In this post I respond to an American who is struggling with the Samoan Sense of Entitlement whereby her Samoan husband of 29 years is caught out by having to cough up cash for his parents back home. It’s a vital subject touching on cross-cultural differences; human greed, misunderstanding and God things. As always, I write from a Christian perspective, God things. Enjoy.
I reply in detail here because the questions from this correspondence are serious. I copy the entire comments in full; then summarise them into subjects addressing them by subject and then finish with personal advice.
How would one make a change to this perpetual cycle of distruction?I’ve been married to my husband for almost 29 years and resent these demands put on him and other Samoans to provide for perfectly capable people. Or.. the idea that because we live in America, we must be rich.Especially when we wok so hard and can’t retire until age 65+. I’ve been reading article for the last couple of hours about professional rugby players commiting suicides due to the overwhelming pressure from their families to give money. I’m ok with giving money, but not okay with families expecting it. I’m perplexed! I love my husband but can’t seem to shut my mouth when it comes to his family and their entitlement and demands. I work my ass off and want to make sure that our family is cared for. I don’t expect my kids to take care of us financially unless we do t have food or basic needs.After reading these articles it’s starting to make sense. Wow. Especially when Samoan parents are retiring at age 50 so that their kids can support them. Please advise. I’m so confused.
Ouch! This lady is clearly asking for help. Understanding things then explaining them is my specialty. Having lived seven years in Samoa I think it could be said that I have some authority to speak about such matters.
Responding to key phrases
- perpetual cycle of distruction – you are right that this is destructive and also that it is perpetual and also that it is cyclic.
- demands put on him – overwhelming pressure from their families – the pressure exerted can be incredibly powerful, to a level that people in the West simply cannot fathom or understand.
- we must be rich – you are. You live in America so you are richer than most Samoans.
- commiting suicides – Samoans have a high suicide rate although all negatives surrounding Samoa, Samoans and Samoan culture are deliberately covered up.
- I’m ok with giving money – if your husband is Samoan as you say, then you will be giving to Samoa! I’m glad that you are happy to give. You will not like life very much if you don’t!
- not okay with families expecting it – Samoans have a sense of entitlement that exceeds that generally known or experienced in the West. This may not be nice, but you married into this attitude!
- I’m perplexed! I’m so confused. – I understand this struggle. It is a huge issue for all Samoans who have some get-up-and-go as they cannot break free from the cultural norms but it is even harder for those involved with cross-cultural marriage like you! I will explain the root cause in a moment.
- I don’t expect my kids to take care of us – then they probably won’t. Your husband might expect them to do so though!
- Samoan parents are retiring at age 50 so that their kids can support them – this tendency is normal, after all why would you work if you are the chief? Why would you not do exactly that and let others care for you? Human nature is the same across the globe. In the West we would do that too if we could – we just lean on the government, not our offspring.
a) Cultural Norms
The Samoan cultural norm is to work for your elders until it is “your turn”. Men take on a matai title (often at age 40) and ‘the boys’ must then and will work for their chief. He in turn must serve in turn the family body of chiefs and also up to the village body of chiefs. A typical scenario is that a man and woman will work under (and for) his father or uncle or family matai (or hers) and then when the appointed time comes for progression he will go through a social event and the ceremony bestows a title. While there are differences in different families and villages and historically, it is ‘shame’ to work thereafter. When Samoan elders ‘retire’ it is a source of deep honour to be fed and served by your children and extended family. To have elders uncared for, left alone, or independent is culturally abhorrent.
Human nature is the same across the globe – there are winners and losers, givers and takers, thinkers and fools, good and bad in every people-group on the planet. One thing though that stands head and shoulders above other countries and culture in Samoa is a massive sense of entitlement. To take from those with something because they have it, or can afford it is the issue this lady struggles with. I don’t know her father-in-law personally so I can’t tell you on what end of the spectrum their family is on the greed scale but the sense of entitlement that expects her husband to give is normal from Samoans.
c) Giving begets more giving
When one gives unconditionally (in this case to Samoan family), we encourage more requests for giving, because the expectations for receiving are raised. However, the godly way of giving is trading, exchanging, doing business or conducting family finances and relationships with a win-win scenario. This is a principle that Jesus taught (almost everything He gave was conditional) that we must seek to exchange; to trade. That is why He did not make a big ballyhoo about the giving of alms to the poor. If we give simply because there is a need (alms), there will be more need. Have you heard of the saying that “work expands to fit the time available”? It’s the same thing with giving – “the needs expand to fit the capacity of the giver”. Think about this – a Samoan conman asks, “Brudda, Got twenty bucks so I can [enter BS story here]?” and then drops it to, “Brudda, just a couple of bucks then?”Likewise when a sucker gives $10.00, there’s a secondary need or opportunity to lighten your load! Remember also that giving is a cultural thing in Samoa – giving to ‘get’ is the Samoan way. Giving for the sake of it, or [heaven forbid!] giving sacrificially is extraordinarily rare.
