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Uso is the Samoan word for either brother or sister, depending on your gender.

In the Samoan language, if you are female, your uso is your sister. If you are male, your uso is your brother. 

You’ll see/hear the word uso thrown around a lot – “Eh, uso!” or “Ua ‘li’i, uso?” and sometimes more ‘urban’ Samoans will make this short word even shorter: “Hey, uce!”

…which is not my personal favorite variation of the word, but everybody’s saying it so now I’m like meh… As long as we’re using it in the right context.

What I’ve noticed, though, is a lot of guys calling their sisters (or female relatives/friends) ‘uso’, or girls calling guys ‘uso’ and I can’t tell whether they’re just trying to be all bend-the-rules, or if they really don’t know the correct way to use this word.

SO I figured it was my responsibility as a citizen of Samoa and a publisher of Samoan-related stuff to share a little knowledge.

To be fair, and in the interest of non-judgement, I myself only learned this distinction a few years ago.

Thank goodness for adult community education and a NZ government that encourages Pacific language learning.

Soooo anyway, here’s the deal:

So again… If you are female, your uso is your sister, and you would refer to your brother as tuagane (with the ‘g’ in there pronounced like the ‘ng’ and the word ‘hanger’).

If you are male, your uso is your brother, and your sister is your tuafafine.

Got it?

I think it’s a nice example of how language supports culture. In the Samoan way of doing things, girls have a unique respect for their brothers and guys protect their sisters with their lives.

The fact that we have different words for our siblings based on gender emphasizes that distinction in the way we relate to our sisters or our brothers.