Hosei University


Samoan migration started only after World War II as did other Polynesian migration. Many Samoan migrants sojourned in Auckland, in Honolulu, and in Californian cities from the beginning, but then they started to settle down in these cities and in the adjacent areas. As the Samoan Islands were divided politically into two: Western Samoa and American Samoa--British and American--the migration of the Samoans was extensive in both sides of the Pacific-Rim. Today, we may find many Samoan communities in West Coast cities, in Honolulu, in New Zealand, and in Australia. Furthermore, these Samoan communities are extending into other cities and other areas. Sutter's project of taking photos of Samoans everywhere in the world astonishes us with the fact that Samoan migration is so extensive that they may be found almost everywhere in the world (Sutter 1989). A Samoan Diaspora is taking place.

Diaspora in the past meant leaving the homeland forever. It accompanied the feeling of loss, losing one's native idioms, family ties, and the attachment to one's roots. But Diaspora today does not mean it. Thanks to the extensive transportation and communication systems, even to the electronic systems of the modern technology, one is able to keep up one's native idioms, family ties, and one's attachment to the homeland. In such a situation, it has been possible to keep Samoan extended family ties and close communication between migrant communities and the homeland.

The Samoan ceremonial exchange has been maintained thus in the modern world. It is not only vital in Samoa but also important in migrant communities. In today's Samoa, we seldom find a funeral without migrant Samoan relatives. Also, in a migrant community, we seldom find a funeral without Samoan visitors from the homeland. In a way, funerals are good occasions for relatives and family members to keep up their close relationship across the ocean. At the same time, we should realize ceremonial exchange occasions cause big money flows from migrant communities to the homeland, especially to Western Samoa.

Recently, Brown examined the unofficial remittances to Tonga and Western Samoa in detail (Brown 1995) from the perspective of foreign exchange flows. His analysis focuses on the estimate of the actual money flows but not on the cultural contexts which cause such money flows. Here I will rather try to focus on the ceremonial exchange and examine cultural background which cause such informal money flows.


The Samoan Islands are divided into two countries: Western Samoa which became independent from New Zealand in 1962, and American Samoa, which is a United States Territory. Many Western Samoans went as labor migrants during the 1960s and early 1970s, when the New Zealand economy needed more labor because of her industrialization and Western Samoans needed more cash income because of their growing money economy.

On the other hand, after the US naval unit in Pagopago was removed and integrated into the base in Hawaii in 1951, American Samoa was nearly forgotten until heavily subsidized economic development was introduced a decade later. During the period of insuficient employment, emigration to Hawaii and to the continental United States was an important economic alternative for many American Samoans, especially for the youth population. After the development of a fishing base and two canning factories in the late 1950s and 1960s, American Samoa again found herself in economic trouble, this time due to a labor shortage. It then started to attract Western Samoan and Tongan labor with wages several times higher than those in both countries.

Of a population of 32,170 on Tutuila island in American Samoa in 1985, 9,540 were Western Samoan born (American Samoa Government, Economic Development and Planning Office 1991: 39). There are many intermarriages between Western and American Samoans, and most families of such unions live either in American Samoa or in the United States. After the New Zealand government became less open on the immigration, emigration from Western Samoa has begun to flow toward American Samoa and even toward the United States through Samoan relatives who had already migrated. Australia has also been new destinations for Western Samoan emigrants. The New Zealand census in 1991 shows the Samoan population there as 86,000 (New Zealand Government, Department of Statistics 1992: 26) while the United States Census in 1990 shows a Samoan population of 63,000 (US Department of Commerce 1993: 8). Most of the Samoan population in New Zealand is originally from Western Samoa, while many Samoan households in the United States include members from Western Samoa. The population of both Samoas are 159,000 in Western Samoa (1992 estimate)(Douglas, N. & N. Douglas 1994 : 731) and 36,000 in American Samoa (1992 estimate) (Douglas, N. & N. Douglas 1994: 61).