[UPDATE: I wish to clarify this a little; Samoans DO give and DO sacrifice to give all the time. They are a hugely generous people on the whole but Samoan giving is most commonly a CULTURAL thing, which is a patterned behaviour, not the form of natural giving that we understand in the West or in scripture, giving done “because He first gave to us”. One of the proofs of this was Samoans widespread incomprehension of my personal sacrificial giving and the motives for it. Rare was it that I found a Samoan who understood true biblical sacrificial giving and when they did, they were generally shocked and deeply moved.]
d) Manipulation & Control
Samoans excel at manipulation and control using cultural expectations to gain at others’ expense. It is all based on and sustained with fear, which is why my fearlessness was a problem for the Samoan Powers That Be – they can’t control an independent thinker fearless to speak the truth so must remove them from their controlled environment. Guilt; social pressure (aka peer pressure); shame; gossip and self-interest combine in a lethal cocktail of evil. These tentacles of undue influence spread even across the globe, as this lady reports. A friend of mine who does budgeting in Auckland told me of a woman matai beside herself as she had to find $1,000.00 to send back home for some ‘important’ event. When her client started talking about suicide, she asked me what it was all about – “Just tell them you can’t afford it” didn’t go down well with the victim who knew very well the cost of shame in Samoan society. That the pastors of some churches list the weekly giving by family and reward the biggest givers is another example of this. It’s the norm in Samoa to manipulate and control others with the power that you have.
The Samoan culture requires subservience to a culture – not the Lord. This is a form of idolatry. Whenever there is tension or conflict, it is always, and without exception, the culture that wins in Samoa. Those that hear and obey the Lord are ostracised and eventually expelled. It is simply not possible for someone to take the Samoan culture head on and “win”. That doesn’t mean that this lady has to give up – far from it – but she can never stand for natural [biblical] justice in the face of the Samoan culture. [UPDATE: Well she can but the price will be high and she won’t “win”.]
f) Negative Consequences
Hiding negative consequences is common in Samoa at different levels. In Samoa, when a boy kills himself over the shame of getting the pastor’s daughter pregnant, or from being found to be ‘gay’ or from social and financial pressures like that mentioned in the above comments, the family and village always, without exception act to cover-up. Forgiveness is extended readily, and ‘knowing’ support networks kick-in to support the grieving family so that life carries on the same. This is the name of the game – stability; status quo. Again it is not possible to challenge as the culture’s defence mechanisms are too strong from centuries of entrenchment. Negative consequences such as suicide are a victory for evil – this is the inevitable result of the curses that God promised when a people-group reject Him, His Word and His ways. Oh they say that Samoa is founded upon God, but it sure as h*ll isn’t the God that I know, love and serve!
g) The Root Cause
In Samoa it is well known that “We are a proud people”. Judges pontificate ad infinitum about a rebellious people. Stand on the corner of any street in Apia and watch the body language of the older men – we are matais; we have power, and authority and this is our country and we are proud of it. Listen to the words of the women when they talk of strangers or things that are different to their norms – gossip can be caustic, vicious and demonstrates the cultural arrogance that causes the Holy Spirit to lift off the people. Dare to give any commentary like this and the very pits of hell will open up – “Not everyone is like that!” and “You have no right to talk like that ‘Palagi’! Who do you think you are?” Wrong on both counts . . . the root cause of all ungodliness, all anti-social and self-destructive behaviour is always the same – pride.
The writer of the above comments seeks a simple solution. There is none. She is in a cross-cultural marriage where her husband comes from and is obviously submitting to external cultural pressures from his mother-country. This is natural. The family will think that she is rich because she IS richer, and they will be expecting that their son provides for them as they age. Despite many loud, indignant protestations to the contrary, many Samoans breed in bulk to have the children to look after them. Sending them offshore is not an escape, and while it may contain aspects of betterment for the children, it always has an expectation of a return – always. She is lucky that she still has him because many family elders will exert pressure on their children to relocate back to Samoa physically!
When engaging cross-culturally it is important to take any new learning on board then invert that learning to our own culture. Yes, this can be challenging and hurtful at times but this MUST occur before we can exercise wisdom. Let me explain what this inverting thing is all about . . . we must apply observations about the new culture (good and bad) backwards into our own culture.
Let’s do this then with a slightly different but related subject – greed.
Samoans of traditional values (the cross-cultural Samoans from outside of Samoa are more capitalistic) struggle to understand the greed of the West. We in the West think nothing of buying a widget in China for $1.00 and selling it for $99.00, and on special for $49.95, or to our friends for $39.00 or to our church or Pastor maybe for $29.00 if we can. We call it market price – that’s capitalism. What insane greed this is – akin to owning three houses and two cars. You can only live in one and drive one; why do you work yourself sick trying to get more? This runs totally contrary to the good Samoan ways where we will buy it for $1.00 so that we can buy 100x of them and then give them away to the chief, or our families, or the entire village. Sure, it makes us look good and we are sure to get something back in due course. Dealing then with greed as a tourist to Samoa is charged double the local price isn’t then a case of, “Bloody greedy Samoans!” it is more, “OK now I see how the greed and opportunism that we ALL have is manifested in the Samoan culture, just like we can see how it is manifested in our own [Western] culture.”
