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Samoa, The People of Samoa

puletasi, National University of Samoa, Polynesian people, population of Samoa, Upolu

The population of Samoa is 178,631 (2002 estimate), giving the country an overall population density of 63 persons per sq km (163 per sq mi). The population is unevenly distributed, however, and about two-thirds of the people live on Upolu, primarily in oceanside villages of less than 500 people. Apia, with a population of 33,000 at the 1995 census, is the only urban area. More than 90 percent of the population are Samoans, a Polynesian people. Only about 7 percent of the population consists of other Pacific Islanders, Europeans, and Chinese. English and Samoan are the official languages, although Samoan is preferred. English is normally only used in business and government.

More than 99 percent of Samoans are Christians, with about 60 percent of the people belonging to Protestant denominations, primarily the Congregational Christian and Methodist churches. Roman Catholics make up the next largest Christian group. Education, which is provided by the government and church-sponsored schools, is not free but it is compulsory between the ages of 5 and 14. Primary school attendance is nearly universal, while 73 percent of secondary school-aged children are enrolled. Samoa’s adult literacy rate is 87 percent. The National University of Samoa (founded in 1988) and the University of the South Pacific School of Agriculture (1977) are in Apia.

With the exception of housing in Apia where there are some Western-style houses, most homes are oval-shaped open-sided structures on raised platforms; they are often made from a mixture of traditional and imported building materials. Rural dwellers are largely self-sufficient, relying on subsistence crops and marine fish for food. Western-style dress is common in Apia, but more traditional clothing prevails in rural areas. This includes the lava lava (wraparound skirt) for men and the puletasi (long dress) for women. Religion dominates much of Samoan life. Almost everyone wears white clothing on Sundays in observance of the Christian day of rest. Many villages have a 10- to 20-minute evening prayer curfew and churches organize recreational and social opportunities for their members. People are conservative and take pride in maintaining fa‘a Samoa (the Samoan way of life). These traditions include preserving the role of the matai, a leader chosen to head an aiga (extended family of generally 20 to 30 members). The matai, who is usually a man, directs the extended family’s economic, social, and political affairs.

Competitive sports such as rugby and cricket are popular. Annual festivals include the celebration of the palolo, a type of coral worm that surfaces briefly during the year at times corresponding to the phase of the moon, usually in October and November. Palolos are a Samoan delicacy.



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