In Samoa, as with the United States, as with any culture, there is a full gamut of greetings that vary by formality, enthusiasm, intensity, and time of day. During training, we did a full day’s work on the proper greeting for men with matai titles and their wives (Afio mai, maliu mai, susu mai, etc.), however in my day-to-day life, those are rarely used. Of more interest to me are the casual every-day greetings I use with staff, students, and people on the street.
The most basic greeting is “Mālō!” or in slightly more formal instances, “Mālō soifua!” Soifua technically translates to “living” or “health, ” although it can also be used at the end of a speech to mean something akin to “Live long and prosper.” The technical translation of soifua is very similar to that of manuia, which can also be used in greetings and farewells, but they are no interchangeable. This can be confusing sometimes.
Manuia works more like the Spanish word salúd. It can be a greeting or a farewell on its own. I’ve also had people claim that it’s what you’re supposed to say when someone sneezes, although whenever I’ve said manuia after a sneeze, Samoans tend to giggle. Incidentally, manuia is also a response to the question, “How are you?” “Manuia, fa’afetai.” I use manuia most often as a farewell in the same vein as “Buenos tardes” or “Buenos noches” where you wish the person a pleasant remainder of the day; thus, “Manuia le aso,” “Manuia le afiafi,” or “Manuia le pō.”
Before school, students greet me with “Morning!” but any other time of day, I’ll usually get a “Mālō!” But here’s the weird thing about mālō: Imagine taking your dog for a walk after dinner. During the walk, you cross paths with someone else who is out for a walk. I’ve certainly lived in many places (Apia being one of them) where you could completely ignore this stranger. But, if the moonlight is right, and you feel polite, you might throw this person a brief, casual greeting. In The States, I would usually throw out a “Hi” or if brevity isn’t an issue, “Hi there.”
In Samoa, you might exchange mālōs, but by mid-afternoon, people tend to exchange fās instead. It’s the technical equivalent of running into that stranger and saying, “Bye,” and having him smile and cordially return, “Bye.” I guess it seems weird to me because it uses a farewell as a greeting; I have a hard time finding an American equivalent.
Also from students, the farewell is often, “Taeao, ” literally, “Tomorrow.” This makes enough sense; in English we abbreviate “See you tomorrow” as “Seeya, ” so Samoans just abbreviate in the other direction. Supy, the inflection chameleon, has adopted using the English word “Tomorrow” as a farewell.
The farewell for going on a trip is “Manuia le malaga,” which translates to “Have a nice trip.” The response to this (Much in the See-you-later-alligator / after-while-crocodile call and response) is “Manuia le fa’amuli, ” which translates to “Have a nice time staying at home.” Again, it makes perfect sense, but it’s difficult to find an English equivalent.
So that’s all I got for greetings and farewells. Tomorrow’s cultural exploration: Vailima.
As Supy would say, tomorrow. Pictures below.
Note: Because people don't wave in Samoa, the awful picture up top was the only one I could find of anyone waving at the camera. That said, I have a bazillion of people giving 2 fingers to the camera. Here are some of those.
Random student and Site.
Phil and Sheila.
Koa, Robby, and Blakey.
6 days ago