The Samoans believed in a soul or disembodied spirit, which they called the anganga. Anga means to go or come, according to the particle of direction suffixed. Anga atu means to go away; anga maisignifies to come. The reduplicated anganga is used to designate the soul as distinct from the body, and which at death was supposed to go away from the body and proceed to the hadean regions under the ocean, which they called Pulotu.

In describing the localities about Falealupo in another chapter, we have noted some things about the lower regions which were supposed to enter from the neighbourhood of Falealupo. We know little, if anything, more of the notions which the Samoans had of a future state, and therefore pass on to the religion which prevailed all over the group.

At one time it was supposed that Samoa was destitute of any kind of religion, and by some of the early visitors the people were called "the godless Samoans." On closer acquaintance with them, however, it was discovered that they lived under the influence of a host of imaginary deities, claiming alike belief and corresponding practice.

At his birth a Samoan was supposed to be taken under the care of some god, or aitu, as it was called. The help of several of these gods was probably invoked in succession on the occasion, and the one who happened to be addressed just as the child was born was fixed on as the child's god for life.

These gods were supposed to appear in some visible incarnation, and the particular thing in which his god was in the habit of appearing was to the Samoan an object of veneration. It was, in fact, his idol, and he was careful never to injure it or treat it with contempt. One, for instance, saw his god in the eel, another in the shark, another in the turtle, another in the dog, another in the owl, another in the lizard, and so on throughout all the fish of the sea, and birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. In some of the shell-fish, even, gods were supposed to be present. A man would eat freely of what was regarded as the incarnation of the god of another man, but the incarnation of his own particular god he would consider it death to injure or to eat. The god was supposed to avenge the insult by taking up his abode in that person's body, and causing to generate there the very thing which he had eaten, until it produced death. This class of genii, or tutelary deities, they called aitu fale, or gods of the house.

The father of the family was the high-priest, and usually offered a short prayer at the evening meal, that they might all be kept from fines, sickness, war, and death. Occasionally, too, he would direct that they have a family feast in honour of their household gods; and on these occasions a cup of their intoxicating ava draught was poured out as a drink-offering. They did this in their family house, where they were all assembled, supposing that their gods had a spiritual presence there, as well as in the material objects to which we have referred. Often it was supposed that the god came among them, and spoke through the father or some other member of the family, telling them what to do in order to remove a present evil or avert a threatened one. Sometimes it would be that the family should get a canoe built and keep it sacred to the god. They might travel in it and use it themselves, but it was death to sell or part with a canoe which had been built specially for the god.

Another class of Samoan deities may be called gods of the town or village. Every village had its god, and every one born in that village was regarded as the property of that god. I have got a child for so-and-so, a woman would say on the birth of her child, and name the village god. There was a small house or temple also consecrated to the deity of the place. Where there was no formal temple, the great house of the village, where the chiefs were in the habit of assembling, was the temple for the time being, as occasion required. Some settlements had a sacred grove as well as a temple, where prayers and offerings were presented.

In their temples they had generally something for the eye to rest upon with superstitious veneration. In one might be seen a conch shell, suspended from the roof in a basket made of cinnet network; and this the god was supposed to blow when he wished the people to rise to war. In another, two stones were kept. In another, something resembling the head of a man, with white streamers flying, was raised on a pole at the door of the temple, on the usual day of worship. In another, a cocoa-nut shell drinking-cup was suspended from the roof, and before it prayers were addressed and offerings presented. This cup was also used in oaths. If they wished to find out a thief, the suspected parties were assembled before the chiefs, the cup sent for, and each would approach, lay his hand on it, and say, "With my hand on this cup, may the god look upon me, and send swift destruction, if I took the thing which has been stolen." The stones and the shells were used in a similar way. Before this ordeal, the truth was rarely concealed. They firmly believed that it would be death to touch the cup and tell a lie.

The priests in some cases were the chiefs of the place; but in general some one in a particular family claimed the privilege, and professed to declare the will of the god. His office was hereditary. He fixed the days for the annual feasts in honour of the deity, received the offerings, and thanked the people for them. He decided also whether or not the people might go to war.

The offerings were principally cooked food. The first cup was in honour of the god. It was either poured out on the ground or waved towards the heavens. The chiefs all drank a portion out of the same cup, according to rank; and after that the food brought as an offering was divided and eaten there before the god. This feast was annual, and frequently about the month of May. In some places it passed off quietly; in others it was associated with games, sham-fights, night-dances, etc., and lasted for days. In time of war special feasts were ordered by the priests. Of the offerings on war occasions women and children were forbidden to partake, as it was not their province to go to battle. They supposed it would bring sickness and death on the party eating who did not go to the war, and hence were careful to bury or throw into the sea whatever food was over after the festival. In some cases the feasts in honour of the god were regulated by the appearance in the settlement of the bird which was thought to be the incarnation of the god. Whenever the bird was seen the priest would say that the god had come, and fix upon a day for his entertainment.

The village gods, like those of the household, had all some particular incarnation: one was supposed to appear as a bat, another as a heron, another as an owl. If a man found a dead owl by the roadside, and if that happened to be the incarnation of his village god, he would sit down and weep over it, and beat his forehead with stones till the blood flowed. This was thought pleasing to the deity. Then the bird would be wrapped up and buried with care and ceremony, as if it were a human body. This, however, was not the death of the god. He was supposed to be yet alive, and incarnate in all the owls in existence. The flight of these birds was observed in time of war. If the bird flew before them, it was a signal to go on; but if it crossed the path, it was a bad omen, and a sign to retreat. Others saw their village god in the rainbow, others saw him in the shooting star; and in time of war the position of a rainbow and the direction of a shooting star were always ominous.

The constant dread of the gods, and the numerous and extravagant demands of a cunning and avaricious priesthood, made the heathenism of Samoa a hard service.

I have collected and arranged alphabetically in the two following chapters the names of the principal gods formerly worshipped in Samoa. The notices of each will explain more fully the religion of the people, and especially that system of zoolatry which so extensively prevailed.