The western concept of “private property” does not exist in the communal village life of Samoa. In a traditional Samoan village, many generations of a family live together where food and material items are shared among everyone.

The famous blowholes of Savaii are a major tourist attraction and revenue stream for the village of Taga. The collective village owns the blowholes so a different chief or “matai” collects the proceeds each week. This way, the entire village benefits from the tourist revenue.

When funding a Kiva loan in Samoa, it is likely that you are providing economic opportunity that will benefit an entire family and not just an individual. Whether the loan is used to purchase fishing nets, plant taro or open a roadside stand, the borrower’s children, parents, and other relatives will benefit as the profits will translate into more money for the collective family.

The concept of collective property also has some potentially severe downsides, both to the individual borrower and their family. The individual borrower, who with much personal effort and sacrifice is able to start a successful business, may not have much control over where her profits go. The flip side is that if a woman is unable to make her loan payments, the loan becomes a burden on her entire family.

With the traditional family values of Western Samoa, villages and entire families both reap the rewards and share the risks of taking on debt.

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Nate Walsh is a Kiva Fellow in Apia, Samoa. He is volunteering with the South Pacific Business Development Foundation (SPBD)

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