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An Introduction to Samoan Custom


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In May, 1942, shortly after the arrival of American forces in the Territory, the Department of Samoan Affairs was asked to prepare notes on elementary Samoan custom for the information of United States personnel. The pamphlet prepared at that time has since proved useful to visitors and other new-comers, and in view of numerous requests for information, it has lately seemed worth while to rearrange and amplify the material with a view to publication. Visitors often find their arrangements hampered, or much of what they see is unintelligible, for lack of clear and nontechnical information on aspects of custom with which they are most likely to come into contact, and it appeared that, at least in the early stages of the book, an explanation of some of the happenings normally met with on a malaga or journey to areas outside Apia would furnish the best practical approach to the problem of providing the information required.

Although it is hoped that this book may serve as an introduction to Samoan custom for those who wish to take further the study of a fascinating subject, it cannot be too strongly stressed that it is an introduction only. Important features which could not receive attention in a work of such restricted scope as this would make an imposing list, and if there appears to be a demand for this book further stages may be published at some time in the future.

Every effort has been made to present the subject as simply as possible, although the research and study involved have often been considerable. The approach, however, has not been anthropological, and in many instances the treatment is not complete. Except where the contrary is indicated, references are to present-day conditions, and for the most part there has been little attempt to discuss the culture of old Samoa. The passage of even the last two or three decades has brought some noticeable changes.

It was felt that a book of this character should be published locally, but the decision to do so raised many difficulties. Much of the type employed has had long service page break and is in short supply; moreover, it has all had to be hand-set. Printing commenced nearly eighteen months ago, when a few pages were set up; the type was then broken up and re-set for further stages. Shortage of paper has made it essential to employ small type and to set the lines close together.

Constitutional changes that have taken place while the book has been on the press are noted in the final chapter. The Department of Native Affairs is now known as the Department of Samoan Affairs, and Native Medical Practitioners are termed Samoan Medical Practitioners; but the references in the text are to the old designations. Whereas in the early part of the text statistics are dated 31st March, 1947, it was possible in a later chapter to record others as at 31st March, 1948. The passage of time has also rendered the prices of produce mentioned on page 60 out of date; prices are now even higher.

As far as possible all material of professional or technical interest that appears in the following pages has been submitted for checking and correction by those best qualified to do so. I am grateful also to members of the staff of the Department of Samoan Affairs for advice and assistance received in the course of preparation of this work, for any points that seemed to require it have been referred to Samoan opinion. Other friends have been good enough to peruse the manuscript and to make suggestions for its improvement.

F. J. H. Grattan.

31st August, 1948.