Anthropology Magazine
The Problems With Coming of Age
Unit 9

Colonialism and Christianity in the South Pacific

A cross stands in silhouette against a sunset in purple hues.

In this unit (to accompany the SAPIENS podcast S6E5), students will learn about colonialism in the South Pacific and Samoa. Students will explore the history of colonialism and examine how colonialism and the influence of Christianity shaped the Samoan people and their views toward anthropologists Margaret Mead and Derek Freeman.

Learning Objectives
  • Outline the history of colonialism in the South Pacific.
  • Examine how colonialism and Christianity shape how Samoan people view Mead and Freedman.
  1. A practice that has one nation gain physical control and political power over another nation, often for the purpose of extracting resources and labor.

  1. A monotheistic religion that follows the teachings of Jesus Christ.

  1. A system that follows a specific set of values and beliefs.

  1. Being independent from anyone else’s influence.

Professor Talking Points
  • The Samoan islands were colonized for many years, with several different nations sharing part in control of the region. Some of the colonizers included Germany, New Zealand, the United States, and Great Britain. At one time, three nations shared control before splitting Samoa into different sections and allowing different nations to rule over those sections. As such, Samoan culture was influenced by different nations in these areas.
  • In the 20th century, the nation of Samoa began a nonviolent movement to protest for independence. This was known as the Mau Movement. Despite its beginnings as nonviolent, the movement did turn deadly for some.
  • With the Christian influence in Samoa, some cultural and traditional norms shifted. Margaret Mead talked about the open sexuality of Samoans. At the time of Mead’s study, custom dictated that the chief’s daughter needed to be a virgin when entering into marriage. However, this standard did not necessarily guide the sexual lives of the other young women on the island. Once Christianity gained influence in Samoa, cultural expectations and norms shifted and virginity upon entering into marriage became important.
Academic Articles
  1. Efi, Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Ta’isi. “Whispers and Vanities in Samoan Indigenous Religious Culture.” Parliament of the World’s Religions, February 15, 2015.

  2. Naepi, Sereana and Marcia Leenen-Young. “Gathering Pandanus Leaves: Colonization, Internationalization and the Pacific.” Journal of International Students 11, no. S1 (2021): 15-31.

  3. Salesa, T. Damon. I. “’Travel-Happy’ Samoa: Colonialism, Samoan Migration and a ‘Brown Pacific’.” New Zealand Journal of History 37, no. 2 (2003): 171-188.

Student Discussion Questions
  • What role did the Mau Movement play in the push for Samoan sovereignty? See the additional resources in this unit for a video on this topic.
  • What were the most pivotal moments during the history of colonialism in the South Pacific?
  • How did the history of colonialism and Christianity influence Samoan people’s opinion about Mead and Freeman?
  • How did Christianity change Samoan traditions and culture? Compare and contrast traditions before and after Christian influence increased.
  • Native Hawaiians have been arguing for their sovereignty from the United States for for decades. Compare and contrast similarities between U.S. colonialism in Hawai’i and Samoa.
  • Create a quiz on the history of colonialism in the South Pacific.
  • Based on “AMERICAN SAMOA: Which Road Ahead?” (found in Additional Resources), how did colonialism influence American Samoa? How does that differ from what was formerly known as Western Samoa?
  • Create a timeline of colonialism in the South Pacific and incorporate Mead’s and Freeman’s work.
Additional Resources
  1. Article: James Bishop’s “AMERICAN SAMOA: Which Road Ahead?

  2. Documentary: The CoconetTV’s “Samoana Documentary

  3. Podcast Episode: Holger Droessler: “Coconut Colonialism: Workers and the Globalization of Samoa

  4. Video: The CoconetTV’s “Untold Pacific History: Episode 3 – Samoa / N.Z.’s colonisation of Samoa & the Mau Movement

Unit By

Nadine Rodriguez, Freedom Learning Group

The Problems With Coming of Age
Unit 10

Legacies of Colonialism in Samoa

A sepia-toned image of soldiers and men in uniforms, and Samoan men in formal white coats, and women in front in traditional Samoan clothing.