So, understanding then that these “lazy Samoan in-laws” may be greedy manipulative and have a serious issues with entitlement but that maybe they are simply living within their cultural norms, makes it a lot easier to understand. Indeed the writer of the above words says exactly this – she is learning [slowly] and starting to understand her husband’s culture when she says:
After reading these articles it’s starting to make sense. Wow.
But . . . while identifying the issues (as I have done) and then understanding (which I hope will help her [and others] understand) is the first step the next is what to do . . .
I believe that a woman [particularly a Christian woman] should be bringing her issues to her husband, not another man in another country. She should be developing a relationship of respect, where she builds his trust to a point that he can share the challenges that he faces dealing with his roots and aging parents, and can learn to understand the challenges that his wife has. It is HER job to find ways to communicate with him and to get to the point that they are working as a team. Now if the man is onto it (most aren’t) then he should be doing this already, but in my experience it is usually the woman who has more smarts in these areas. This is the foundation upon which the friction can be dealt with positively, and in a Christian sense in the power of the Holy Spirit.
There are practical things that can be done following a good open communication between the two cultures. I can’t presume to know individuals’ circumstances but I would doubt that giving is required for survival. It is most likely requested for cultural or ego reasons – to look good. Measured giving can be used to control it. Standing up for our own responsibilities works well in Samoan matai communications, so that when one man asks something from another and he negotiates the request down, the man who negotiates down has gained respect. Standing up to Dad and saying “No!” may not be possible but reducing weekly requests for $100.00 down to $40.00 per week and savings set aside for faalavelaves could be one option. Working or doing things specifically for Samoa is another. Just because we are asked for money doesn’t prevent us instead supplying food or goods or helping in other ways.
There are also ways to structure giving that do not involve cash. Cash is easy to ask for but if the need is food, or labour, or specific needs, then there are many ways to achieve this that involve a two-way engagement.
One can also say, “No!” or delay the delivery of cash until after the ‘urgent’ need becomes less ‘urgent’! Yes, but only next month when my money comes in is a culturally valid answer in many cases. You see this flexibility in village settings when a village meeting agrees to adjust their impossible demands on poor families to whatever they can extract reasonably. Given the choice of nothing or a little bit, they will always ‘adjust’ their demands to whatever is available.
Lastly remember that there are always two stories in Samoa. We tend to shoot straight in the West. Samoans don’t and constantly plays games with reality for their own benefit – and they all do it – and all the time.
I finish this post with a warning to Samoans about how the Samoan culture twists scripture into its cultural norms rather than fitting the culture into biblical norms. There is an important but subtle difference that is glossed over and causes and has caused the entire Samoan population much grief . . . it is this. God tells children to obey their parents but he tells us all to honour our parents. There is a huge difference between obedience and honour! Obedience is only for children – not adults!
The difference with Samoa is that Samoans are taught to obey our parents even into adulthood. THAT is unbiblical and stunts emotional and spiritual growth. When we place ourselves under the spiritual covering of our parents into and even through adulthood, we replace the rightful position of Christ with a human. The role of a parent is to nuture, teach and demonstrate the love of God and godly living for our children into adulthood – NOT **IN** adulthood. Jesus Himself said this about His mother – that she was there and set Him up for ministry but that in maturity He left her aside. Not so Samoans who are taught to obey even after death.
One of the saddest experiences relating to this subject matter was a Samoan school teacher who I met and we were discussing her life story. What made you get into teaching?” I asked her. When her mother was dying she took her aside and said to her, “Promise me that you’ll look after the children.” The mother subsequently died and the girl did what her mother said, training to be a teacher. For decades she taught and did nothing more because she had promised her that she would, on her mother’s deathbed. She was being obedient to her dead mother as an aging adult when I met her.
She was at an age that she could no longer bear children of her own. She was unmarried and there was a barrenness in her classroom. A palpable coldness existed and screamed at all of us (my visitors and the children), “I really don’t want to be here!” yet she was.
I believe that she would have been a fantastic mother, and probably wife too, but her mother “said”, so she “did”. The emptiness inside that girl’s life, now an aging barren single adult eats at me even years after I first stumbled upon it. This obedience to our parents in adulthood, is not godliness thus with Samoans leaning more toward the obedience of family and culture than that of their living God, tensions and curses must result . . . they do!
Not all Samoans carry this level of parent or culture worship but many cannot resist the cultural expectation to give to their aged, and it can hurt. I trust that this has helped this lady deal with the challenge constructively.