to the family and who will oversee the meals. 

 

The Si’i

Samoan Funeral
Photo courtesy of the Alofaituli family

An integral part of Samoan funeral traditions is the si’i, a gift giving ceremony where loved ones and community members bring gifts, such as money and food, to the family to show their love for the departed. During the week before the funeral, the tulafale receives the si’i and shares appreciation on behalf of the family.

One distinctive gift is the ‘ie toga, a fine mat made from pandanus leaves and woven together by a group of women. These special gifts are often passed down from generation to generation and symbolize familial ties and mutual respect. In a Samoan funeral, the casket is often draped in the ‘ie toga given as a si’i to the deceased and their family. 

The si’i is integrated throughout the day of the funeral from early in the morning until the services are held. After the burial, gifts are given back to those who attend to show appreciation for their support. 

 

What to Wear

In Samoan tradition, men typically wear a traditional skirt-like wrap called a lavalava with a white shirt, tie, blazer and leather sandals. The women often wear a white pulu tasi (a traditional two-piece outfit with a top and long skirt), or a muumuu (a traditional one-piece dress). 

Unlike in other cultures, black is not always worn at Samoan funerals. White symbolizes the spirit and “God’s Will” which is a color they also wear when attending church. 

 

Fiafia: Celebration of Life 

Often lasting for several days, Samoan funerals include a series of rituals and events honoring the departed. The services often include dancing, singing, and reciting traditional Samoan prayers and hymns. The Fiafia, or festivities, follow a period of mourning and honor the deceased through joy, music, and happy memories shared by loved ones. 

Samoans have blended their ancestral roots with their Christian traditions. Funeral ceremonies include traditional prayers to the dead wishing them peace in the afterlife and peace for their families. 

In addition, the Mo’omo’oga Samoan funeral song is often performed as a formal goodbye for loved ones. 

 

Samoan Funeral Traditions at Coastal Funeral Center

Samoan funeral traditions serve as a proud testament to the deep cultural practices of familial respect and heritage. Samoans pay tribute to their loved ones in a way that honors life while preserving Fa’a Samoa

At Coastal Funeral Center, we honor the symphony of life and cultures of all. We provide culturally sensitive funeral services that honor the diverse traditions of our community. Whether you’re planning a funeral or attending as a guest, we’re here to assist you every step of the way. 

 


 

About Coastal Funeral Center

At Coastal Funeral Center, we are committed to being dedicated guardians of family and community, while holding on to the legacy we established as a family-owned funeral home. Originally A.M Gamby Funeral Home, Coastal Funeral Center joined Green Hills in 2018 to better serve the South Bay community. During this transition, we expanded our services as an all-inclusive facility and built on the successes of Green Hills. We’re proud of our legacy of personal service and our deep roots in the community. We’ve been part of this community for more than 80 years. We provide customized funeral service options that meet your financial needs and honor your loved one. To learn more, visit https://coastalfuneralcenter.com.

 

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