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By Terry Tavita

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, July 27) – Samoa Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi said yesterday he believes a village council's intervention saved lives in the dispute at Falelatai on Friday night.

"What I've been told is that if the council did not intervene in the matter, it could have easily escalated and people would have been hurt, probably die," he said. "I've also been told that some ‘matai’ were drunk and have been singled out as the instigators in the trouble. That's not surprising, as alcohol-consumption is usually the prime suspect in these cases."

The Prime Minister applauded the village council for its immediate help in dealing with suspects and helping Police investigations.

"I know that the council has apologized to the Police over the incident and that seven people have been banned from Falelatai, some handed over to Police custody by the village."

Trouble flared after a Land and Titles court ruling on Friday overturned the banning of Misa Iuli Pita Anae from the village. The family home at Matautu, Falelatai, was burnt down. There were reports of guns being brandished.

Firefighters who went to Matautu were also threatened.

Tuilaepa said the subsequent role of the village council in sorting things out indicated good village leadership, which goes a long way in maintaining peace and stability in the community.

"The role of the village council in imposing strict governance laws, and enforcing them, is very important in maintaining law and order in the rural communities."

He said that of the 360 villages in Samoa, 99 percent are peaceful and orderly "thanks to wise and visionary leadership.

"The most peaceful villages you will come across are the ones where the business of the council, which is usually dominated by orators, is conducted in a humorous, good-natured atmosphere," he said. "I tell you, some of the most intelligent people I've ever met are these Samoan orators who've spent their lives serving their villages.

"While most of us went to school overseas, they grew up in their villages, did the umu (earth oven), kept the plantations, fished in the sea, climbed the coconut trees every day. They know all about Samoan character, all the ins and outs of village life."

Patience, Tuilaepa said, is one of the most fundamental of Samoan and village characteristics.

"When there are heated opinions on a particular issue, the village council has a way of making the issue go around in circles until eventually tempers die down, and a clear consensual understanding is reached. That takes sheer patience and a lot of wisdom."

Tuilaepa said that he does not miss a Monday council meeting in villages where he is a ‘matai.’

The prime minister told of an incident where he was approached by ‘matai’ regarding the setting up of a new church in their village.

"They asked me on what takes precedence, the constitution which says that Samoa is founded on fa'aSamoa or individual rights which espouses the freedom of religion," he said.

"People are leaving the established churches they grew up in," they told me. What are we to do?"

"I told them that if they are ‘matai,’ then they should exercise that most basic of ‘matai’ characters of being patient, being very patient. Things have a way of falling into place quicker than you think.

"If you are brought before the village council for a misdemeanor, no matter what the ‘matai’ say about you or your family, you must be very patient. When the voices rise and the words become sharp and scathing, be patient and be happy as forgiveness is near.

"The night is at its most darkest just before dawn."

Villages where there is often tension, Tuilaepa said, are those where a particular dominant high chief has airs, is often arrogant and demands prestige from others.

"Such attitudes only create disharmony in that community. Fa'aSamoa is a culture where deeds beget respect," he said.

Tuilaepa said that if there is trouble in the village then "the pastors too must ask themselves if they're doing an effective job.

"The big question for them is that if they don't intervene when the incident happened then how can he face his congregation come Sunday?"

July 28, 2005

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