Talofa! is the official greeting word in Samoan but we also say mālō in more casual settings.  Samoans like to greet each other with a single kiss on the cheek, especially if you already know each other and especially if at least one of you is female. If the greeting is more formal, or if you’re both men, it’s common to begin with a handshake and then press your shoulders together (in kind of a manly hug) instead a kiss.

Saying Hello

Talofa is the standard word for ‘hello’ in Samoan. It’s appropriate to use talofa in just about every greeting situation.

Talofa la’u uō.
Hello my friend.
Talofa tamaiti!
Hello children!
Talofa a’u uō mamae!
Hello my good friends!

To add warmth and emphasis, plus a slightly more formal feel, we add the word lava to this greeting.

Talofa lava.
Warm greetings.
Talofa lava, tīnā.
Warm greetings, mother  / respected older woman.
Talofa lava, lau susuga
Warm greetings, your esteemed one
Sidenote: The word talofa comes from an old Samoan phrase, si o ta alofa, which means means, ‘my love for you’.

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A More Casual Hello

When you’re greeting someone you know (or if you’re just a casual kinda person), it’s quite common to say mālō. We would still add the word lava to give this greeting more warmth and emphasis.

Mālō lava!
Warm greetings!
Mālō le soifua!
Greetings and (compliments on your) good health!
Oi, mālō ali’i!
Oh, hello man!
Mālō uso!
Hello brother! (or sister)

Other Samoan Greeting Words

As with other cultures, it’s also appropriate to greet people by asking after their health, or welcoming them into your home:

Oā mai oe?
How are you?
Mālō ali’i. Oā mai oe?
Hello man. How are you?
Oi, mālō! Uā mai?
Oh, hello! How’s things?
Oi, talofa! Maliu mai.
Oh, hello! Welcome.
Afio mai, lau afioga.
Welcome, your honour.
Sūsū mai, lau susuga.
Welcome, esteemed one.

Notice the different phrases we have for welcoming people? Afio mai, maliu mai and sūsū mai are used to greet our matai (chiefs) and other important people, but which of these phrase we use depends on the rank or type of matai we are welcoming.

Learn more about how to greet important people and Samoan matai at One Samoana.


The Most Samoan of Greetings

This greeting confused me when I first heard it, but I soon learned that it’s so common and so very Samoan.

When you show up somewhere, it’s perfectly natural for a Samoan to ask, “Ua ‘e sau?” which means, “Have you arrived?” 

Anyone outside our culture might think, “Uhh can you not see that I am here, therefore I have arrived?” and they might wonder why you would bother with the question.

But the question is rhetorical, of course. It’s just a way for the greeter to acknowledge that you are now in their presence, AND I’ve noticed that if your arrival is unexpected, this question is a beautifully subtle way of asking why you are here. 

Remember that next time a Samoan asks you, “Ua ‘e sau?”