The Samoan Visiting Gift Etiquette Pt. 1

Visiting family is always a great thing – catching up on the stories, updates on family members, sharing food and sometimes sharing tears, all in the name of ‘being together’ is no doubt one of life’s simple pleasures (if you are close to your family lol)

And then there leaves the question of etiquette. Sure, most families would have some type of give and take, the token of love can be in a simple plate of food, a nice chocolate cake and even just a bucket of KFC! But what is the procedure and requirements when you visit a family in Samoa? What amount of gifts or monetary ‘mea alofa’ is required? No one wants to appear to have no-regard to this custom of visiting gifts and as a first timer (the fact that you even think about it is at some point, a success).


So my grandma returned back from Australia over the weekend. Glad to have her back and missed her like crazy! And the weekend brought on a serious of ‘asiasiga’ visits to family to bear gifts or ‘oso’ as commonly referred to.

Nowadays, if you visit a village in Kua backs the acceptable amount is (may vary to different families depending on close relationship) a gift of SAT0-500 and if required, either a few bags of Moa, Mamoe, Bread, Butter, Suger (basic groceries) are acceptable – and also depending on the size of the family.

(alot for a visit eh?)


Best to visit on Saturday – Recieving a monetary gift before Sunday will ensure that the family can use this gift for Sunday Tithe and Atina’e etc etc. also Saturday afternoon would mean that most stores in Apia are closed and transport to town to spend this money is limited, leaving the money to be used for Village affairs & Church. (not that its anyone’s business what your family does with the money, but more for a peace of mind that this money, given with love, is not splurged on Bingo and other un-essential items.

If there are a few visiting from a particular family – go together! this would mean that the family that is visited is given amounts at the same time and therefore would not feel as if they did not recieve AS MUCH as if you’d visit alone (not to mention, it provides a ‘he gave this much, so I don’t mind if I give the same or more/less) but its not a competition!

If the gift is not accepted – depending on the families pride, give it to a daughter or son or somebody that lives with the family – it is better than taking back your gift with you and again, pride is still part of being Samoan. E talia ma le faaaloalo.

Too Much! It is also a problem – do not over-give your ‘present’, whatever is available and given as a gift with a clean heart is worth more, don’t break your budget because you ‘think’ it may not be enough.

Its the thought that counts: even if you visit with a small gift, people are forgiving, just apologise that the gift may not be enough, but you have brought it as something to show your love.

Frequency: The rule of giving is also depending on how many times you visit, if you intend to ‘live’ with your family while you are here, do not give a massive stack of cash and then expect it to cover the entire 3 week trip, hand it out in installments! lol, or agree to buy groceries, pay the power bill, pay the water bill, gift gifts sparingly as to not instigate a situation where there would be an expectation to keep giving gifts at a high value limit. (also to avoid the ‘thinking to much of a situation’ – eg. you arrive and give SAT00.00, the next couple of days you give SAT, it may be percieved as if they are not a gracious host and not providing to you expection in which, the monetary offerings are getting less and less, but really, you’ve busted your wallet in the first showering of ‘alofa’.

And if you’ve visiting for the first time (in a very long time) its preferable to invest some time, visit and stay for an afternoon, accept thier invitation to ‘toonai’ with them etc.

If your visiting family that you have never met, less is more – and since you have not gained an overall idea of who they are or what thier financial status is, don’t offend by giving a ‘well off’ family SAT or even SAT0 but again, stick to a small gift.

It gets even more trickier!

Visiting a family member who is the Sa’o of the family (the highest cheif representative of the family) in this case, monetary gifts are fine – alongside a box of pisupo (if available) or a box of moa (chicken) and sometimes even two or three – to show your appreciation of the fact that they represent the entire family (and also, the food would be used for the entire family don’t worry too much about where its going)

Theres more to this.. but I’ll come back..




0 thoughts on “The Samoan Visiting Gift Etiquette Pt. 1

  1. Thanks for the good advice. Something to think about when visiting your family in Samoa and not just thinking about yourself and all of the fun that you will have. Thank you again, for the nice read!

  2. I have nothing against the fa’asamoa, being Samoan myself. However, I do feel the financial obligation has become too excess. My husband is a Matai Alii. I was totally against him taking on this role only because of the financial demand within the Samoan community as well as the external family it brings. When my mother was young, what your family could afford was enough and it was never questioned and never frowned upon if you did not give enough. Today, giving over less than $100 is now unheard of and not acceptable. At funerals we have families who approach you and discreetly hand you an envelope with a gift of money to the value of or less than $100 when one of your family members die. I often hear the comments, “Sorry, we could not afford to give more”. I would know the family and generally know that this family is by no means in a financial position to gift money. I quite often speak to my husband about the way in which the fa’asamoa has been scrutinized by our own people. There was a time, gifting money felt good and it came from your heart because you wanted to. Nowadays, it seems like an obligation.
    Everytime we were in Samoa, every home we visited, the wallet was pulled out and wads of money was handed to the smiling faces with their hands out. Word got around there was an outsider visiting their families and within the course of the visit we had visitors from people we didn’t even know and would probably never meet again. They killed & cooked one of their prized pigs that ran freely around the family yard, or a couple of chooks and brought it to for the visitors. This was very heart-warming to see these unknown faces, but I felt sad that they had to do this for a few dollars that would only feed their large famiies probably for a day. I would have graciously gifted them a money token if they had come empty handed. The amount of food that we bought before heading off to each relative home would have been enough to feed the extended family and more! Because of the high economy in Samoa, not many of our families in Samoa are in a position to gift. Quite often I discuss this with my children. They are very strong within their Samoan heritage and traditions but fear that with the financial demand that is expected from them when they become adults would be too overwhelming. I believe we have peaked the fa’asamoa and can no longer go any higher. To me, fa’asamoa is good. It keeps our identity alive for our children and theirs. I have said to my children, if they want to keep the fa’asamoa alive to pass on to their chidren, their own generation will have to take it back to the basics. My children are proud Samoans but they doubt what lies ahead of them regarding the fa’asamoa when my generation pass..

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