Skip to main content

Midwives' Tales
Stories of Traditional and Professional Birthing in Samoa

Author(s): Lesley Barclay, Fulisia Aiavao, Jennifer Fenwick, Kaisarina Tooloa Papua

The result of a ten-year collaboration between Australian and Samoan researchers and midwives, this book compiles the first-person stories of several generations of Samoan midwives, both those who use traditional techniques for home birth and those who use Western techniques in a hospital. The voices are vivid and varied, often displaying the Samoan gift for storytelling.

The overall picture of changing birthing practices is complex and sometimes tinged with ironies. As the introduction says, "These Samoan nurses and midwives did not immediately attempt to mediate new and old ways of birthing after the colonial leadership of their profession left. They themselves became cultural agents for change as they continued the role of 'colonizing' their own birth tradition and taught the fa'atosaga [Samoan for midwife] Western techniques, at the same time trying to provide a professional midwife for all women. Paradoxically they often chose a social midwife for their own births and supported or at least condoned the social midwives close to them. . . . Kaisarina, while working as the leading professional midwife in the country, and working almost totally in hospital practice herself, simultaneously assisted her mother-in-law with her social practice of midwifery. Vipulo's story shows how a professional midwife preferred to have her mother, a social midwife, deliver her at home."

A particular objective of the authors is to encourage a reconception of maternity care in countries where professional services are rare and not available to all women. The book challenges common assumptions, still held in many postcolonial countries, that a simple migration of Western-style, hospital-focused care is necessarily always an achievable or desirable goal. It also demonstrates the considerable progress that one group has made in rethinking and developing a model of maternity care that works within their society and culture. As these midwives’ stories suggest, solutions to some of the problems caused by gaps in the kinds of resources that Westerners take for granted can be found in partnerships and cultural wisdom that already exist in Samoa and, by extension, other developing countries.

Biography of Author(s)

Lesley Barclay was Director at the Centre for Family Health and Midwifery at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia, when this book was written.
Fulisia Aiavao is the head of the Faculty of Nursing at the National University of Samoa.
Jennifer Fenwick is Associate Professor at Curtin University and the King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women in Perth, Western Australia.


  • The narratives in the book took me on a journey that I personally found very exciting, pulling me into birth in Samoa from the perspective of traditional midwives and professional midwives, until I began to understand that they are collectively creating a birth model that really works as their collaborations and mutual understandings increase.
    --Robbie Davis-Floyd, author of Birth as an American Rite of Passage
  • This collection of stories provides an illuminating portrait of the lives of Samoan nurse-midwives as they reconsider the practices and character of their profession. The stories are particularly interesting for their depiction of the tensions between the Western-influenced biomedical model of nursing and the traditional model of the social or community midwife.
    --Pamela Klassen, University of Toronto and author of Blessed Events: Religion and Home Birth in America