This article discusses the centrality of the family in supporting cultural responsibilities and in the well-being of Samoan and Tongan-American elders. Informed by the Ho’okele model, this grounded theory study was conducted in the State of Hawaii, the port of entry for most Pacific Islander-Americans migrating to the U.S. and the state in which a majority of Samoans and Tongans reside. Qualitative data was collected from 10 Samoan and 10 Tongan elders, and analysis was conducted by immersion in the data and reading for natural emergence of themes, patterns and categories. Cultural foundation of family relationships, expectations of the keepers of cultural customs, cultural protocols for communication, and indigenous language were identified as family-related factors that contributed to the well-being of Samoan and Tongan-American elders. Implications for research and policy practice are offered.

Key Take Away Points

  • Well-being for these Pacific Islander elders is rooted in strong families and culture connections
  • Importance of family relationships
  • Importance of support for elders as keepers of cultural customs and protocols
  • Need for preserving indigenous language
  • Need for culturally relevant and respectful policies and practices

Author Biography

Halaevalu F. Ofahengaue Vakalahi, Ph.D., MSW, M.Ed., Associate Dean and Associate Professor, School of Social Work, Morgan State University, 1700 E. Cold Spring Lane, Jenkins Behavioral Science Building, Rm. 343 Baltimore, MD 21251. Email: halaevalu.vakalahi@morgan.edu.

Emily S. Ihara, Ph.D., MSW, Associate Professor, Department of Social Work, George Mason University, 4400 University Dr. MSN 1F8, Fairfax, VA 22030. Email: eihara@gmu.edu.

Moana P. Hafoka is a doctoral student at Washington State University, Department of Criminal Justice.


The authors wish to thank the funding sources for their support in this endeavor: George Mason University, Faculty Research Seed Grant, and the College of Health and Human Services. The authors also thank the Samoan and Tongan elders in Hawaii for their willingness to share their lived experiences with health and well-being.

Responses to this Article:

Meripa T. Godinet, Commentary on "Family Roots: Sustenance for Samoan and Tongan American Elders" (December 2013)