All countries have their own rituals, ceremonies and traditions, and while many have fell by the wayside, weddings are a unique part of life in which most people choose to incorporate some aspect of tradition. In fact, every part of a wedding ceremony has its roots in tradition, from the bride and groom meeting at the altar, to the customary white wedding dress, and the tossing of the bouquet. In Samoan culture, where religion is still a significant aspect of family culture and upbringing, weddings traditions and rituals are extremely important. Incase you are unfamiliar, Samoa is one of our beautiful pacific islands, where the people are incredibly friendly and welcoming, making the islands of Samoa and/or American Samoa ideal for a destination wedding.
I hope you love reading about these beautiful Samoan Wedding traditions. Whether you’re planning a destination wedding in Samoa, or want to incorporate these traditions into your wedding in New Zealand, you will undoubtedly need a fantastic wedding planner, so pick up the little white book before you go.
1. Christianity and Religious Ceremony in Samoan Weddings
Samoa is a traditional Christian nation, with 98% of the population identifying as religious, though many of Samoan wedding traditions are very different to those we would associate with a Christianity-based New Zealand wedding ceremony. In Samoa, only a bride and groom can marry, there is no same-sex marriage, and in 2017, the Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi said same-sex marriage would not be allowed in Samoa as long as it remained a Christian country.
The wedding will be usually officiated by a local pastor, with much of the wedding giving praise to God. One element of the wedding that differs from ours, is that the bride may be delivered to just behind the groom. At that point, he will turn around, and give praise to her and God, before taking her the rest of the way to the pastor.
2. Samoan Weddings are all about Family “Aiga”
Aiga is a word used to denote ‘family’ in Samoan, but is much more inclusive than our traditional understanding of family. Aiga is the wider family and community through blood, ancestry and marriage, and even informal connections, who acknowledge the matai (head of the family).
In Samoan tradition, the families must agree to the wedding, and agree that it is a suitable match. It is extremely important for the bride and groom to be of similar social status and rank because the family is so involved, and before they are married, they both must have family consent and goods are traded between the families. Unlike British and American tradition of dowry or the bride’s family covering the cost of the wedding, Samoan weddings are usually covered by both families. They can certainly be expensive too, because of the huge amount of ‘family’ or ‘Aiga’ who are welcome to come (either invited, or by inviting themselves). It is, however, common for Samoan weddings to be held at the Bride’s home, if not a very large function centre.
Following the ceremony, the matai from each family will meet, where gifts of fine mats and other customary treasures may be exchanged as part of a formal speech to one another.
3. Traditional Samoan Wedding Dress
Another important Samoan wedding tradition, which also relates to family, is that the bride’s wedding dress is from the groom’s family. Wearing a wedding dress from the groom’s side is a sign of respect to her fiancés family, which could be borrowed from any member of the soon to be in-laws, such as mother or sister, dependent on sizing. The bride may change her dress after the ceremony, being able to wear the dress of her choice to the reception. Normally, this is a traditional Samoan gown, often with a floral aspect to recognise her ancestry and culture.
For the groom, culture and tradition, and of course the climate, normally steers attire away from a tuxedo or suit, and instead into traditional lavalava. If the wedding is indoors, a white shirt is normally worn with the traditional dress, or if the wedding is outside, the groom may be shirtless. Guests also have traditional dress at Samoan weddings. For females, a common dress is a muumuu- a traditional Samoan floral dress, while males will also wear lavalava.
4. Large Wedding Party
Not only are Samoan weddings huge, but traditionally, the wedding party is too, with up to 20 or 30 bridesmaids seen at some weddings. The bride will be followed up the aisle by sisters, cousins, aunties and friends, so the Church can be rather full with this large procession.
Cakes by Delicious Cakes Samoa
5. Traditional Samoan Feast & Seating Arrangements
Like most New Zealand weddings, food is a big deal at Samoan Weddings, where family and friends are treated to a traditional Samoan feast. Traditional Samoan food is prepared in an underground oven known as an umu, usually including roast chicken, pork, corned beef, taro, chop suey and Salads. Yum!
If you’ve already had struggles with your wedding day seating arrangements, you might want to take a nod from the Samoan custom, of seating guests based on their social status! As well as their seating arrangements, guests are also served according to social status, and are usually done so by representatives of both families – usually older children.
Before anyone can eat, the bride usually performs a traditional Samoan dance, Taualuga. The dance is a sign of beauty for the bride and how she will become a great mother.
6. Cakes, Cakes and more Cakes
Now this is a tradition we can get behind…
It is common for a Samoan wedding to be absolutely huge, which of course requires a lot of cake! Samoan’s tend to have large families, but also openly invite all their friends, neighbours and many people from their community, such as their church – which can mean a wedding for hundreds.
Large numbers of guests also means large numbers of cakes, and yes, it’s normally cakes plural, as well as one large cake. Wedding cakes are often the centrepiece and focal point of wedding receptions in Samoa, at a huge expense.
Not only do the tiers stack up vertically but across the table as well. This is because not all the cake is meant to be eaten at the reception; the leftovers are sent home with the people of high social standing. The officiant for example, would expect to receive a whole tier.
Before a couple is allowed to cut their cake, they must acknowledge those that have contributed to their special day, such as family, cultural dancers and also their priest.
7. Please RSVP?…
While it is standard for New Zealand weddings to have a strict (and often tight) guest list and deadline for RVSP, this is not a necessity for Samoan Weddings. Some Samoan weddings can have more than 100 uninvited guests, as the more family members the better. If you happen to be in a village at the time of a wedding, you will most likely be invited. Generosity is a strong value of a Samoan Wedding, another reason for why Samoan Weddings can be on the expensive side, with both families contributing money towards it.
Guests can bring their children along. Children are not always served food, but instead bring baskets to fill with food, taking it home for later.
8. Dance the night away…
Entertainment is another important tradition and element of a Samoan Wedding, especially cultural dance. After the feast, the bride dances in her floral gown and either has a flower crown or a rose in her hair. While she dances, guests attach money to the bride, which sticks to the bride as she is usually covered in coconut oil. This is a sign of respect from the guests, gesturing a wealthy marriage.
Performers are either hired or part of the family and perform dances such as the Taualuga and Siva while guests enjoy their feast.
The bride also performs a dance for her new husband called the Hulu, as a symbol of love and respect to their marriage.
Women of each family, including sisters and mothers, perform a cultural dance for the bride. This is a sign of the bride becoming a great mother.
Giving Tradition a Modern Interpretation
I love these Samoan traditions, and while many Samoans are choosing to have more Westernised weddings, they will usually still look to customs and culture for inspiration and guidance. Keri Palemani is an absolute expert in this regard, and styles beautiful destination weddings in Samoa with a luxe modern feel, while still giving nod to tradition. Keri styled the wedding of Janelle & Poloie in the video above, as shot by Alexia Rae:
my last bride wanted macrame so had to find a way that it would meet the Samoa surroundings beautifully.