Except for perhaps a few thousand individuals--nearly all inhabitants of American Samoa are indigenous Samoans of Polynesian ancestry. More than any other U.S. or Polynesians people, Samoans are tradition-oriented and closely follow social customs and hierarchies from long before arrival of the first Europeans. This Samoan way-or fa'asamoa-is still deeply ingrained in American Samoa culture.
The most apparent character is the Samoan matai system of organization and philosophy. In general each village is made up of a group of aiga or extended families which include as many relatives as can be claimed. Each aiga is headed by a chief, or matai, who represents the family on all matters including the village council, or fono. Matai's hold title to all assets of the aigas, or families, they represent and are responsible for law enforcement and punishment of infractions occurring in their villages.
The fono consists of the matais of all the aiga associated with the village. The highest chief of the matais of all the village aigas is the highest chief or the ali'i and heads the fono. Also, each village has a pulenu'u (somewhat like a police chief or mayor) and one or more talking chiefs, tulafale.
Because the national park lies entirely on lands still owned by several rural Samoan villages, traditional cultures color all aspects of this park's operations and visitor opportunities.
Did You Know?
In Samoan folklore, sea turtles were believed to have the power to save fishermen lost at sea by bringing them safely to shore. The Samoan word for sea turtle, “I'a sa,” translates literally to “sacred fish,” presumably because of this ability. Sadly, sea turtles here are now endangered.