Most Samoan immigrants are concentrated in urban environments in cities in the Pacific-Rim Area, such as Honolulu, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Auckland. Because of the lack of English proficiency, required qualifications, and capital resources, a large number of Samoans have taken up jobs in unskilled labor, and many are now suffering from unemployment under the restructuring of labor market1. Nevertheless, their remittances are important in the Western Samoan economy. In 1990, the total private transfer of WS$92.0 million, while total exports earned only WS$20.5 million (Western Samoa Government, National Planning Office 1992: 14). Although we lack the same kind of data for American Samoa, we assume those remittances have some importance to certain families.


The Samoan ceremonial exchange, which is called fa'alavelave in Samoan, takes place at life crisis occasions and house or church dedication ceremonies. Detailed analysis on ceremonial exchange occasions shows that there are three different types among them (Yamamoto, M.1990: 84: Yamamoto, Y. & M. Yamamoto 1996: 115-51). One type includes all the matrimonial ceremonies such as a wedding ceremony, a celebration of the first child of a couple, and a ceremony recognizing the union of a couple in de facto marriage. On each occasion, two 'aiga of the couple concerned exchange toga and 'oloa. Toga are female valuables composed in the past of of mats and bark cloths but today mainly of fine mats. 'Oloa are male valuables composed in the past of pigs and other food items, canoes, tools, etc. but today mainly of money.

One of another type includes a title inauguration ceremony which celebrates a person's assumption of a title. In the ceremony, the presiding 'aiga who gives a title name to one or more2 of its members must provide visiting title holders (mainly orators) with food and gifts. When a high chief title is given, the gift should include fine mats.

The other in this type is a funeral for a title holder or his wife. In the case of a funeral for a high chief title holder, which is called lagi, the presiding 'aiga must give food and fine mats to the orators who attended the ceremony (follower orators for the 'aiga), and the mourning groups of orators visiting the ceremony. Food is also prepared for the affinal kin groups which bring valuables to the presiding 'aiga. Recently not only high chiefs but common title-holders have come to hold this kind of big funeral.

The last type is a church dedication ceremony (fa'aulufalega) or a house dedication ceremony (umusaga). A dedication ceremony takes place when a construction of an important building is completed and the carpenter and his working group are paid with toga and 'oloa, for which all the related 'aiga will bring their contributions.

Among the ceremonies above described, the inauguration ceremony should take place in Samoa. Recently, informal inauguration ceremonies might sometimes take place in migrant communities especially in Hawaii when most of the 'aiga members have already migrated. But these are not quite big ceremonies and titles bestowed in such ceremonies are only petty ones whose inauguration might not quite be recognized in the homeland. Among other ceremonies, funerals are the most often observed in migrant communities.

The exchange practiced in these ceremonies is basically reciprocal. The type I ceremonies are the basic ones as the two 'aiga, the male side and the female side, exchange 'oloa and toga almost evenly according to the exchange rate. In other types of ceremonies, the presiding 'aiga must give either 'oloa only or both toga and 'oloa according to the situation, either to orators or carpenters. But for ceremonies involving high titles, presiding 'aiga must always give both toga and 'oloa. Related affinal 'aiga bring their contribution to the 'aiga presiding a ceremony, who give a return give to recognize the donors' kind help. Usually, the presiding 'aiga gives some smaller return gift (about 60% of the valuables given) to such helpful affines. Thus, when a ceremony takes place, many people bring a numerous valuables and the ceremonial ground looks as if it were a market. Many people come with valuables and bring back something. Thus, a ceremonial exchange involves a large number of 'aiga extensively.

A type I ceremony is the one in which both 'aiga recognize such helping relationship formally. After a ceremony, theoretically, both 'aiga help each other in ceremonial exchange occasions in which either side is involved as far as there exist descendants of such a union. The valuables given in the ceremonies of the other types are the combination of toga and 'oloa. But the same structure of the type I ceremonies are somehow followed. That means, more toga is given than 'oloa from the female side of the union, while more 'oloa is given from the male side. Between the two 'aiga who already have a presided over a union which has produced offspring, another marriage is prohibited. Therefore, the male and female sides of the affinal 'aiga relationship are very clear.


