Study: Church obligations and landlessness in Samoa

Giving money to the Church is more important than paying for a child’s education for most Samoans. That's what a new study published in the Singapore Journal of Topical Geography has found.

Titled “Hard times in Apia? Urban landlessness and the Church in Samoa,” the research concludes that in “all five areas surveyed, households prioritize giving to the church as their primary or secondary commitment, followed by the payment of school fees.

“These findings suggest that urban-based kin do not contribute or participate in traditional reciprocal exchanges with their rural extended families, and instead target their resources towards the needs of the household and membership of urban-based faith groups.”

The study also reveals a further disconnect of Samoans from their traditional norms and values, including their ancestral past, and their mainstreaming into an increasingly Pacific urban way of life.

To draw these conclusions, researchers Alec Thornton, Tony Binns and Maria Talaitupu Kerslake looked at the transition, from rural to urban village settlements.

Their research questioned how this could result in the alienation of urban-based households from the reciprocal social and economic benefits of traditional relations with the aiga in the rural villages.

“To what extent are settlement areas in greater Apia characterised by a new landless class in Samoan society?” the authors’ asked.

“Secondly, are some urban households opting out of contribution to the rural aiga and its church, and turning to urban-based faith groups?

“Ultimately, this paper will argue that urban-based Samoans who opted out of reciprocal kinship and redistribution systems, and depend on informal land tenure arrangements through urban-based church membership, may find it difficult to exercise their customary rights to traditional land in the event that their situation changes.

“It is these Samoan individuals and households that are effectively landless.”

The authors claim that in many Pacific Island countries (PICs), kinship and Christianity traditionally form the foundation for all political, economic and social organisation and are inextricably linked.

“Kinship and social networks involve a reciprocal system of gift-giving, where material and financial support are exchanged, shared and redistributed,” the report reads.

“However, increasing hardship in PICs are seemingly having a profound effect on kinship relations at the village level, which might be providing the impetus for some households to relocate from rural village to ‘urban village’ settlements.

“In the case of Samoa, where Apia is the capital city and the country’s only economic and commercial hub, the city is often described as a collection of urban villages, due to its influence on villages that surround the original Apia town settlement.”

The authors’ claim in the context of our country, a small island developing state in the South Pacific, social relationships and traditional obligation have been explored as factors influencing land redistribution and revocation of land rights due to dissension among rural village members.

They cited fellow researcher RG Ward as being concerned about change in human settlement patterns as indicative of wider social change in Samoa.

“These issues were explored in a recent study, which examined the effects of kinship and church obligations on increasing poverty and speculated on the possibility of increasing landlessness among urban-based Samoans,” the report reads.


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