Religious Beliefs. Today, Samoans are devout Christians, following diverse Protestant denominations, as well as the Roman Catholic church. Pre-Christian beliefs in ancestor-spirits ( aitu ) are still widespread, but they are not openly confessed vis-à-vis Europeans. Aitu formerly were family gods, and they have retained their character as locally associated and kinship-bound deified ancestors. There was a belief in a supreme being, Tangaloa, but Samoa probably never developed a national cult like that of the Society Islands or Hawaii. Tangaloa was a deus otiosus who withdrew after having caused the emergence of the islands and set in motion the process which led to the evolution of natural phenomena and, ultimately, humans. Aitu were the active numinous beings who interfered directly in everyday life.
In aboriginal times, each matai was a religious practitioner responsible for the worship of the family aitu. Some matai played paramount roles as oracles of particular aitu of supralocal importance. Today, matai continue to lead family prayers (to the Christian God), but there are also native pastors, trained in local theological seminaries, and priests who conduct formal church services.
Many native ceremonies focus on life-cycle rites. Attendance is an expression of the rank of the persons involved. The kava ceremony, in which a beverage prepared from the 'ava root ( Piper methysticum ) was consumed in Ceremonial style, was performed to honor important guests and to mark important social events, such as the deliberations of the fono.
Arts. Oratory, dancing, singing, and tattooing continue to be means of aesthetic expression. Today, hymns for church services are an important outlet for expressive needs. The traditional art of bark-cloth ( siapo ) making and printing is not very widespread today.
Medicine. In aboriginal times, disease was supposed to be caused by the wrath of some particular aitu. Treatment was sought with the aid of the special matai, Taulāitu (whose name means "anchor of the Aitu"). They were asked to intercede with the aitu they represented. Various herbs and plants were administered and massage was also applied.
Death and Afterlife. Samoans believe in the dichotomous character of human nature. The separation of the "soul" ( agāga ) and body ( tino ) is tantamount to death. That the agāga continued to live after death as an aitu was the focal topic of the pre-Christian religion. There are various accounts of an afterworld, but no uniform picture of its nature can be gleaned from the historical and ethnographic sources.