Among toga, the female valuables, fine mats are the most precious and important. In former days, every woman wove fine mats. Now, fine mats are rarely produced in Tutuila. Even in Western Samoa, I seldom see women weave fine mats in Apia and its adjacent area. Fine mats are now mostly produced in Savai'i. The quality of fine mats today has also changed. It used to take several months or a year to finish a mat in olden days. In 1978, when I made my first field research, it took a week to finish one. In 1993, when I made my latest visit, it took a few days to finish one. Some women still produce fine mats of good quality. But because they are too busy in producing as many fine mats as possible, they seldom do so.

In the urban area, fine mats are not produced anymore and the wage earners obtain fine mats by giving money in ceremonial exchanges. In the past, when an 'aiga was on the female side of a ceremonial exchange, the 'aiga used to give fine mats, while 'oloa was given when it was on the male side. Nowadays, an 'aiga in Tutuila gives more money than mats to an 'aiga in Western Samoa irrespective of whether it is on the female side or male side. Conversely, an 'aiga in Western Samoa gives more mats to an 'aiga in Tutuila. Thus, there is a constant flow of fine mats from Western Samoa to American Samoa.

Although it is more than some decades since fine mats almost stopped to be produced in American Samoa, the fine mats circulating in American Samoa are far more numerous than in Western Samoa. In Western Samoa, several hundreds fine mats will be enough for a collection of a high chief's funeral. But in a funeral which I observed in American Samoa in 1992, the presiding 'aiga collected five thousand fine mats. The money collected for the funeral was also an enormous amount amounting to as much as several ten thousand dollars.

The title inauguration ceremony which took place in the early 1993 was quite an astonishment to me, since I was used to Western Samoan ceremonial exchanges which are more ceremonious. Not only were laud speakers used in the American Samoan title inauguration ceremony, the ceremony was more like a show with dances and music and the focus was more on the family ceremonial exchange than the solemn first kava ceremony for the person inaugurated. Each of his mother's 'aiga, his wife's father's 'aiga and his wife's mother's 'aiga formally presented about five hundred fine mats and two thousand dollars. An 'aiga came in two pick up trucks full of fine mats. In American Samoa, ten fine mats are bundled together and these bundles are given, while in Western Samoa each fine mat is carefully unfolded and formally shown and given carried by a member of the visiting 'aiga. Some of my data shows that only 120 fine mats and 200 fine mats were collected respectively on two different title inauguration ceremonies in Western Samoa.

Compared to the valuables exchanged in Western Samoan ceremonies, the valuables exchanged in American Samoan ceremonies are ten times more numerous. And focus is more on the family exchange rather than the main flow. There are also some interesting modern transformations observed in American Samoa. Some modern items are used in ceremonies. A soda can instead of a husked coconut. A pack of soda cracker instead of a baked and sliced taro. Canned chicken soup instead of a roasted chicken. Also many rolles consisting of several yards of manufactured cotton fabric are used in ceremonial gift giving.

Another point which I like to mention is that the chiefs and orators who receive fine mats and money are much fewer in American Samoa than those in Western Samoa, but the amount distributed is far more in American Samoa. This means that American Samoan chiefs and orators receive quite a large number of fine mats and a large amount of money. These are also distributed to Western Samoan chiefs and orators if they are present. It is natural if they have the opportunity to be in attendance, they may obtain numerous goods which represents a large fortune when they return to Western Samoa. Western Samoan orators have a good reputation of being quite knowledgeable in traditional ceremonial protocols but American Samoans look down upon Western Samoans saying that they are greedy.


Ceremonial exchanges did not exist from the beginning in migrant communities. Probably, young Samoan migrants of the early stage of migration were not much interested in these ceremonial exchanges. The same thing is also observed in the personal life stage of a migrant. Migrants in middle age often complain that ceremonial exchanges there had not been serious issue when they first came, but that after they invited their parents to live with them, they became involved in many more ceremonial exchange occasions in the community than before. As ceremonial exchanges develop along the kinship networking, the older the community, the more the ceremonial exchange occasions there, probably as many as in Samoa.

