Traditional Samoan Music and Dances
Every culture incorporates rhythms, melodies, instruments, and dance to express a range of emotions – joy, anger, sadness, and love. The Samoans are masters of traditional music in the Polynesian culture, with knowing a great deal of their community and history. Photo credit: Alex Perez
Samoan traditional music
The Samoan traditional music is akin to the familial South Pacific beats, however, the use of percussion instruments are varied. For instance, slit drums are used to signal village rites and ceremonies, accompanying songs, chants, and dances by the fire.
Fala. A mat that’s beaten with sticks that serves as an idiophone.
Soundboard. A string instrument.
Samoan slit drum. A drum with a nick, cut, or hole in the middle. There are five Samoan slit drums variants according to their size.
Logo. The largest slit drum made from felled trees. It’s used for the announcement of kings and signals during times of war.
Lali. These two drums originated from Fiji and are played in pairs. The larger drum is called Tatasi and the smaller one is known as Talua.
Talipalau. It’s a skin drum introduced in the 1800s from missionary activities among regions.
Pate. This is a hand-held drum originated from Tahiti brought by British missionaries in the 1800s.
Nafa. It’s an obsolete Samoan instrument made from Milo wood.
Accompanying instruments. These instruments serve for signaling members or used for the amusement of the tribe. These are conch shells, panpipe, and flutes.
Over time, Samoan music is a complex mix of traditions and contact histories with other countries. Here are some known instruments of the traditional Samoan music ensemble.
Samoan cultural dances
Traditional Samoan dances vary from place to place. These dances describe the culture, values, and celebration of events in their tribes. While there are various dancing styles per tribe, Samoan dances exhibit a colorful, comical, and joyful vibe that everyone - especially children - will love. Each dance has a story to tell, so we’ll go over them one by one.
Siva Samoa, or simply Siva, is a slow yet graceful storytelling dance and is usually performed by a young woman. In the past centuries, the high chiefs or matais used to perform this special dance.
If you want to see a more vibrant Samoan dance, you might be amazed by the Siva Afi! Siva Afi or Fire dance is a traditional Samoan dance where young boys or men use a war weapon called nifo afi flamed with fires on both ends. The dancer twirls the weapon and performs different acrobatic tricks to the beat of the wooden drum that will surely set the stage on fire!
Fa’ataupati is a dance performed by Samoan men. It is also called the Slap Dance because it evolved from the moves of slapping away mosquitoes. The dance begins with a comic relief where the men act out in getting rid of the mosquitoes by slapping, and it transcends to the traditional dance.
Sasa is an energetic group dance that reflects the Samoan community’s everyday life like fishing, paddling, hunting, climbing trees, rope and net-making, and many more. All of these activities are expressed with hand movements.
Taualunga is performed by the high chief’s daughter to end any festivity. She comes out with a costume known as the ofu kounga that stands out among other costumes worn by dancers and a headpiece called the ko ina made with feathers. She also has make-up that has been adopted over the years.