SAMOAN ALII SHUN THE TERM "CHIEF"

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By Aeo'ainuu Aleki

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa, (Samoa News, Aug. 16) - Members of
the public and academics have shown keen interest in the use of the terms:
"Ali'i" and "Orator" to address the matai in Fofo I. F.
Sunia's latest book, "Puputoa".

Fofo's use of the terms differs sharply from the general
practice that is in popular use in the Territory today. General practice here
uses the words Chief, High Chief and Paramount Chief to address Ali'is in their
various ranks.

Likewise, the words Talking Chief and High Talking Chief are
used to address the Tulafale (orator) in its various ranks. Tulafale is a
traditional administrator in any matai system, working generally to promote and
protect the traditional assets his Ali'i represents. As the Tulafale uses his
gift of speech and oratory to achieve this aim, it spells traditional meaning
and importance in governmental and social affairs for the village.

The Ali'i title represents the intangible assets that spell the
traditional rank of a village. The rank usually is in terms of the history
behind the Ali'i title and or village and possible relation to other village
governments, the political alliances it has developed through marriage, war
gains, decrees by rulers and other conditions.

The traditional welfare of an Ali'i, on whose head the political
importance and rank of his village rests, depend on how skillful at speech and
oratory the tulafale or orator of his village is.

Author of Puputoa, Fofo, in a recent conversation with Samoa
News showed his intent to pay respects to the dignity of the matais in today's
culture. He did this through Puputoa. The elite matais consist of only two
types, the venerable Ali'i and Tulafale.

Against general practice today, Fofo addresses in Puputoa the
Ali'is as Ali'i, High Ali'i and Paramount Ali'i, in place of Chief, High Chief
and Paramount Chief.

Likewise, Tulafale is addressed Orator or High Orator by Fofo in
place of Talking Chief and High Talking Chief as is the general practice.

The author, himself a carrier of the Fofo title, an esteemed
member of the traditional Supreme Council of To'oto'o in Manua (supreme orators)
said, he felt in a special way whenever he heard the matais addressed as Chiefs
in the various forms they're addressed in today.

"Every time I hear a matai addressed as Chief," he
told Samoa News, "it reminds me of the dark men dressed scantily on
horseback, with feathers as head gear in the western movies. They also remind of
the bosses in white uniforms at the times of the Navy administration."

Fofo is not alone in the sentiment.

A noted Mau leader in recent history, the respected orator
Autagavaia Siaupiu from Vailoa, Palauli is still remembered for a rebuke
everyone thought almost made the New Zealanders send him to prison. "Don't
make movie cronies out of us" (Aua kou ke faia makou pei gi kifaga, e!) is
still remembered in village circles today.

The feared matai was reacting to being addressed
"Chief" by a government bureaucrat at a turbulent meeting in Mulinu'u
in the 1930s.

Educators generally expressed satisfaction with the way Puputoa
addressed the matais. Said one college instructor on the condition of anonymity;
"I'm pleased to see Fofo summon courage by addressing our matais in a more
dignified form.

"I may not agree hundred percent with his terminology, but
at least, his addressing of the matais is much more dignified than the sad
sounding Chief in its various prefixes.

"It is more sad to see them (leaders) vie for rank in the
open, many I hear getting upset when the High or Paramount was not applied
before their titles.

It is common knowledge within the media circles on island that
some matais of rank have reputations of kicking up a fuss when the words High or
Paramount are omitted as part of the prefix of their matai title.

A celebrated author, poet, playwright and historian son of the
Territory, the late Sione John Kneubuhl once told this author he wished, the
traditional leaders would just stick with the tradition of humility and respect
for others, rather than join in an island form of rat race, as reflected in the
vying for rank in title salutations.

A college faculty member in political science, who asked not to
be identified, says he would like a form of address for the matais that
reflected the values of the traditional system. "Whatever it ends up to be,
it should still reflect the dignity and character of the Samoan," he said.

"We see part of this nature in the way our Fijian brothers
address their leaders. They wouldn't part with the traditional Ratu that
addresses the nobility, as in the case of those knighted by the Queen of
England. The Sir salutation from the Queen of England wouldn't be put in front
of their Ratu title, which addresses Fiji's people of royalty and nobility
status.

"They wouldn't have the Sir salutation be in front of their
traditional Ratu, like in Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, Fiji's illustrous leader, who
has retired from public life. The same goes for all other Ratu's who've been
knighted by the Queen," the educator added.

"Our Hawaiian cousins, despite what the Americans had done
to them, do not fringe from using their traditional titles rather than have a
translated to English form used to address their leaders.

The media in neighboring Samoa, though they haven't crystallized
on one set form of addressing the matais, generally use in their various forms,
the traditional salutations of Afioga (Highness) to address the Ali'is and Tofa
to address the Tulafale.

An interesting practice of their's which has expanded to the
Territory, is the placing of the traditional title before the Western title.
This is noticeable in people of prominence in education but who have also
attained traditional titles of rank.

An example is Susuga Aiono Dr. Fanaafi Le Tagaloa, the noted
Samoan language authority, educator, author, and philosopher and foundation
professor of the National University of Samoa. Only in oral communications would
she be addressed as Professor Aiono (English title before the Samoan). But she
insists the Susuga Aiono must precede any of her educational titles like the
doctorate and professorship titles in writing and formal address.

It is no strange sight to read of Alo Dr. Paul Stevenson, the
prominent educator turned ranking Ali'i of Fagasa, and soon to be Itu'au County
senator. Very rarely has he been refered to as Dr. Alo P. Stevenson. The same
form is observed in addressing all the local doctorate degree holders in
government service today. Their traditional titles and perhaps salutations are
usually placed before their doctoral notations, which usually precedes their
surnames.

The ranks of the ones addressed are spelled out by their
traditional place in the various traditional governmental orders they function
or are addressed in.

A question one matai asked Samoa News when approached is, how is
the traditional wealth within each title lessened if he is not addressed with a
salutation the modern media uses to address them?

August 22, 2003

Samoa News: www.samoanews.com 

 

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