Samoan Funeral Service Rituals

Samoan Beliefs

Samoan Funeral Customs
Samoan flag

Samoan culture has both ancient and contemporary components to it and these provide the background for its funeral traditions and customs. Samoans have a lot of the same roots as other island cultures of the South Pacific so they have many aspects in common.

Samoans follow a code of living and culture called the Fa’a Samoa which means “the Samoan Way.” It provides for the way Samoans behavior should be and how they relate to each other. Central to this culture is the Fa’amatai. This is the code that provides for the systems of chiefs that lead Samoan families. The family is the most significant socio-political element of Samoan society. Family responsibility and the care of family land are the keys to the culture.

The overwhelming religion in Samoa is Christianity. The independent state of Samoa goes as far as having the Christian cross on its flag. However, the ancient myths also co-exist with Christianity, and this blending of rituals can be seen in funeral customs. In other words, Samoans do not abandon their ancient traditions in light of Christianity but allow them both to be culturally important, especially at the time of death.

In 1830, representatives arrived from London Missionary Society (LMS). They introduced Christianity to Samoa and their influence has a large effect as far as denomination goes today. For example, the Congregational Christian Church of American Samoa (from the LMS tradition) ministers to half of the population there. There is usually at least one church in each village and most of the ministers are native Samoans. The church funeral services are mostly western style with emphasis on music and prayer.

Samoan Death and Funeral Traditions

Death, in Samoan tradition, is considered “God’s Will.” It has traditionally been believed that Samoans should die at home. Otherwise, one’s spirit may cause problems for the family. Before the advancement of mortuary science there, the deceased was buried the day after death. Now, it is common to delay funerals for overseas loved ones.

Appropriate dress for funerals is a lavalava (or skirtlike wrap), white shirt, tie, jacket and leather sandals for men, and a pulu tasi (or muumuu) for women.

Funerals are flooded with gifts for the family. In return, families return gifts to the visitors. This practice can be quite a financial burden on Samoan families – particularly if there are a number of funerals in a short amount of time. Gifts include money and fine hand-woven mats (usually for display only and then rolled and stored).


Samoan Quick Reference Guide
Length of Service 90 – 120 minutes
Flowers? Yes (See our Sympathy Flowers)
Food? Yes
Dress Code? (Men/Women) Traditional wraps, white shirt & tie for men / Muumuu for women
Recording Devices? Not specified
Source of Readings? The Bible
Open Casket? Open for visitation, closed for the funeral
Return to Work? (Days) Depends
No. of Days to Mourn? About 2 weeks
Embalming?  Yes
Cremation?  Yes
Body/Organ Donation?  Permitted

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