Democracy and Custom in Samoa Essay (Book Review)

October 14, 2020 by Essay Writer


When Samoa got its independence in 1962, it adopted democracy to improve economic, social, and political aspects of life in the country. Since Samoans cherished their customs and traditions, they demanded for a democracy would reflect on their beliefs.

In the quest for forming a unique system of governance that comprised of democracy and customs, Samoans adopted and promulgated a constitution that recognized both the customs and democracy (So’o 68).

The alliance of customs and democracy became uneasy with time, as customs restricted the growth of democracy. Therefore, this is a book review of Democracy and Custom in Samoa: an Uneasy Alliance, which highlights major issues of Samoan government.


In the book, the author discusses the issue of democracy in Samoa. Since Samoa got its independence in 1962, its democratic development has been slow because of the customs and traditions. When Samoans adopted and promulgated their constitution, they demanded that it must reflect their customs and traditions.

The hybrid system of governance, which comprises of customs and democracy, was central in socio-political development of Samoa. However, since Samoa has undergone a massive transformation in terms of social, political, and economic aspects, the hybrid system of governance is no longer appropriate and applicable.

In this view, the author argues that customs and traditions hinder Samoa from achieving a perfect democracy, and thus no longer appropriate in the constitution (So’o 203). The customs and traditions are not relevant because they are not in tandem with the ideals of democracy in modern society.

The questions that the book examines include:

  1. What are the roles of customs and traditions of Samoans in democracy?
  2. Why did Samoans incorporate their customs and traditions in the constitution and governance?
  3. How did customs and democracy co-exist in Samoa?
  4. Why the co-existence of customs and democracy did become the uneasy alliance?
  5. Are Samoans’ customs and traditions still relevant in modern democracy?


The book, Democracy and Custom in Samoa: an Uneasy Alliance, is important because it shows how customs and traditions influenced the development of democracy in Samoa. Samoans incorporated customs and traditions in their democracy with the objective of preserving their culture.

Given that the customs and democracy formed a hybrid system of democracy, the book presents Samoa as a case study, which shows how customs and democracy effectively interacted and formed a system of governance. As customs and traditions represent old culture, democracy represents new culture.

In this view, the book examines how old and new cultures interact in bringing about changes in social, economic, and political aspects of Samoa. Ultimately, the book concludes that customs and traditions are no longer relevant in modern democracies, and thus countries that still uphold them need to discard and embrace ideal democracy.

Theoretical and Topical Approach

The theoretical and topical approach of the book is modern democracy. The modern democracy provides enhanced rights for citizens to participate in governance through political and civic activism. The book assesses the development of democracy in Samoa since its independence up to the 21st century.

Essentially, the author illuminates the democracy of Samoa based on tenets of modern democracy, and highlights its strengths and weaknesses. The democracy of Samoa is transitioning from custom-based democracy to legal-based democracy that reflects the ideals of democracy in civilized societies.

Fundamentally, the author is assessing the nature of democracy that Samoa practice in relation to the ideals of democracy. What makes the democracy of Samoa unique are the customs and traditions, which Samoans adopted as part of their constitution.

Hence, the author approaches the democracy of Samoa from the perspective of modern democracy as demonstrated by civilized societies in the western world. From the perspective of modern democracy, the author concludes that customs and traditions that are in the constitution of Samoa are not essential because they hinder the development of democracy in the country.

Key Concepts

Customs and traditions: These are practices, values, principles, and institutions, which reflect the culture of Samoans.

Democracy: It is a modern way of governance that allows citizens to participate or contribute to their governance equally.

Uneasy alliance: Refers to the alliance between Samoans’ customs and democracy, which is no longer relevant and applicable in Samoa because of the advancement in western democracy.

Indigenous institutions: These are traditional institutions formed based on the customs and traditions of Samoans.

Consensus politics: Politics that require a political class to make decisions based on consensus of individuals.

Party politics: Are politics that involve election and nomination of individuals according to the constitutions of their respective parties.

Matai system: socio-political system of Samoans, which controls social and political activities in Samoa.

Brief Summary

The book presents how democracy evolved in Samoa from customs-based to legal-based one. In the first section, the author presents the nature of indigenous institutions like the matai system. The matai system is an indigenous system of governance, which permeates into every aspect of Samoan community.

Although foreigners had been trying to influence the political system of Samoa from 1830 to 1962, Samoans remained conservative, and they retained the matai system. The second section describes how the matai system became instrumental in achieving the independence and adoption of constitution.

The third section highlights that Samoans continued to keep the old matai system despite the fact that they did adopt the new constitution and gained independence. In constitution, Samoans adopted customs and traditions, which made the democracy of Samoa unique.

In spite of the fact that the Samoans adopted customs and traditions in their constitution, their democracy continued to flourish with time. In the fourth and the fifth sections, the book underlines a transformation of consensus politics into party politics. The party politics led to the development of political parties and democratic institutions that supported the growth of democracy.

The sixth section denotes campaign strategies that political leaders employed in their quest to improve democracy, the seventh section shows how political leaders competed and shaped the political system of Samoa.

What transformed Samoa political system are the constitutionalized rights as the eight section presents. Constitutionalization of rights such as freedom of expression, association, voting, and other human rights paved the way for the maturity of democracy in Samoa.

Ultimately, the ninth section underlines that the customs and traditions of Samoans are currently irrelevant in the constitution because they undermine the development of democracy.

Data and Evidence Presented

The data and evidence that the author used for making the argument is the information from a number of historical books. Given that the book examines the history of Samoa as far as the early part of the 19th century, historical books are essential and relevant. The historical books provide reliable secondary data, which are appropriate in the analysis of the democracy and customs of Samoans.

In addition to historical writings, the book relies on the culture of Samoans as a primary source of information regarding the matai system. The culture of the Samoans is central to the argument because it supports the assertion of the uneasy alliance. Moreover, the author used interviews as primary sources of information; the author sought opinions of historians and political analysts.

The argument

Evidently, the argument that the author presents in the book is convincing because it is based on reliable and valid evidence. The reliable and valid evidence is trustworthy because it provides multiple sources of information, which corroborate and support the argument.

In this view, the argument that the customs and democracy of Samoa formed an uneasy alliance is in line with other accounts that explain the evolution and the nature of democracy in Samoa.

Strengths and Limitations

The strength of the book is that it provides a comprehensive view on how democracy evolved in Samoa. In the comprehensive view, it is evident that customs and traditions are socio-political issues that have prevented Samoa from developing its democracy and attaining mature democracy that is common in civilized countries.

Moreover, the strength of the book is that it presents Samoa as a case study of an uneasy alliance between democracy and customs. However, the limitations of the book are that it disregards positive elements of customs and traditions in democracy and overlooks negative impacts of modern democracy.


The book review shows that the author highlights how democracy and customs have continually interacted in Samoa. The interaction between democracy and customs has led to the evolution of democracy in Samoa, but currently customs and traditions have restricted its development.

When Samoa underwent through a period of transformation in terms of economic, social, and political aspects, democracy became incompatible with customs and traditions. Thus, the author of the book recommends that Samoa should disregard customs and traditions, and embrace complete democracy. Overall, the book is very enriching, as it elucidates the evolution of democracy since when Samoa got its independence.

Works Cited

So’o, Asofou. Democracy and Custom in Samoa: an Uneasy Alliance. Fiji: International Publishing Services, 2008. Print.

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