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.