SAMOA: PACIFIC HISTORY A HOT TOPIC

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APIA, Samoa (Radio Australia, Dec. 18) - Despite continuing instability in a number of Pacific island nations, governance remains a hot topic across the region.

At least that's what delegates to the fifteenth Pacific History Association Conference found when they attended the meeting in Samoa.

Over one hundred delegates attended the conference hosted by the National University of Samoa to explore various aspects of the colonial legacy, ranging from institutional systems to migration.

Dr Asofou So‘o, Director of the Institute of Samoan Studies at the National University of Samoa says pacific islands should take a closer look at the problem.

"There seems to be problems around the Pacific to do with just that. Differences arising this time resulting from the coexistence, dual existence of institutions, practices and sense of values that were there before the introduction of so-called western institutions and practices," said So‘o.

"And we only have to look around the Pacific for examples of those. In Samoa we also experience the same kind of tension, though not as violent as in other places. But the general feeling is that there is bad tension still existing because of the coexistence of two types of institutions, practices and sense of values associated with them."

By looking at the coexistence of different systems and certainly conflicting values and practices, So‘o says that one of the very contentious areas in the Pacific is land and all the problems associated with land tenure.

"Yeah that's also I guess I can talk more specifically about examples from Samoa because I'm here, and although it hasn't manifested itself as violently as in other places of the Pacific. It's also here and it's here in the form of family lands, customary lands that were either sold to Europeans, people that came here wanting land in the middle of the last century, going to the end of the last century."

"And then those lands being sold to private companies or individuals and somewhere bought by the Germans when they were here in Samoa, when the Germans left the land if it belonged to them went to the New Zealand administration when they were here during World War I, World War II," said So‘o.

"And when the New Zealanders left, when Samoa became independent in 1962 then those lands went back to the Samoan government. Now some of those lands with government... the people in the villages who originally owned those lands are now arguing that their lands be given back to them because they are the rightful owners of those lands."

"So those issues are still here and the government has been trying to deal with those situations back here in Samoa. So it's still at a discussion level here but I guess it's not as violent as in other places in the Pacific."

According to So‘o, one other interesting thing in the dilemma between traditional structures of governance and the legacy of colonialism is the concept of nation state. He adds that researchers are having a hard time trying to figure out how people at community level deal with the concept.

"I guess in the sense that a member of parliament from their particular constituencies, somebody that they had elected and that that person, the elected person is a Matai. And I guess the general feeling in the community is that this person they had elected goes into parliament, be involved in the decisions of government for the good of the people of Samoa. But that the real authority, I mean in terms of the authority over land and titles is still with the people in the community."

"So it's a difficult question because it's the very question that researchers at the moment are trying to answer and I'm involved."

"At the moment in the research with somebody else from the University of the South Pacific looking at that very question. And we don't have any precise answers at the moment."

December 18, 2002

For additional reports from Radio Australia, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia.

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