Gift giving in Samoan culture is a common practice that holds a lot of weight. In fact, they call gifts “Meaalofa” which translates to “a thing of love.' Samoans view every gift as a tangible representation of their feelings toward the recipient because gifts are the best way to express love, gratitude, respect and affirm a relationship.
The Samoan culture tightly grasps the ceremonies and gift giving customs from their origination even though the majority of Samoans are now Christians. Ceremonial gifts are called “Fa'aaloaloga Fa'aSamoa” which translates to the “Samoan way of showing honor.”
Gift Wrap and Presentation: Traditionally gifts were often wrapped in handmade and hand painted bark cloth called siapo. Modernly, when gifts are wrapped they are usually in wrapping paper like here in the states.
Gift Giving Etiquette: Never refuse a gift.
Go to Gifts: Mats. The Samoan culture has perfected the art of handcrafted mats and these mats are seen as the highest gift one can give and are exchanged in almost every ceremony or formal occasion.
Since mats are given at formal occasions, informal go-to gifts are “money and great amounts of food. For example, a whole roast pig, limbs and cuts of beef, boxes of canned corned beef, buckets of corned beef or baskets of cooked food.”
Business Gift Giving Standards: Business gifts are expected and are viewed as a representation of respect. If the giver is from another country, a token from their home country is the standard business gift to a Samoan associate.
Gift Giving Occasions: Since the majority of Samoans are Christian, the gift giving holidays are aligned with Christianity. However, Samoans blend their traditional rituals with modern Christianity and there are some fun “extra” holidays and gift giving occasions.
*New Year: New Year is heavily celebrated. Houses are decorated with streamers and flowers, dancing and feasts are standard and family members and close friends all present each other with small gifts.
* Birthday: Birthday gifts are not customary, except these days, certain milestones are celebrated in a big way: 21 years, 40, 50, 60, 70, 75 etc. For these a feast is usually thrown and people give gifts and/or money. Those celebrating their 21st are sometimes given a mirror key symbolic of their freedom.
*Hostess: Hostess gifts are fairly customary. If you don't bring one it would not be seen as rude but it's a nice gesture. Common hostess gifts are flowers or chocolates.
*White Sunday: Unique to Samoan culture, this holiday falls on the second Sunday in October. White Sunday celebrates childhood and gifts are given to children only.
* Weddings: At traditional Samoan weddings, gifts are given more to the families of the bride and to the guests than the actual bride and grooms themselves.
As in most cultures, the bride's family is expected to assume the cost of the wedding which is quite costly. In Samoan culture, the addition of gifts to the cost of the wedding and reception make Samoan weddings quite costly to the bride's family. Traditionally the groom's family is gifted woven mats. Guests with “high status' are given gifts from the bride's family, often these gifts were monetary.
Gifts for the newlywed couple come from many of the guests. These gifts include things for the home and money.
*Funerals: It's custom to give gifts to the immediate family of the deceased. Usually these gifts are mats or money.
*Thank You: A traditional gift giving belief that Samoans cling to is that the giver receives more spiritual blessings than the receiver. Therefore, thank you gifts almost always are given.
*Ava Ceremony: The most formal ceremony that takes place. An Ava ceremony takes place when bestowing a chief title and when welcoming important, high status visitors. The gift of a feast and mats are usually given.
*Formal Apologies: Traditionally apologies are accompanied with a gift. Many times the gift is a fine woven mat since it's considered the highest gift one can give.
*Christmas: Christmas celebrations mimic our Christmas in the states (except for the fact that December is one of the hottest months in Samoa).
*Enjoy this article? Click here to learn about gift giving in other parts of the world.