AMERICAN SAMOA SENATE AWAITS HOUSE REACTION TO NEW MATAI BILL

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By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (May 1, 2002 – Samoa News)---The Senate is looking forward to July when the Fono convenes to see how the House will react to another controversial bill dealing with matai titles.

If enacted into law, the measure would require major changes to the current matai title registration.

Before the Fono closed on April 5th, ending the 3rd Regular Session of the 27th Legislature, the Senate passed a bill that if passed into law would limit registration of matai titles to important titles and imposes a penalty on anyone who registers more than one matai title at one time.

Current laws states that "every matai in American Samoa must, prior to Jan. 1, 1969, register his title and designated name with the Territorial Registrar."

Additionally, "the matai title register shall be closed as of Jan. 1 1969 and any matai title not registered by that date may not be registered."

The new Senate measure states that only "sa'o of a traditional or customary Samoan family" in the territory shall register with the Territorial Registrar. The bill also deletes the provisions that closed matai title registration as of Jan. 1, 1969.

"Any matai who is not a sa'o but a lesser matai, who had registered its title prior to the effective date of this law shall not re-register such title with the Territorial Registrar," the bill states.

And any person found to have registered more than one matai title at one time, "is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor," the measure states.

"Let's wait and see the House reaction to this latest bill on our matai system," said one Senator this week when asked for comments. "The House seems to have problems in dealing with Matai bills passed by the Senate and I'm sure this measure is no different than other efforts by the Upper chamber," the Senator who asked not be identified, told the Samoa News.

One faipule said the House will have to hold public hearings on the measure to ensure that the public has input.

Political observers believe the House will either table the bill or reject it in fear of its impact on the upcoming November general election.

It was mentioned during a Senate hearing last year on the same bill that the registration of lesser matai titles on the same register degraded the dignity of the Sao circle of matai.

Evident in the traditional leaders' views was a desire to keep the family Sao circle separate from the numerous lesser matai titles.

Previous Samoa News stories reported Territorial Registrar Salote Lutu-Schuster as saying there were 600-plus matai titles in the original matai register when it was first established by law in 1969. Since then, an additional 800-plus matai titles, in a period of about 30 years, have made their way onto the matai register as well.

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