Girl kneeling in prayer Photo by Artem Kovalev

Muamua ona si’i le fa’afetai i le Atua…

(I would first like to give thanks to God…)

How often have we heard this phrase spoken or seen it written?  It prefaces letters to not only loved ones but letters that are more of an official nature.  Even public speakers will begin speeches with the phrase.  This familiar phrase reveals an insightful fact about all Samoans; they love and openly recognize the hand of God in their lives.

There was a teacher, a palagi atheist, in Samoa who expressed his irritation with his students who would hand in essays each of which began with: Muamua ona si’i le fa’afetai i le Atua…  He frequently stated that it was unnecessary and should not be included in any assignment that was to be handed in.  Alas, essays weren’t the only homework that contained this or similar phrases, there were also narratives, journal entries and more.  As you might imagine the teacher didn’t last long in Samoa.  Not that he didn’t have a valid point, but more importantly he didn’t take into account the influence of the culture of Samoa on his students, a culture that recognizes the importance of God.

The importance of God in the culture of Samoa is evident in the village.  Take for example the faife’au (minister).  Although not of the same gafa (genealogy), the minister receives similar gifts and formal greetings as the village matai (chief).  This honor is received because the faife’au is seen as a person doing chores (faife’au) for the Almighty.  Like God is to be thanked and recognized, so also are his servants thanked and recognized by Samoans.

The CIA world fact book breaks down religions in Samoa according to denomination.  However, there is one consistent theme with both Samoa and Amerika Samoa, they are Christians.  The percentage of Samoans that are Christians is probably more than the 97% that the world fact states.  This is assumed because it doesn’t take into account the thousands of Samoans living away from the islands that haven’t forgotten who to thank first.

This phrase defines a dominant aspect of Samoan culture.  It is evident in the communication of the government and citizens alike.  The public seal for Samoa bears the following motto:  Fa’avae i le Atua Samoa (God be the Foundation of Samoa).  The Amerika Samoa motto states:  Samoa Muamua le Atua (Samoa, God is first).  

The Sa’o staff would like to first thank God for all things we see, hear, feel, touch, and taste.  Our hope is that as we Samoans disperse ourselves throughout the world we perpetuate to our children and neighbors alike, this legacy of giving thanks to God, making Him our foundation, and putting Him first.  We hope all your days are safe and joyful.