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Land, Custom and History in Samoa


Malama Meleisea and Penelope Schoeffel


For more than a century Sāmoans have asserted that there are timeless norms in relation to customary land tenure, despite historical changes and introduced legal and religious principles. Since the early nineteenth century, Sāmoa has undergone a slow cultural revolution in which ancient political institutions have been completely reshaped. The German and New Zealand colonial administrations introduced a number of institutional changes affecting land tenure, and there has been a slow economic revolution from a subsistence and exchange‐based economy to dependence on money. This has accelerated since the 1970s as a result of mass emigration and remittances. As a result the traditional system of property, which evolved historically to maximise the efficiency of a subsistence economy, is being adapted to a money‐based economy with some associated issues and problems.

Keywords: Sāmoa, land, titles, matai, custom.

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