Can Digital Currency work in the Samoan Islands? It’s A Cultural Conundrum.
Digital currency in the Samoan Islands is a tough sell. The simplest way I could tell them how Dogecoins, Bitcoins, or any digital currency works is this: It’s money. The response I had from the two Samoas was mixed.
My relatives originated from American Samoa and Samoa. My father is from American Samoa, my mother is from the island of Upolu in Samoa, and I hail from San Diego, California (I kinda lack the Samoan Panache hailing from San Diego). Discussing the Digital Currencies at both islands of Upolu and Tutuila revealed some perspective how Samoans use technology from both islands if digital currencies could work.
Samoans in American Samoa heard of Bitcoin and are confused about it. I spent some time to explain how digital currencies work using Dogecoins instead. My relatives, their friends and I at Tafuna, American Samoa began creating wallets, mining dogecoins and trading some doges with each other at my cousin’s wedding reception. I gave them a few online resources to convert doge to Bitcoins or other coins in a good Friday night. Feeling confident in American Samoa after my cousin’s wedding, I ventured off to my mother’s homeland in the island of Upolu at Samoa.
I set up an impromptu Satoshi Square of sorts at Apia, Samoa for an hour or so providing lessons and discussions about digital currencies. Most of the interest came from Australian and New Zealand tourists. I wanted to invite my fellow Samoans, but they showed no interest. An hour and a half later, This pineapple shibe felt disappointed at the CV cafe in Downtown Apia.
I gave Samoa a second shot with personal appearances instead. My cousin from the village of Vaitele was getting married and I was hoping my Digital Currency discussions would work at her wedding reception. I found a dichotomy of technoculture clashing with the Fa’a Samoa culture instead.
The literal meaning of Fa’a Samoa means the Samoan way. It’s a cultural archetype of individuals in the family & extended family of the Aiga (Family) spanning for generations, myself included. There’s a collective groupthink for the Aiga to respect the Matai, A family-appointed chief holding positions of authority. I was ordained the Tamaseulagi Matai title on mid-June at the village of Vaiusu, Samoa. I had this premonition of using my matai title to educate my family about digital currency. Then I hit a firewall: they don’t have computers, laptops, tablets, and smart phones. Their connections to the outside world is through two Samoan Television Channels, The Samoa Observer Newspaper, and using old GPRS mobile phones for SMS messaging. Explaining Bitcoins and Dogecoins to a group of blank stares ended with a prayer. The prayer got more attention than my fifteen minutes of lecture & demonstrations.
I could begin with mpesa, but it doesn’t work in Samoa. The alternative was using android phones because it’s easier to create a bit/doge-coin wallet for them as long as their EDGE 2G/3G networks are functional at the islands of Upolu & Savaii. By observation, no matter how anecdotal this argument can be, the wealthy or well-educated folks in Upolu use smart phones. My cousin was happy to show her new dogecoin wallet, but for every Samoan using a smart phone at Upolu with a digital wallet, there’s a large group who are constantly confused. Instead of giving up, I realize it’s best to work with a small yet influential group, such as my relatives from Australia & New Zealand visiting Samoa once or twice a year.
The infrastructure in Samoa isn’t enough to support digital currencies while Bitcoins are accepted from Kenya to Kazakhstan. Samoa gets the scraps of the ASH fiberoptic cable network from American Samoa & Hawaii. Samoa also needs solar fields and wind farms to provide electricity should they need additional bandwidth, but political corruption in Samoa gets in the way. Samoa’s first data center headlined the main news last week on Samoa’s TV1 news displaying a few server racks inside a converted cargo container with many Members of Parliament taking photo-ops in front of the camera. I could say these are baby steps, but it’s not much to convince Digital Currencies could work here in Samoa.
The technological and adaptive influences on American Samoa is more welcoming for a digital currency market, but I’m cautious if Digital Currency can work in Samoa. Most Samoans from overseas donate their monies to their families in Samoa using Western Union or Moneygram. I’d like to send my digital monies to my cousin Tusi so she can pay for her bills using our moolah wallets, but neither Western Union or Moneygram accept digital currency transfers to the Samoan Tala, the primary fiat of exchange in Samoa. While it’s imperative to respect the Fa’a Samoa Culture in both American Samoa and Samoa, the technological imbalance & culture between the them could widen the economic, political and social gaps that’s already dividing the two Samoas.
There is hope digital currencies can work in Samoa, but it’ll take years for it to happen. I’m still optimistic digital currencies can work in Samoa.