SBS Radio Samoan program reflects a vibrant and growing community

A Samoan Siva is a pacific island dance that tells a story.


In a hall in western Sydney – more than 200 people have gathered to tell a story through both words and movement.

This gathering tells the tale of a thriving community raising money for a church back home.

SBS Samoan broadcaster and Pacific historian Ioane Lafoai said the church continued to have a strong influence on Samoan culture both here and in Samoa. 

” Samoans are very religious people. Christians. And where ever they go the Church goes.”

At this gathering each family presents a speech,  a dance – a donation – it’s an example of the strong role religion plays for Samoans here and back home.

But despite Christianity being introduced to Samoa by Europeans – Mr Lafoai explained it has taken on a uniquely local flavour.

“Oh they’ve Samoanised Christianity” 

Ioane Lafoai said it’s a community that’s seen rapid growth in the past 10 years.

“There’s been a massive migration especially from New Zealand, in the 90s and the early part of the 20th century.”

In 2011 there were 36,571 Samoan speakers in Australia with 15,000 arriving in the last 10 years.

Samoan speakers are mainly concentrated in large cities, such as Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne.

Samoan is just one of four Pacific Island languages broadcasting on SBS radio including Tongan, Fijian and Cook Islands Maori.

President of the Sydney Samoan Council Leilua Jerry Uesele has been working with the community for many years.

He says like most migrant communities maintaining the language among younger generations is a challenge the community faces.

“We’ve migrated here and there. We originated in Samoa and we have a culture that has been maintained for 5000 years or so and the language is still intact in Samoa.”

Samoan was purely an oral language until it was rendered into a written form in the 19th century by English missionaries using a latin based script.

After the introduction of Christianity Mr Lafoai said literacy quickly became widespread.

“In fact there was a huge stigma, there still is for someone to be illiterate in Samoan and soon enough by the turn of the century it was one of the few countries that could boast a 100 percent literacy rate.”

SBS Radio is playing a part in maintaining the language.

For this SBS listener life in Australia is good, but hearing the Samoan language on SBS radio always makes him yearn for his first home.

“It has that feeling that it says you are Samoan – deep inside you are a Samoan.”

As Samoan as the movements of an island Siva.