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 and political systems, and language. Cultural customs such as the Samoa 'ava ceremony are significant and solemn rituals at important occasions including the bestowal of matai chiefly titles. Items of great cultural value include the finely woven 'ie toga.
Samoan mythology includes many gods with creation stories and figures of legend such as Tagaloa and the goddess of war Nafanua, the daughter of Saveasi'uleo, ruler of the spirit realm Pulotu. Other legends include the well known story of Sina and the Eel which explains the origins of the first coconut tree.
Some Samoans are spiritual and religious, and have subtly adapted the dominant religion of Christianity to 'fit in' with fa'a Samoa and vice versa. Ancient beliefs continue to co-exist side-by-side with Christianity, particularly in regard to the traditional customs and rituals of fa'a Samoa. The Samoan culture is centred around the principle of vāfealoa'i, the relationships between people. These relationships are based on respect, or fa'aaloalo. When Christianity was introduced in Samoa, most Samoan people converted. Currently 98% of the population identify themselves as Christian.
Some Samoans live a communal way of life, participating in activities collectively. Examples of this are the traditional Samoan fale (houses) which are open with no walls, using blinds made of coconut palm fronds during the night or bad weather.
The Samoan word for dance is siva with unique gentle movements of the body in time to music and which tell a story, although the Samoan male dances can be more snappy. The sasa is also a traditional dance where rows of dancers perform rapid synchronised movements in time to the rhythm of wooden drums (pate) or rolled mats. Another dance performed by males is called the fa'ataupati or the slap dance, creating rhythmic sounds by slapping different parts of the body. This is believed to have been derived from slapping insects on the body.
The form and construction of traditional architecture of Samoa was a specialised skill by Tufuga fai fale that was also linked to other cultural artforms.
As with other Polynesian cultures (Hawaiian, Tahitianand Māori) with significant and unique tattoos, Samoans have two gender specific and culturally significant tattoos. For males, it is called the Pe'a and consists of intricate and geometrical patterns tattooed that cover areas from the knees up towards the ribs. A male who possesses such a tatau is called a soga'imiti. A Samoan girl or teine is given a malu, which covers the area from just below her knees to her upper thighs.
Albert Wendt is a significant Samoan writer whose novels and stories tell the Samoan experience. In 1989, his novel Flying Fox in a Freedom Tree was made into a feature film in New Zealand, directed by Martyn Sanderson. Another novel Sons for the Return Home had also been made into a feature film in 1979, directed by Paul Maunder. The late John Kneubuhl, born in American Samoa, was an accomplished playwright and screenwriter and writer. Sia Figiel won the 1997 Commonwealth Writers' Prize for fiction in the south-east Asia/South Pacific region with her novel "Where We Once Belonged". Momoe Von Reiche is an internationally recognised poet and artist. Tusiata Avia is a performance poet. Her first book of poetry Wild Dogs Under My Skirt was published by Victoria University Press in 2004. Dan Taulapapa McMullin is an artist and writer. Other Samoan poets and writers include Sapa'u Ruperake Petaia, Eti Sa'aga and Savea Sano Malifa, the editor of the Samoa Observer.
In music, popular local bands include The Five Stars, Penina o Tiafau and Punialava'a. The Yandall Sisters' cover of the song Sweet Inspiration reached number one on the New Zealand charts in 1974. King Kapisi was the first hip hop artist to receive the prestigious New Zealand APRA Silver Scroll Award in 1999 for his song Reverse Resistance. The music video for Reverse Resistance was filmed in Savai'i at his villages. Other successful Samoan hip hop artists include rapper Scribe, Dei Hamo, Savage and Tha Feelstyle whose music video Suamalie was filmed in Samoa.
