The die has been cast in the culture war between Fa’a Samoa and the Western world. In some ways it is sad to see the demise of traditional ways, but there is a strong sense of inevitability that the Western way will continue to make gains on the communal Samoan village way of life. No matter what is done now, the genie is well and truly out of the bottle.
The speed of change outside of Samoa is cataclysmic and events around us are clearly indicative of end-times turmoil. Scripture enlightens us to the sequence of the changes in end-times, if not the exact timing, and teaches us that major changes, mostly for the worse, are inevitable.
Certainly change can be resisted, and the Samoan culture has better defence mechanisms than many, but the New World Order is on its way, like it or not. The pressure for Samoa to change will now escalate, especially with increased connection to “the global economy”, increased national debt and alignment with United Nations agendas.
Some of our younger, more idealistic guests hate the thought that Palagi newcomers like myself would attempt to conduct business in rural villages. “Leave them alone so that you do not change their traditional ways”, they have said to us. Change however will come sooner or later, despite their idealism.
Others regret the influence that the missionaries have had. Most of the guys voice their regrets that local girls don’t still go topless! The change however, has happened despite wishful thinking.
Others express concerns at the plethora of churches and the social expectation to attend. Many object to Samoa’s comparatively high church commitments and view this cultural norm negatively. While it occurred over a century ago, it still was a cultural change.
Much in culture is morally neutral, but not all.
For example, while it is important for many Samoans to want to retain knowledge of their language, morally it matters not whether one speaks English or Samoan. Likewise it matters not morally whether one wears Western or Samoan clothes, or participates in a to’onai, or which gender performs a particular task.
What does matter, at least from a Christian perspective, is where a particular aspect of a culture competes with biblical principles and the express purposes of God. This is the personal challenge for a Christian, to identify as objectively as possible which of our own cultural traditions and practices are derived from scripture and which are not.
I’ve been challenged with the level of violence in Samoa. As a rule parents in Samoa whack their kids much more than where I come from, so that cultural norm in Samoa is not a norm for me. Likewise “telling it like it is” can be a challenge for a Palagi in Samoa, because where I come from we tend to appreciate straight shooters more than the preferred diplomacy of the Samoan ways.
The key concept from 1 Thes 5:21-22 is discernment. “Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.”
We all recognise that there is a culture war, and that change is inevitable. The question is though, “Change to what?” Christians should accept that the real war is not between Western culture and Samoan culture; rather it is between all of our human cultures and the Lord’s will for his creation.
I believe that Samoa should spend its time and energy ensuring that the inevitable cultural changes are in line with scripture, rather than defending the indefensible.
Dennis A. Smith (www.dennis.co.nz) is a Samoa-based author, blogger and CEO of the SWAP Foundation, home of Samoa voluntourism.