Pepe meamea in the spirit of the collective: Embedding Samoan indigenous philosophy in ECE for Samoan children under two

Funding year: 
2 years
University of Auckland - Te Whare Wānanga o Tāmaki Makaurau
ECE sector
Project start date: 
January 2021
Project end date: 
November 2023
Principal investigator(s): 
Jacoba Matapo
Research team members: 
Co-investigators are Dr Faasaulala Tagoilelagi-Leota (Massey University), Dr Tafili Utumapu-McBride (Auckland University of Technology)
Research partners: 
Sosaiete Aoga Amata Sāmoa I Aoteara Incorporated (SAASIA), Auckland University of Technology, Massey University

Introduction / Project description 

This two-year project focuses on reconceptualising and transforming the pedagogy of ECE teachers of Samoan infants and toddlers to improve sustainable holistic outcomes for Samoan infants and toddlers. Innovative technologies are utilised to support Samoan cultural mentoring partnerships between infant and toddler teachers from Aoga Amata (Samoan full-immersion ECE) and English medium ECE centres in Auckland, along with the research team. Samoan methodologies ground the study alongside a Critical Participatory Action Research (CPAR) approach. From a strength based position, the study will develop a culturally sound Samoan Indigenous conceptual framework of Pepe meamea for ECE teachers of Samoan infants and toddlers.


The Samoan proverb highlights the value of this research, by reminding us that: (O tu, aganu'u, ma agaifanua, a le tamatiti o lea lē mafai ona ulufale atu i le potuaoga sei vagana ua fa'atauaina ma fa'aulufaleina muamua i le loto ma le agaga o le faiaoga) "the culture of the child cannot enter the classroom until it has first entered the consciousness of the teacher" (Allen et al., 2009, p. 49). In the spirit of this proverb, this study engages Samoan Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) as a foundation for all teachers of Samoan pepe meamea to transform practice. The aim of this research is to develop a credible, rigorous and robust Samoan conceptual framework of pedagogy that supports the cultural 'well-being' and 'belonging’ of Samoan infants and toddlers (Mara; 2013; MoE, 2017). As an indigenous based ECE study, the research will contribute to both New Zealand and Samoan scholarship of ECE, through a unique transnational Samoan position. 

Why is this research important? 

The highest proportion (48.7%) of all Pacific peoples in NZ are Samoan and are primarily NZ born (MoSD, 2016). With a plethora of international ECE discourse giving prominence to 'universal' notions of infant and toddler development and pedagogy, there is very little attention in research regarding Pacific ethnic-specific philosophy and pedagogy for infants and toddlers (Rameka et al., 2017). The majority of Pasifika children (including Samoan) are enrolled in English medium ECE centres (MoE, 2015) and concerns raised by transnational Samoan scholars are that infant and toddler pedagogies adapted within ECE are not always conducive to Samoan collective understandings of 'being' and personhood which shape the foundation for well-being, belonging and identity (MoE, 2017; Tagoilelagi-Leota, 2018; Toso & Matapo, 2018). This study is the first (national and international) to develop an ECE Samoan Conceptual Framework for Pepe meamea pedagogy. Through deeply rooted Samoan collective ontologies, this research seeks to mobilise Samoan conceptualisations of pepe meamea as a valid contribution to the scholarship of infant and toddler pedagogy. 

What we plan to do 

The first year is specific to the Aoga Amata engagement as Samoan infant and toddler teachers bring cultural expertise, gagana (Samoan language), knowledge and experience to co-lead the process of developing a Samoan conceptual framework for pedagogy of Samoan Pepe meamea. There will be three cluster days arranged for all Samoan teachers to come together, to theorise understandings of Samoan subjectivity, wholeness, spirituality and being for Samoan infants and toddlers alongside Samoan Indigenous Knowledge custodians and cultural experts. 

In the second year, six Auckland based English medium ECE centres will join the research in a faufautua (mentoring partnership) with our Samoan teachers. The six English medium ECE centres are in local proximity to the Aoga Amata Samoan partner centres, and have Samoan infant and toddler children enrolled. There will be three cluster days to bring all teachers and researchers together to establish research partnerships and to engage cultural learning experiences of Samoan Indigenous knowledge. All three cluster fono will focus on strengthening teacher cultural competencies and pedagogy to implement the Samoan Conceptual Framework of Pepe meamea to promote a sustainable, transformative praxis.

Contact details

Jacoba Matapo

 74 Epsom Avenue, Epsom, Auckland 1023

Education and Social Work Faculty of Education and Social Work 

The University of Auckland

DDI: + 64 9 623 8899 EXT: 48892