Island Traditions: Lessons to be Learned from American Samoan Culture

In an article published by, the results of a study about American Samoa were discussed.

The study, published in the journal Ecology and Society, focused on the response of the island’s indigenous people to natural disasters. It found that after a tsunami, such as the one that hit American Samoa in 2009, residents rely on “Fa’aSamoa,” or “The Samoan Way.” This refers to their cultural traditions and ways of handling things.

“We found that communities like this have strong traditions that may not fit into the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) model but they are still highly effective," said study author Andrew Rumbach, PhD, in the article.

“We think these same kinds of traditions could play important roles in disaster preparation, response and recovery in American Indian communities, Alaskan villages and among other indigenous people,” said Rumbach, who is the assistant professor of planning and design at CU Denver's College of Architecture and Planning.

After analyzing the American Samoans’ response to the 2009 tsunami, the study found their methods involved dividing recovery work between genders. The young men, called aumaga, were relegated to rescuing any victims and clearing debris.

“The aumaga were crucially important for emergency response because with such widespread devastation across the island, they were the de facto first responders. Based in each village they are capable of responding to events locally and without having to be dispatched from larger population centers,” said Rumbach.

The women of the village provided food, water and first aid to the tsunami victims. Extended families took care of offering shelter, food and other help to those in need of it.

According to the article, the study said, “Supporting indigenous institutions through disaster management policies and programs leverages existing networks with high levels of social capital, while simultaneously strengthening those institutions and making them relevant to contemporary challenges. It's a win-win scenario.”

Rumbach sees an opportunity to create more flexible disaster response plans with FEMA’s new focus on more community-based recovery strategies.

“In times of crisis these institutions played (the) role of first responder all without specific training,” said Rumbach. “That response could be improved by being trained in CPR, evacuation of the elderly and other skills. But we could incorporate these kinds of traditional responses into FEMA.”

Rumbach sees promise in following American Samoa’s traditional ways.

“We often come in after disasters and set up whole new systems but in these places we could use institutions already in place,” Rumbach said. “Traditional communities have a lot of capacity.”


For more information, see the study here:
See the original EurekAlert article here: