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12 Samoan Words and Samoan Expressions You Should Know

Shannon Kennedy

Want to learn Samoan? Improving your vocabulary in a new language is one of the most effective ways you can boost your skills in a new language. And with Drops, you can begin building a strong foundation in your new language in just five minutes a day.

Our world’s languages have an incredible way of capturing the cultures and identities associated with them. Here are Drops, we are endlessly awestruck by the beauty, power, and history behind words. We recently launched the Samoan language, and to help you get started here are 12 Samoan words you should know. 

Fa’a Samoa

Fa’a Samoa means “the Samoan way” and it's used to share that family is important, elders are to be respected, and that one should do their part or duty. Fa’a Samoa encompasses etiquette, social organization, and responsibilities.  

‘Aiga

In Samoan, ‘aiga refers to one’s extended family. This includes parents, brothers, sisters, children, grandparents, cousins, nephews and nieces. It can even include adopted family. An ‘aiga together acknowledge a matai -- the family head. Traditionally, an ‘aiga lived in the same village, but this is no longer the case. Today, the ‘aiga meet on different occasions to confer on family matters, make arrangements for weddings and funerals, or make decisions about family land. 

Matai

Fa’amatai is the traditional form of government in Samoa in which matai - the holders of family chief titles - participate in order to look after their families. Both men and women can be matai, though there are higher percentages of men who hold the title.

‘Ava

The Samoan 'Ava Ceremony is an important tradition in Samoa. During the ceremony, a drink is made from the root of the pepper plant and then shared. It often accompanies the naming of a matai, the visiting of important figures, or to begin a government matai meeting. Special attention is paid to the order the participants drink.

Tatau

In Samoa, tattoos are considered an art form that documents the spiritual and cultural heritage of Samoa. The English word ‘tatoo’ is, in fact, a loan word -- in Samoan it is tatau. Master tattoo artists, tufuga ta tatau, use tools made from bone, tusk, shells, and shark teeth to apply the tattoos -- a process that can take weeks to complete. 

Siapo 

Traditional printed cloth made from the bark of a mulberry tree or breadfruit tree are called siapo in Samoa. This cloth has largely been replaced by cotton and other textiles, but it is still worn during celebrations and ceremonies such as weddings. It is decorated with rubbing, stamping, smoking, and dyeing. In Samoa, the decorations are often geometric patterns accentuated by fish or plants.

Siva Samoa

Samoan dance, or Siva Samoa, is an important, well-preserved part of Samoan culture. The dance is performed with grace and subtlety. It is performed by women, in contrast to the faster fa’ataupati performed by men.  During the dance, women wear puletasi, a traditional, two-piece dress. Watch a Siva Samoa performance.

Fa’ataupati

The fa’ataupati is a dance performed by Samoan men. It’s said to emulate slapping mosquitos from one’s body and is likely the origin of the dance’s name -- fa’ataupati literally means ‘to forcefully slap or clap’. The dance doesn’t require any music because the rhythmic slapping and clapping creates the soundscape for this dance. When this dance is performed, the men wear lavalava, a traditional skirt made from a rectangular cloth, and they cover their skin with coconut oil because the slapping can leave marks. You can see a performance of this dance here.

‘ie toga

The ‘ie toga is a finely woven mat that is often never used as a mat. They are woven by women and can often take years to make. They’re highly valued for their cultural importance and are given as gifts during ceremonies, weddings, and funerals. They can also be worn around the waist. ‘Ie toga are made from pandanus leaves, or lauʻie in Samoan.

Tala

The Samoan word for taro, a kind of starchy vegetable similar to the potato. It has a light purple hue and both the root and leaves are used in different dishes. For example, fa'ausi, is a dessert made from cooked, grated taro mixed with coconut milk and brown sugar. It’s important to make sure taro is properly cooked - it contains oxalic acid, an irritant that can cause your throat to feel scratchy and uncomfortable if it isn’t prepared correctly (or eaten raw).

'Ulu

Breadfruit is a tree related to the jackfruit found in Samoa. The fruit produced by the tree is a food staple, and the tree’s timber is often used in ships and other construction. In fact, it was the most important timber in the construction of traditional Samoan housing. 

Palusami

Palusami is a Samoan dish steamed in a taro leaf bundle. It’s made with coconut and onion, but it can also include meat like corned beef, vegetables, or fish.

We invite you to come learn these Samoan words and more with us at Drops

What about you? Are you learning Gagana Sāmoa

What are some of your favorite words in the language? We’d love to hear what they are in the comments below!

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