Experience the Samoa Cultural Village in Apia

January 12, 2024
December 15, 2023

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Table of Contents

About the Samoa Cultural Village

The Samoa Cultural Village provides an overview of different elements of Samoan culture in the one place. You can see traditional dance and singing, basket weaving, barkcloth (tapa making), cooking, wood carving and tattooing.

These cultural traditions, along with language and relationships with each other, make up 'fa'a Samoa', or the Samoan way of life. The Cultural Village is a great way to immerse yourself in this way of life.

It costs only 10 WST per person to enter, But note you’ll be expected to donate more money to the performers at the end of their final show. This price is inclusive of a traditional lunch that will be prepared before you.

Tickets can be bought at the Visitor Information Fale opposite the Cultural Village. It’s open from Monday to Friday. We arrived at 10AM to ensure we got some tickets, although the main activities didn’t start until 10:30AM.

Getting to the Samoa Cultural Village

The Samoa Cultural Village is located on Beach Road in the centre of Apia. It’s easily accessible by taxi or on foot from your accommodation.

You can also walk there on foot from the main bus stops at Fugalei Market or at the Old Apia Market (flea market). It’s opposite the Visitor Information Fale.

Our experience at the Samoa Cultural Village

We walked across to the Cultural Village from the Visitor Information Fale. Some ladies in traditional dress greeted us with some warm hellos (‘tālofa lava!’).

We took some seats in front of a stage. There was a male guitarist and a female vocalist singing some local songs while we waited for other guests to take their seats.

A guitarist and female vocalist performing traditional songs at the Samoa Cultural Village in Apia.

The Cultural Village is designed as a modern fale, with the distinctive circular shape, dome roof and wooden posts used in traditional Samoan housing.

Our first cultural experience was weaving. Each of us was handed two large leaves from a coconut tree to create our own plates. We were assured these would come in handy later!

A composite image of Jon sitting with some coconut tree leaves and weaving them with his hands at the Samoa Cultural Village in Apia.

The coconut leaves are often woven to form baskets (‘ato launiu’), but we’d be doing just a small section that day to create the plates. We were shown how to weave the two leaves together and then were left to attempt it ourselves.

It was more difficult than it looked at first, and thankfully the ladies came around to help make sure we were on the right path. Eventually we finished up with something resembling plates for each of us!

A composite image of two local women holding a completed basket and one of them showing Janna how to weave the leaves at the Samoa Cultural Village in Apia.

It was time to walk over to a small area where they would be making our ‘umu’ lunch. ‘Umu’ is an earth oven with above-ground hot volcanic stones still used today to make meals, especially the Sunday lunches or other special occasions when families come together to eat.

A group of men had already heated the stones which were gathered from river beds to ensure they were smooth and wouldn’t explode from the heat. They then showed us the different ingredients that were being placed on top of the stones.

A group of Samoan men in traditional dress preparing lunch in an earthen oven, or 'umu', at the Samoa Cultural Village in Apia.

First was a large tuna wrapped in foil (perhaps the only modern change) before also being wrapped in some banana leaves. Then they added taro, breadfruit and ‘palusami’ (coconut cream and taro leaves) all wrapped in banana leaves. The final additions were some bananas in their skin.

All of these ingredients were first placed on top of the heated rocks. Then layers of coconut leaves were placed on top of the food to seal the oven and lock in the smoked effect.

All we had to do now was wait for the food to be cooked! To keep us entertained, we were first shown how coconuts are opened. This was done quickly and expertly with the aid of a sharpened wooden stick.

One of the Samoan men in traditional dress holding a coconut after it had been split open Samoa Cultural Village in Apia.

One of the lucky guests got to taste the coconut juice inside. They then demonstrated how they remove the flesh of the coconut by sitting on a wooden bench and using a wooden instrument on the end of it. Lucky Janna got to help out with this task as seen below!

A composite image of Janna helping to get the juice out of coconut the traditional way while other men continue cooking the umu at the Samoa Cultural Village in Apia.h
A composite image of Janna eating some of the coconut flesh and Jon watching on at the Samoa Cultural Village in Apia.

We then moved onto a small fale where they normally have demonstrations of traditional wood carving. Unfortunately, there was no-one there when we visited although one of our guides did her best to give us some information. 

On the way back to the main fale, we passed another small fale full of people receiving ‘tatau’ (traditional tattooing). Our guide explained that we couldn’t enter because she didn’t have a tattoo herself and only those who had tattoos could enter.

We were a bit confused by this and would have liked to have seen one being done. However, there was some consolation when we returned to the main fale as one of the men from the umu was able to give us an overview of the traditional tattoos that he had.

They formed a dense pattern completely covering his lower body from the waist to the knee. Although none of the ladies had them while we were there, the traditional tattoos for women are less dense and smaller, running only from their upper thighs to their knees.

To further fill in the time, he also demonstrated how a traditional basket is weaved with the coconut leaves. It was impressive how quickly he could create the basket in front of us!

A Samoan man in traditional dress weaving a basket from coconut tree leaves while musicians are on the stage in the background at the Samoa Cultural Village in Apia.

It was now time for some traditional dancing and singing. The band had now expanded with someone on traditional drums and additional guitarists and singers.

A band performing traditional songs on the stage Samoan men on their knees as they perform a traditional dance on the stage at the Samoa Cultural Village in Apia.

After a couple of songs, two ladies came out to demonstrate traditional dancing while asking for volunteers to come up on stage with them. The Samoan ladies were very fluid and refined with their movements and the guests did their best to follow their movements.

It was then the men's turn. They performed another fantastic traditional dance on the stage.

Samoan men on their knees as they perform a traditional dance on the stage at the Samoa Cultural Village in Apia.
Samoan men standing with their arms raised and their backs to the audience as they perform a traditional dance on the stage at the Samoa Cultural Village in Apia.

It was now time to eat! It takes about 45 minutes for them to cook the umu lunch. The plates we’d weaved were brought back to us now full of the umu lunch we’d seen being made earlier.

We unwrapped the banana leaves to find the cooked tuna and assorted fruit and vegetables. There was a nice smoked taste in the food and the taro had a nice crispiness on its outside too. The palusami was probably our favourite! 

A composite image showing Samoan men putting the wrapped up food in the umu (earthen oven) and one of the packages being unwrapped on a woven plate Samoan men on their knees as they perform a traditional dance on the stage at the Samoa Cultural Village in Apia.

At this point, all of the performers came out to the stage. While eating our lunch, they performed an energetic final performance of traditional song and dance. The choreography was amazing and it was a fun ending to the day.

They had put out a basket on the stage to collect money from the guests. All donations were thoroughly deserved as we could literally see the sweat dripping off their faces!

Overall, we’d definitely recommend experiencing the Cultural Village. Especially at the start of your trip, it’s a great introduction to Samoan culture.

Travel itinerary for Samoa

If you haven't already, read our comprehensive 14-day suggested travel itinerary to make the most of your trip to beautiful Samoa.

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