Chinese in Samoa

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Chinese in Samoa
Regions with significant populations
 Samoa 150 (2003)[1]
 American Samoa 100 (2003)[1]
English, Samoan,[2] Cantonese
Congregationalist, Roman Catholic[3]
Related ethnic groups
Samoans, Chinese

The majority of Chinese nationals currently residing in Samoa are expatriate businessmen Samoa,[4] and there are at least 30,000 people in Samoa who are of mixed Samoan and Chinese descent,[5] although they are classified as ethnic Samoans in official census.[6] Around the world, about 25% of all Samoans claim Chinese ancestry. Nearly all Chinese nationals in Samoa reside within the Apia municipal area; neighbouring American Samoa,[7] also has a small population of Chinese expatriates.[8]


Historical records of Chinese settlement dates back to at least the 1870s. Two Chinese sailors under the command of Bully Hayes were based there for two years, and one of them settled down in 1876 and married a Samoan wife. A few Chinese traders also settled in Samoa and raised local families, and maintained close ties with Samoa's paramount chief, Malietoa Laupepa. In 1880, Malietoa issued a subsequent ban on people of Chinese descent from settling in Samoa.[9] Four years after Western Samoa came under German rule in 1899, the colonial governor Wilhelm Solf lifted Malietoa's ban and shipped in Chinese labourers from 1903 onwards.[10] Chinese coolies reportedly complained of tough working punishments as well as brutal physical punishments which they had to face, and these reports prompted the provincial governor of Canton to stop sending Chinese coolies to the German colonies.[9]

Chinese immigrants were almost entirely men, and most of the labourers took Samoan women as wives and by 1918 offspring of Chinese-Samoan descent were a visible minority, although smaller in terms of population compared to offspring of European (particularly German) and Samoan descent.[11][12] This eventually led to a ban in 1931 that prohibited Chinese men from interacting with Samoan women on all grounds. By the end of World War II only 295 Chinese remained, all of whom had either taken Samoan wives or were unmarried. Many Chinese coolies had since returned to China or remained in Samoa with their families.

In 1994, China provided financial assistance to fund the construction of the government office building in Apia.[13] More recently the Chinese government has funded various other Samoan government constructions. Aeau Peniamina, deputy leader of Samoa Democratic United Party, caused a minor controversy in January 2005 when he remarked that "there are too many Chinese in the country". Joe Keil, the Minister of Tourism, who is of part-Chinese descent, promptly rebutted Peniamina's remarks.[14]

Chinese-Samoans are well represented in the civil service,[15] and China established diplomatic relations with Samoa in November 1975.[16] Chinese-Samoans are especially well represented in the retail, import-export, and restaurant sectors, notably in Apia.[17]


The majority of the Chinese coolies came from the Guangdong province and generally spoke Cantonese or Hakka as their primary language.[3] However, their descendants in Samoa have adopted Samoan and English as their mother tongues, while Cantonese is still reportedly spoken by a few elderly people.[18] Since the 1980s, the overwhelming majority of Chinese immigrants and enterprises are derived from mainland China where Mandarin Chinese is spoken.

Cultural Contribution[edit]

The cultural legacy of Chinese laborers in Samoa is readily apparent in the various Chinese dishes that have been adopted into Samoan cuisine. Chinese immigrants brought their culinary traditions with them to Samoa, where rice (alaisa), noodles (lialia), cha siu bao (keke pua'a), chop suey (sapasui), and Chinese pastries (keke saina, masi saina) have all been adopted into standard Samoan cuisine. Several food items such as taro, arrowroot, and sugarcane were already familiar to the Chinese and Samoans prior to colonial times.

Entrepreneurship, commerce, frugality, and communal investment are all business practices and cultural traits that facilitated the rise of Chinese immigrants from plantation laborers to business owners, shopkeepers, and trading moguls. The commercial and financial contribution of the Chinese continued as more and more Samoan-Chinese marriages and business arrangements were made. Chinese-Samoan prevalence in modern Samoa is still apparent in the many prominent firms in Samoa's capitol Apia that bear Chinese names, such as Ah Liki Wholesale, Apia Central Hotel (proprietor, Ah Kam family), Leung Wai Legal Services, Chan Chui & Sons, Ltd, Ah Him Co., Treasure Garden (Chen Pao family), etc.

Despite external, physical differences, it became apparent to both the Cantonese and the Samoans that their cultures shared much in common, and intermarriage since the 1870s has resulted in a large proportion of ethnic Samoans having Chinese ancestry today. Respect for parents, veneration of ancestors, and strong extended family and clan relationships were mutually shared customs.

The traditional Chinese camphor chest (jeung seung, 樟箱) has become commonplace in Samoan homes, where they are called atola'au. Ornately carved furniture and wall panels have also been adopted, often with Samoan-themed carvings and inlay.


Many people of Chinese descent in Samoa took their fathers' first names as their surnames, rather than their actual Chinese surnames due to Chinese personal naming convention where the family name is written first and the given name next. Many of these names are of Cantonese origin, as the majority of the Chinese who settled in Samoa came from Taishan and Panyu. Chinese-Samoans often have surnames that start with "Ah," "Po," or "Ho" and common examples of Chinese-Samoan families include Ah Seu, Ah Kuoi, Ah Van, Ah Mu (of whom some descendants have adopted the name "Rivers"), Po Ching, Ah You, Ho Ching, Ah Kam, Ah Liki, Ah Sam, Ah Mau, Ah Ching, Ah Fong, and Ah Wong.[19] The retention of the "Ah" prefix is also common in Chinese-Hawaiian surnames, such as Akina, Ahuna, Akee, Akiona and Akaka.[20] The practice stems from the Cantonese word "ah" (阿) used before proper names when respectfully addressing family members - as in "ah-po" (阿婆), maternal grandmother; "ah-gong" (阿公), maternal grandfather; "ah-ma" (阿嫲), paternal grandmother;etc.[21] Likewise, some European-Samoan names begin with "Misi," the Samoan transliteration of "Mister" (Mr.) - as in Misiluki ("Mr. Luke"), Misimua/Misimoa ("Mr. Moors"), Misipaulo ("Mr. Paul"), Misitea ("Mr. Stair"), and Misikea ("Mr. Gurr") [22][23]

Notable Samoans of Chinese descent[edit]



ISBN 0-674-25210-1

  • Tu'u'u, Misilugi Tulifau Tofaeono, History of Samoa Islands: Supremacy & Legacy of the Malietoa, Tuga'ula Publication, 2002, ISBN 0-9582199-1-5
  • Tom, Nancy Y.W. The Chinese in Western Samoa 1975-1985. Apia: Western Samoan Historical and Cultural Trust

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