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Hamilton College

Publication Date

Spring 2009

Program Name

Samoa: Pacific Island Studies


This report consists of a generational comparative of views on human rights in contemporary Samoa. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations in 1948, and is now compulsorily for all member nations. Samoa’s independence in 1962, with the implementation of a liberal democracy, meant an inescapable adoption of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Though Samoa’s constitution is unique with its incorporation of tradition and custom within a democratic system, the universal human rights bill is generic, allowing that it should mesh will all counties and cultures – an outcome that does not hold true in Samoa.

Samoa is and always has been a communal culture. With the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the idea of individualism and individualistic responsibility is being introduced into the Samoan society with a response of mixed feelings, serious and devastating clashes, and a threat to the fa’asamoa – the culture that fosters Samoan’s way of life and more importantly, their identity.

This study will look at young Samoan adults’ (age 18-29) attitudes and views towards human rights versus middle-aged Samoans’ (age 45-60) attitudes and views on the subject. A second variable within the study is the education level of the participants, with half at least at the tertiary level and half with a college (high school) degree or less. The objective of this research is to understand generational outlooks on the subject of human rights of one age group versus another, and advanced education levels versus that of the college level degree. These results will then be compared to political academics’ views on Human Rights, which will allow further analysis and understanding of the attitudes in the context of the fa’asamoa.

The findings of this report suggest that the younger Samoan generation is more accepting of human rights and finds them more crucial in their society due to the increase of western influence and ideals imposed on their generation. In contrast, the findings of the older Samoan generation suggest that human rights do not play an integral role within the fa’asamoa; yet they foster values that clash with those ingrained within Samoan culture. The second variable analyzed in this study suggests that a Samoan’s education level does not have a significant impact on their views and attitudes towards human rights when compared to the variable of age.

This study also found that political academics view human rights as a vital part of Samoan society, but a part that faces numerous obstacles within the culture. A majority of the obstacles could be avoided by amendments to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, allowing the document to adhere more to the fa’asamoa. The academics also reiterated the idea that further education on the topic of human rights is necessary throughout all of Samoa; as education will lead to an understanding and ultimately a “Samoanizing” of human rights.

In conclusion, this report proposes that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is not a generic bill that will adapt to all cultures, yet a bill that can be quite damaging to cultures such as Samoa. This research recommends a reformation of human rights in Samoa, as the declaration may be necessary to protect the rights of individuals, but their rights can be protected in a way that coincides with an established culture of great depth and value to its citizens, a way that will perpetuate development and peace from within Samoa’s borders.


Anthropology | Social and Cultural Anthropology | Sociology of Culture


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