Home Volume 7 no.2 The Sāmoan Village, the Brother-Sister Relationship and the Rule of Exogamy

The Sāmoan Village, the Brother-Sister Relationship and the Rule of Exogamy


Serge Tcherkézoff, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales and The Australian National University


To the Western mind—as represented in most anthropological accounts—the “man/woman” differentiation is the broadest “gender opposition” subsuming all other more specific differentiations such as husband/wife, brother/sister, son/daughter, etc. The paper proposes that this Western illusion is deeply entrenched within contemporary gender studies, a consequence of the even broader Western analytical tradition based on the tool of dualistic complementary oppositions. In many anthropological accounts the traditional gendered spheres of ‘nu’u o tama’ita’i’ and ‘nu’u o ali’i’ in most Sāmoan villages have been misrepresented in as pertaining to a division of responsibility or interest between men and women. This however is quite alien to Sāmoan conceptions in which males and females are defined by their distinct status and roles vis-à-vis one another, as brother and sister (tuagane/tuafafine) or as man and wife (tamāloa/āvā). The social structure of traditional Sāmoan polities or villages requires brothers and sisters to take their husbands and wives from other villages, brothers bringing their wives ‘in’, while their sisters go ‘out’ to their husbands. Village endogamy is deeply disapproved. The organisation of a village is thus based on a brother/sister distinction through a triad of founding names (titles), their sons and their daughters, and excludes wives.

Keywords: Sāmoa, gender, social organisation, marriage, kinship, siblingship, endogamy, exogamy.

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