In the United States we always seem to dress however we please thinking that there are no consequences to our actions. You see people wearing short shorts and tank tops every place you go. No one thinks twice about what their wearing because it is the cultural norm.
In many villages in Samoa they have a dress code that you must wear a lavalava (a wrap around skirt) if you step foot off of your family’s property. (This is for females). It doesn’t matter what you have under that: shorts, pants, it is still a requirement. You also must have your shoulders covered and can not wear a tank top or anything of the sort. If someone catches you dressing this way the village will fine you. For example my sister was caught walking about 20 feet from the bus to our house in sweatpants and a tank top and the woman’s committee caught her and she was fined 20 tala.
The more conservatively you dress the more respect you are given. If you wear the traditional clothes (polatasies [I still can not figure out the spelling for that word] for females and i’e lavalava [not sure if that is the correct spelling, but it is a real handsome skirt] for the males) less people will harass you at each place you go to. Many seem to give you the upmost respect and you will have the best chance to have a Samoan speak to you in Samoan. When you are out dancing people will give you your space and not dance too close to you, which is real nice when it is consistently way too hot here!
While living in Manunu (our training village more inland) we had 4 dances. The first two were put on as a fundraiser for the church. The first one was a welcoming to their community. We all had to Siva Samoa and all dressed for the part wearing traditional clothes. (I was told later that I looked like a Pastor’s wife in the outfit my family made for me. When you Siva Samoa you are called up to introduce yourself, answer some questions (the main one is have you found a Samoan boy/girl friend yet) then you slowly head to the dance floor. You attempt to do these beautifully flowing moves while people pay money into a bowl to dance with you. Females that go out there to dance do their amazing Samoan dance moves while the males remind me of apes. They jump around (sometimes on all fours) screeching and yelling things that do not make sense to me. They throw themselves on the floor for the females to dance on top of them.
When a person of the opposite sex asks you to dance we are supposed to always accept as it is the polite more traditional thing to do. However, if you dance with them for more than one song, there is a good chance their dancing with you might mean something more to them and you might be thought of as their boy/girlfriend. This dance was very nice because no one was trying to dance too close because everyone seemed to show the respect that was due based upon their outfits.
The second dance was put on for the youth group and the Pisi Koa, however several others showed up as well. Again, we were all dressed traditionally and had several people of the opposite sex join us in dancing with groups of little children. My favorite was a boy asked me to dance while I was dancing with a group of 3 year olds. I told him that I could not leave my dance partners and he could join us. He immediately joined us in holding hands and our silly three year old dance.
The last two dances in town were different. This may be due to the fact that the pastor was out of town so one of the families opened up their open fale as a dance club. It was pretty unique how they set it up. They put rain tarps all around the outside so no one could look inside. I wore the traditional clothes as my mother had just made me a new purple polatasi. However, since there was no real dress code many people wore other clothes. I began to notice that for the females wearing other clothes men began to test their boundaries with you. Dancing closer and acting more inappropriate. (On a side note the nu’u rules include no drinking alcohol. Many people from different nu’u came to this dance and did not come sober. Many of them stank of alcohol on their bodies and it was not good to be even near them.)
For the last dance we had in our village none of us wore a polatasi (we began to realize how hot we were getting wearing those outfits while dancing for several hours). Although the majority of us were still wearing long skirts and covering our shoulders with tee shirts, we still had to deal with more harassment from the boys. Many of them have seen American girls on television and in movies and those forms of media do not portray American females in the best light. They think of Americans as being loose and ready for a good time. Wearing traditional clothes was like a boundary for the Samoans. If you are dressed up in their clothes, they have a more clear understanding of not to mess with you. However that night since none of us were dressed that way, we were constantly being pushed. The night ended early for one Pisi Koa because of not being able to take the harassment from the opposite sex anymore. Even though we all had to be more on guard, it was still a good time.
Last night Corina and I decided to see what Apia nightlife was like for the first time before heading back to Manunu today. One of our trainers suggested a specific night club. After stepping foot insider there I found out why…. It was mainly for tourists and so it was full of Palagis. We had no real plans to go out and so she was still dressed in her Polatasi and I was wearing a polo shirt and capris. The other people in the club were dressed how you might see many dress in America and Corina and I were shocked to see so much skin being exposed! Dressing more conservatively was great for us because people tended to leave us alone and we were free to dance by ourselves. We had such a great time getting this extra special treatment that after swearing in we are planning to go back there dressing in Polatasis every time. Sure it gets hot wearing the traditional clothes, but it is worth it if you are given your piece of mind.