Lemi Ponifasio is a director and choreographer who is prominent internationally with his dance Company MAU. Neil Ieremia's company Black Grace has also received international acclaim with tours to Europe and New York. Hip hop has had a significant impact on Samoan culture. According to Katerina Martina Teaiwa, PhD from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, "Hip hop culture in particular is popular amongst Samoan youth." Like very many other countries, hip hop music is popular. In addition, the integration of hip hop elements into Samoan tradition also "testifies to the transferability of the dance forms themselves," and to the "circuits through which people and all their embodied knowledge travel." Dance both in its traditional form and its more modern forms has remained a central cultural currency to Samoans, especially youths.
The arts organisation Tautai is a collective of visual artists including Fatu Feu'u, Johnny Penisula, Shigeyuki Kihara, Iosefa Leo, Michel Tuffery, John Ioane and Lily Laita.
Director Sima Urale is an award-winning filmmaker. Urale's short film O Tamaiti won the prestigious Best Short Film at the Venice Film Festival in 1996. Her first feature film Apron Strings opened the 2008 NZ International Film Festival. The feature film Siones Wedding, co-written by Oscar Kightley, was financially successful following premieres in Auckland and Apia. The 2011 film The Orator was the first ever fully Samoan film, shot in Samoa in the Samoan language with a Samoan cast telling a uniquely Samoan story. Written and directed by Tusi Tamasese, it received much critical acclaim and attention at film festivals throughout the world.
In comedy, Laughing Samoans, the Naked Samoans and Kila Kokonut Krew have enjoyed sold-out tours.
Actor and director Nathaniel Lees has featured in many theatre productions and films including his role as Captain Mifune in The Matrix trilogy. Published playwrights include Oscar Kightley, Victor Rodger, Makerita Urale and Niuean Samoan playwright Dianna Fuemana.
The main sports played in Samoa are rugby union, Samoan cricket and netball. Rugby union is the national football code of Samoa. In Samoan villages, volleyball is also popular.
Rugby union is the national sport in Samoa and the national team, nicknamed the Manu Samoa, is consistently competitive against teams from vastly more populous nations. Samoa has competed at every Rugby World Cup since 1991, and made the quarter finals in 1991, 1995 and the second round of the 1999 World Cup. At the 2003 world cup, Manu Samoa came close to beating eventual world champions, England. Samoa also played in the Pacific Nations Cup and the Pacific Tri-Nations The sport is governed by the Samoa Rugby Football Union, who are members of the Pacific Islands Rugby Alliance, and thus, also contribute to the international Pacific Islanders rugby union team.
At club level, there is the National Provincial Championship and Pacific Rugby Cup. They also took home the cup at Wellington and the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens in 2007—for which the Prime Minister of Samoa, also Chairman of the national rugby union, Tuila’epa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, declared a national holiday. They were also the IRB World Sevens SeriesChampions in 2010 capping a year of achievement for the Samoans, following wins in the USA, Australia, Hong Kong and Scotland Sevens tournaments.
Prominent Samoan players include Pat Lam and Brian Lima. In addition, many Samoans have played for or are playing for New Zealand.
Rugby league is mostly played by Samoans living in New Zealand and Australia, with Samoa reaching the quarter finals of the 2013 Rugby League World Cup made of players playing in the NRL, Super League and domestic players. Many Samoans and New Zealanders or Australians of Samoan descent play in the Super League and National Leagues in Britain. Francis Meli, Ta'ane Lavulavu of Workington Town, Maurie Fa'asavalu of St Helens and David Fatialofa of Whitehaven and Setima Sa who signed with London Irish rugby club. Other noteworthy players from NZ and Australia have represented the Samoan National team. The 2011 domestic Samoan rugby league competition contained 10 teams with plans to expand to 12 in 2012.
Samoans have been very visible in boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, and sumo; some Samoan sumo wrestlers, most famously Musashimaru and Konishiki, have reached the highest rank of Ozeki and yokozuna.
American football is occasionally played in Samoa, reflecting its wide popularity in American Samoa, where the sport is played under high school sanction. About 30 ethnic Samoans, many from American Samoa, currently play in the National Football League. A 2002 article from ESPN estimated that a Samoan male (either an American Samoan, or a Samoan living in the mainland United States) is 40 times more likely to play in the NFL than a non-Samoan American.