Major ceremonial exchange occasions in Samoan migrant communities are funerals, and then church dedications. Theoretically, title inauguration ceremonies should not happen in the migrant communities. Few Samoans have formal Samoan wedding ceremonies in migrant communities especially in the United States.

Probably the earliest detailed description of the funerals in the migrant community in San Francisco Bay Area was given by Ablon (Ablon 1970). According to her, the Samoan funeral form in West Coast cities blended of Samoan custom, mutual helping and church ceremonies was developed in the early 1960s.

Of ceremonial exchanges, she reports that the number of fine mats circulating in the migrant community was very limited because "the Governor of American Samoa in 1969 issued a declaration stating that they may no longer be taken out of American Samoa" (Ablon 1970: 211), because they were no longer woven. While fine mats are redistributed among chiefs in Samoa, fine mats which were given by close relatives were returned to them from recipients in San Francisco because there were few chiefs in migrant communities.

Despite the Governor's ban described by Ablon, quite a few fine mats are exchanged these days in ceremonies in San Francisco Bay Area. In the funeral, which took place in June 1992, the bereaved family, which includes his brothers and sisters, his father's 'aiga, his father's mothers' 'aiga, and his mother's father's 'aiga, collected 1,700 fine mats and $12,000. The more distant relations and friends of the deceased brought many fine mats and money, for which the immediate family gave return gifts. For example, $350 was returned for a contribution of $500, while twenty to thirty fine mats were returned for a contribution of fifty mats. Thus, the family kept 800 fine mats and $5,000. Including the contribution of money from the churches in Bay Area, the family collected more than 2,500 fine mats and $20,000. The family of the deceased and the family of the deceased's wife including children met in a formal ceremony, and both sides put 1,200 mats and $10,000 each to make up a fund which they distributed to all the ministers, preachers and church congregations who attended the funeral. Numerous cartons of canned food (corned beef and fish) and barrels of salt beef which were bought with the money collected were also distributed for the people and church congregations. They also gave money to help those chiefs and their wives representing the 'aiga in American Samoa in their travel expenses to attend the funeral. The food and the coffin were prepared by the family of the deceased's wife. The family members distributed whatever left after the funeral among themselves according to their contribution. Everybody took back his/her share home.

Here I compare the ceremonial exchange in the United States and the one in American Samoa to give several interesting points. First of all, the number of fine mats and the amount of money exchanged in San Francisco Bay Area seems to be smaller than in American Samoa. It is partly because the holders of the title names from American Samoa, especially holders of high titles remain in the homeland. The Land and Titles Court of American Samoa is extremely strict on the obligation of chiefly title-holders to live in their own villages and on keeping one title-holder to one title name. We often find "chiefs" of American Samoan names in migrant communities, but they are a kind of family representative of the real title-holder in American Samoa and never have been formally recognized by the Court. In this way, American Samoa has kept the authenticity of the chief system within the country. Since the authentic high title-holders are nonexistent in the migrant community in the Bay Area, they need important high title-holders from American Samoa when they have important ceremonies.

As Ablon pointed out, there are no local chiefs and orators in the Bay Area, in the distribution of fine mats and money, there are seldom portions to be given to chiefs and orators except for those visitors from Samoa. At the time of the research by Ablon, the fine mats given were returned to the original donors. Nowadays, major portion of mats and money collected goes to ministers, preachers, and church congregations. This is quite a new custom. In funerals in migrant communities, many ministers even from other denominations come. Also, other church congregations join in a funeral in migrant communities, although such groups are seldom present in the homeland3.


The funeral which I observed in Auckland in August 1993 was more reasonable than the one in San Francisco. Several hundreds of fine mats were distributed to ministers and church congregations, a number much fewer than in San Francisco, although exceeding number given in funerals in Western Samoa.

