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Samoan Sense of Entitlement Explained

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.

The Comments

"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

  1. perpetual cycle of distruction – you are right that this is destructive and also that it is perpetual and also that it is cyclic.
  2. 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.
  3. we must be rich – you are. You live in America so you are richer than most Samoans.
  4. commiting suicides – Samoans have a high suicide rate although all negatives surrounding Samoa, Samoans and Samoan culture are deliberately covered up.
  5. 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!
  6. 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!
  7. 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.
  8. 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!
  9. 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.

b) Entitlement
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.

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.

e)Spiritual Subservience
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.

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.

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