Samoa Police Commissioner Compares Matai System To ‘Military’

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Cultural experts call comments ‘stupid’ and ‘insulting’

By Pai Mulitalo Ale

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, Jan. 6, 2016) – Police Commissioner, Fuiavailili Egon Keil, has come under further scrutiny from experts in the Samoan culture over comments about the matai system being run like the military.

The Tu'ua o Vailoa Palauli, Mata’afa Autagavaia Elia, was blunt with his response.

"That’s stupid," he said, "it’s not right."

He condemned the Commissioner, accusing him of not knowing much about the matai system since "he just became a matai yesterday."

"Respectfully, he shouldn’t be talking about things he doesn’t know much about," Mata’afa said. "The comparison is insulting to all Samoans."

The Tu’ua said Fuiava should become involved with village life where the matai system is practiced so he could get an appreciation of the fa’asamoa.

He referred to a Samoan saying; "O le ala i le pule o le tautua." (The way to authority is through service)

"I don’t think the Police Commissioner has ever sat in a village council meeting," he said. "He needs to experience that before he can say these things."

The matai system, according to Mata’afa, is built on dialogue and mutual respect. It is the system that is helping the Police do their work in Samoa.

"Without this system, the Police will have a very hard time enforcing the law. Out there in the villages, the people wouldn’t care about the Police. They only do because they fear the authority of the village councils.

"In every village, there are rules, regulations and well as law and punishments," he said. "The matai system is based on goodwill and dialogue and that’s how these rules and regulations are enforced and monitored.

"We don’t have guns or weapons to rule the village. Our main weapon is our to’oto’o and fue because there is a saying "o le lauga a le Faleupolu o le pulufana e le alofia."

"It means a traditional speech of a matai is a bullet you cannot escape from."

Mata’afa added that the Samoan culture is unique.

"The military system can get people killed. They give orders and people follow them, but in the fa’amatai system we don’t. We don’t give demanding orders." It was not possible to get a comment from Fuiava yesterday. But the comment in question was made by Fuiava in response to the latest "ghost letter" making a number of allegations that question the administration of the Ministry of Police.

The letter penned by a group, which describes themselves as "Police officers who want to make use of the time and money we are paid with" is addressed to the Police Commissioner.

The letter makes a number of allegations against the administration of the Police service. Among them is the allegation that Commissioner Fuiava is running the Police Force "like a military base."

In response, Commissioner Fuiava said the Police Force is in fact, a "quasi-military organisation".

"That’s really interesting because if you look at the matai system, it’s run like a military," he said. "There is a head matai that makes decisions and once that decision is made, every one aligns with that." For the Papali’i Peone Fuimaono, Assistant Chief Executive Officer of the Culture Division at Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture, she said the comments are unfortunate.

"In whatever way the comments were made or intended, they conjure up parts of our painful history we would rather not remember," said Papali’i. The fa’amatai, she said, is the absolute essence of who we are as people.

"I will not counter the statement nor guess the justifications therein, but rather support the understanding that Samoa’s Police operate under the mantra of "A Safer Samoa."

She said the dream of a safer Samoa was born long before our time and it was always dependent more so on our culture of fa’amatai than legislation or the Police system.

"It is the same traditional governing system that overthrew the strength and force of military oppression of Samoa in years past," she said.

"Not with forces and gunpowder, but with "tofa and moe" in peaceful resistance and in purpose and pride in culture and country."

Papali’i said Samoa understands military rule well. "So many of our people suffered and died fighting it. It is why our forefathers upon our Independence, left our Parliament – the Supreme law making body of our nation - in the hands of matais. She said more than half a century later, Samoa is the safest and the most peaceful place in the Pacific and possibly the world today, because of it.

"In retrospect, a safer Samoa is a call of duty to serve and protect our people and in so doing, protect our culture and way of life because there is none like it anywhere in the world," Papali’i reminded.

"History tells us it is not a military system, the future will tell us the same, the appreciation and respect for our men and women in the police force come with this trust and understanding."

The comments from Mata’afa and Papali’i follow the call by the Minister of Women, Community and Social Development, Tolofuaivalelei Falemoe Lei’ataua for the Commissioner to apologise.

 

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