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By B. Chen-Fruean

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (Samoa News, March 23) - Dismissing recent televised reports as having "jumped the gun," American Samoa Gov. Togiola Tulafono says that an 'ava ceremony held this past Saturday at the Leiato guest house in Faga'itua was merely a traditional gesture to signal the peaceful conclusion to an extensive family affair and not an official rite honoring him as Paramount Chief Leiato.

Togiola said there are still formal protocols to complete, such as registering the title with the Territorial Registrar's Office, before he plans his saofa'i (investiture), as preparations will involve further talks with family members as well as the village council.

Togiola spoke to Samoa News on Tuesday afternoon explaining that branches of the Leiato clan met again last Saturday to discuss a successor to the Leiato title. The discussions have been on-going for nine years.

Leiato is one of seven Paramount chief titles, held locally. Tuitele, Fuimaono, Satele, Letuli, Faumuina and Mauga are the other six.

According to Togiola, he received the blessing of the Leiato clan during Saturday's gathering; more than a half dozen candidates also expressed interest in holding the title.

Togiola's claim to the Leiato title is through his paternal lineage and according to him, the first ever Leiato title was held by a Togiola, hence the salutation "le matua," when referring to the Togiola title.

The Governor said he accepts his family's decision and he is honored to know that the majority of them have expressed their belief in him through their decision.

He is also proud that the matter, although debated for almost a decade, has finally been resolved without involving the courts.

"To me, keeping matters within the families and keeping them out of court is the ultimate tribute to any family," said Togiola. "It is always better for families to decide whom they want to lead them instead of giving the High Court that responsibility."

Former Territorial Registrar Salote "Star" Schuster explained yesterday that once a chieftain title is registered with the TR office, persons wishing to contest the registration have 60 days to do so.

If during the 60 days, there are any objections, the matter is referred to the Office of Samoan Affairs where talks will proceed between the parties involved. If an agreement is not reached, the matter then goes back to the Territorial Registrar who will file the matter and prepare it for the High Court to decide.

If no objections are filed within 60 days, Togiola will officially become the next Paramount Chief Leiato, succeeding the late Paramount Leiato Tupua Eteuati who passed away nine years ago.

March 24, 2006

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