Be careful when you praise Samoans

In the western world, complimenting someone on their appearance or accessories is a great way to strike up a conversation.

It doesn’t always work like that for Samoans.

I remember one time, I mentioned to a relative that her bag was pretty, and then when she tried to give it to me, I was like, “Oh no… I don’t mean that I want it. You keep it. But thank you so much.”


I don’t see it happening so much any more, but back in the day, I learned very quickly that complimenting someone – especially when it sounds kind of random – is as good as asking for something.

Turns out, it’s an actual thing.

It’s part of the Samoan culture, as expressed in this proverb:

O isi e momo'o

(Translated in this graphic by Dr. E Shultz)

“O isi e momo’o” literally translated means, “Some people desire”… but it suggests that these people’s actions are motivated by this desire.

In other words, they are flattering you because they covet your stuff, but they’re maybe too embarrassed you directly for it.

It just so happens that Samoans are also a very generous and loving people, so when we suspect that somebody wants something we have, of course our first instinct is to give.

It’s just how we do.

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Known offline as Lillian (Lils, Lei'a) Arp, Hamo Geek Girl is just learning what it means to be Samoan. When she's not here, she's over at Manaui: Savour Oceania mostly talking about her other favourite topic: Food!

3 thoughts on “Be careful when you praise Samoans

  1. LMAO -- so true. Some cousins, friends or even colleagues at work will go. “Eh e ese le manaia o lou maka, aumai se’i ou fa’akaikai kasi” -- Wow your glasses are really nice, can I try them?
    Nek minit -- say good bye to your sunglasses although in my case they were prescription glasses so I got them back.
    BTW are you a grandchild of William Arp of Alafua? We were neighbours.

  2. My son was born in U.S. but one day he asked me how could he be a Matai (chief) in my family? Don’t bother, son, why dad? It comes with a string! And it is very expensive! It’s just like someone asking me dad how expensive marriage life is /very expensive, I said. Yeah, but how expensive, dad? Son, you mom and I have been married for 32 years now and I’m still paying for it? Okay!

  3. The more I read this blog, the more aspects of the Samoan culture I love. 🙂 The kindness at the core of the culture is what won my heart, I think. I’m embarrassed to admit I found this blog by chance, while looking for the Polynesian origins of my birth name (Luana). I’m glad I found it.

    -- Lu

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