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Samoa - People

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 198,000 (July 2015 estimate). The population is approximately 77% rural, 23% urban. Samoa has a relatively young population with about 40% under 15 years of age and 18% aged 15-24. Samoans are mostly Polynesian and speak Samoan and English. The population is virtually homogenous within Western Samoa. Samoans comprise nearly 90 % of the population. The remainder are part-Samoan, who are mixed Europeans, Chinese, Fijians and Tongans.

The Fa'a Samoa, or traditional Samoan way, remains a strong force in Samoan life and politics. Despite centuries of European influence, Samoa maintains its historical customs, social systems, and language, which is believed to be the oldest form of Polynesian speech still in existence. Only the Maoris of New Zealand outnumber the Samoans among Polynesian groups.

The "aiga", or extended family, is the essential unit of the traditional social system. Each aiga is headed by a "matai", a chief chosen by consensus of family members. The matai have authority over land held in common by the aiga and are responsible for the welfare of family members. The matai also serve on village councils, which have wide powers. Most activity is organized around the villages, which tend to be politically, socially, and economically self-sufficient.

Samoans have retained many traditional social practices which guide behavior and maintain the Samoan way of life. Many aspects of collective communalism, in which family welfare takes precedence over individual rights, are still strong. Rituals and social conventions are fairly extensive, and may appear complicated to an outsider.

Both Samoan and English are official languages in Western Samoa. Older Samoans often do not speak English and rural Samoans may speak it less well. English is used in government departments, in busiiess transactions and in the commercial sector. Samoan is used in the Fono (parliament) with simultaneous translation into English.

Christianity was introduced in Western Samoa during the first half of the nineteenth century and was quickly integrated into the village social structure. Today, the Christian Church remains strong and religion is very much a part of everyday life. Pastors have an important place in the village political hierarchy. Church ritual and cusooms are taken seriously; Sundays are reserved almost exclusively for church services.

The major religious groups are Congregational Christian, 32 percent; Roman Catholic, 19 percent; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), 15 percent; Methodist, 14 percent; Assemblies of God, 8 percent; and Seventh-day Adventist, 4 percent. Groups together constituting less than 5 percent of the population include Jehovahs Witnesses, Congregational Church of Jesus, Church of the Nazarene, nondenominational Protestants, Baptists, Worship Centre, Peace Chapel, Samoa Evangelism, the Elim Church, Bahais, and Anglicans.

A comparison of the 2006 and 2011 censuses shows a slight decline in the membership of major denominations and an increase in nontraditional and evangelical groups. Although there is no official estimate, there are small numbers of Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and Jews, primarily in Apia.

Traditionally, villages have tended to have one primary Christian church. Village chiefs often have chosen the religious denomination of their extended families. Many larger villages have had multiple churches serving different denominations and coexisting peacefully. However, new religious groups sometimes faced resistance when attempting to establish themselves in some villages. The government enforced an education policy making Christian instruction compulsory in public primary schools and optional in public secondary schools. There was no opt-out provision.

As reported by media and in letters to the editor, there was a high level of religious observance and continued strong societal pressure at village and local levels to participate in church services and other activities, and to support church leaders and projects financially. In some denominations, financial contributions often totaled more than 30 percent of family income. This issue gained periodic media attention as members of society occasionally spoke out about pressure on families to give large amounts of their income to churches.

Island life is fairly quiet and things move at a much slower pace than in the U.S. Social activities center around the family, the church, and the village Village life is generally relaxed. Traditionally, the men go to the plantations in the early morning, while women tend the house and children, wash clothes, and gather shellfish at low tides. Families rest in the heat of the afternoon. In the late afternoon, fishing, yard work, sports (volleyball, ruby, cricket), and food preparation take place. Evenings are filled with prayer meetings (lotu), choir practice, easy conversation, bingo, evening strolls, dominoes, and the ubiquitous card game suipi.

The diet in Samoa consists primarily of taro, breadfruit, yams, potatoes, rice, canned corn beef, fish, chicken soup, taro leaves, some fresh vegetables, and limited fresh meat. Typical fruits are papayas, bananas, coconuts, mangoes, and pineapples. In Apia, many Western foods are available much of the time.

Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, manage their reproductive health, and have access to the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. As part of its National Sexual and Reproductive Health Policy, the government set out to improve family planning services. According to the latest estimates by the UNFPA, only 31 percent of women between 15 and 49 years used a modern method of contraceptive, and 42 percent of women had an unmet need for family planning services. The unmet need among girls between 15 and 19 years was as high as 50 percent. The UNFPA also reported that skilled health personnel attended an estimated 83 percent of births.

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