The funeral feast was more sophisticated there than those in the States and in Samoa. The major characteristic of funeral feasts in the United States is abundance. The food on a tray, in most cases prepared by the family of the deceased or the congregation to which the deceased belonged, is much more plentiful than one can consume. It is expected that the person given food take home the major portion of the food to share with his/her family. It is the same in Samoa. American way is closer to the authentic Samoan custom except that the food is much more plentiful. But the funeral feasts which I observed in Auckland were prepared by catering services run by Samoan business people. Each person present in the feast is given a paper plate to help oneself but is given no food to take home. People seemed to be more conscious on the quality of the food than the quantity. There was an abundance of delicious food, some Samoan and some other kinds, on ministers' table but it seemed that ministers were not expected to take home either pork or cakes as they are in Samoa.

There is a very strict rule on the items of the return gift in traditional ceremonial protocols in Western Samoa. The ceremonial present called sua, which is often given as a part of the return gift, is a set composed of a husked coconut with a dollar note in its eye, baked and sliced taro, a roasted chicken, a palusami (coconut pudding), one fine mat, and a whole roasted pig. Nowadays, people often give cartons of canned fish or barrels of salt beef, or even money instead of a roasted pig. Other items except the fine mat, are also omitted to a person who has given a small contribution. In American Samoa, people give a can of soda instead of a husked coconut, a can of chicken soup or a whole frozen chicken wrapped in foil instead of a roasted chicken, a pack of soda cracker instead of baked and sliced taro. In most cases, a can of soda is presented with a long piece of fabric. This is the same as in the United States. In Auckland, such an elaborated sua is seldom given. In most cases, a fine mat and money are given as sua4. Thus, there is also a simplification involved.

The number of ministers present at a funeral was smaller in Auckland than in the United States, although people explained that the number depends on the denomination of the church to which the deceased belonged. People said the biggest funerals are of the churches belonging to the Congregation Christian Church of Samoa.

According to Cluny Macpherson (personal communication in 1993), the number of fine mats exchanged in funerals was becoming smaller. The largest collection of fine mats he had ever observed counted 12,000, but that was long ago. He said the collection of 2,000 or 1,500 fine mats were more than enough for a big funeral these days. In the funerals which I observed, however, only a few hundred fine mats were distributed. Therefore, it seems that the ceremonial exchange in Auckland used to be extravagant as it is in the United States today but it has become smaller. Not only has the amount of valuables exchanged is smaller, but also there are several simplifications of ceremonial protocols.

Here I should give several explanations on this tendency of the ceremonial exchange in New Zealand. One reason given by many Samoans is that it is because of the economic recession. The economic situation was extremely different when I made the research in Auckland. Probably one out of three Samoans was unemployed and many were on benefits. It is quite reasonable that the economic situation affected the ceremonial exchange to make it smaller. Nevertheless, if we consider the fact that the economic situation in the United States in 1992 was almost the same as in New Zealand, the comparison between the two communities is interesting.

Another possible reason is the difference in exposure to other ethnic groups, especially to the Pacific Islander communities. In New Zealand, there are other Polynesian communities of significant size such as Tongan, Cook Islander Maori, Tokelauan and Niuean communities and the Pacific Islanders' Presbyterian Church, which has evolved along with the development of the Polynesian communities there, integrates many Pacific Islanders' church population with the exception of Tongans5. The Samoan population in New Zealand seems to be afforded many opportunities to objectify their own ceremonies in comparison to other Polynesian ethnic groups who do not have such extensive ceremonial exchange customs. On the one hand, Samoans in Bay Area have few opportunities to be exposed to other Polynesian ethnic groups. Not only that, I noticed that the attitudes of the young population in both communities towards Samoan customs are quite different. The second generation elite Samoans in the Bay Area are much interested in serving Samoan community to become ministers and social workers, whereas those in Auckland are interested in studying the subjects of various different areas like other ordinary New Zealand students.

Another possible reason is that the title system in Western Samoa today is quite different from that in American Samoa because of the policy taken by the Land and Titles Court in Western Samoa. In contrast to the American Samoan method of administrating titles, Western Samoa has long allowed formal title-splitting and has overlooked the residential obligation of title-holders in the villages to which their title names belong. I have already discussed elsewhere on the flows of titles overseas because of the contribution of emigrants to domestic ceremonial exchanges from Western Samoa (Yamamoto, M. 1994: 191-97) . Nowadays you may find many Samoan title-holders, even high title-holders in New Zealand, which means that it is not necessarily required for New Zealand Samoans to expect title-holders from the homeland to come to lead the ceremonies there. Of course, it is quite nice to have visitors from Western Samoa for the ceremonies, but not a required precondition. The initiative is on the migrants' side in New Zealand.


Theoretically, reciprocity is the principle for the Samoan ceremonial exchanges. Nevertheless, introduction of a cash economy and the mass migration having brought an imbalance of wealth in monetary terms among the areas where Samoans live, the ceremonial exchanges are no longer based on the principle of reciprocity in the strict sense of the term. When Western Samoans in the homeland have a ceremonial exchange, they write their relatives overseas asking for remittances. If some of the migrant relatives come to the ceremony, they pay their own airfare and bring much money with them to help the ceremony. When there is a ceremony in an overseas community, it is often the case that a few relatives from home are invited to the ceremony. These relatives from Western Samoa, in most cases, bring many fine mats with them and their airfare is paid by the migrant relatives. These Western Samoans are treated well in the ceremony and often given gift money more than enough to help the travel costs. They are treated well in the migrant community as well and given money on some other community occasion, besides the ceremonial exchange which caused their trip. Those from American Samoa visiting migrant communities pay their own airfare in most cases, but they are given gift money to subsidize their travel costs. Chiefly title-holders from American Samoa often dominate a ceremony overseas and are given many mats and much money to take back with them.

The flow of fine mats is the other way round. Fine mats flow from a place with less money to a place with more money. Numerous fine mats are circulating in migrant communities and in American Samoa. Almost all of the rough fine mats circulating abundantly in migrant communities were produced recently in Savai'i and rural area of Upolu. Many of the old fine mats of good quality are also found in overseas communities now.

Above described is the overall background of ceremonial exchanges in Samoa and in Samoan communities. If Samoan migrants in Auckland have lost their zeal for an extravagant ceremonial exchange, it is a very interesting phenomenon. As Macpherson has pointed out a slight change started in the Samoan attitudes towards remittances (Macpherson 1991; 1992), the Samoan migrant community in Auckland might have moved on a different stage as an ethnic community. It has becoming more autonomous.


The field researches which this paper was based were undertook during August 1991-August 1992 in San Francisco, December 1992-January 1993 in American Samoa, and August 1993 in Auckland. I hereby acknowledge the generous financial assistance given by the International House of Japan (Nitobe Fellowship) and the Japanese Ministry of Education in undertaking the above research. I am very grateful to the warm and kind help given by my Samoan friends and government officials. This paper was first read in the JCAS Conference on "Population Movement in the Modern World/ Contemporary Migration in Oceania: Diaspora and Network". I also appreciate the thoughtful comments and kind criticisms given by the members of the conference.


  1. The recent internationalization of industry has replaced a lot of unskilled jobs from industrialized countries to developing counties. The recovery of the U.S. economy has not created jobs for lower strata of labor market.

  2. Recently, more titles are split to be given to share among the members of an 'aiga. Accordingly, the nature of the titile system has been transformed (Yamamoto, M. 1994).

  3. It should be noted that the migrant communities lack local hierarchical organizations of titles which play important roles in a funeral and receive major portion of the collection of fine mats in the homeland. In migrant communities, there are no or only a few orators who should be given fine mats. Instead of orators, ministers and church congregations are given the major portion of the collection of fine mats.

  4. This simplified form of sua presentation is also practiced in Western Samoa either when the gift given is small or the exchange occasion is minor.

  5. The first missionaries who made a success in Tonga were Methodists. Today, most Tongans belong to either Free Church of Tonga (basically Methodists under the King), Methodist church, or Catholic. London Missionary Society was never successful in Tonga.


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    With the members of the conference