The recent transition of the Samoan polity in Samoa has seen the changes in the nature of the village polity from one in which the traditional village Chieftain structure has ensured a symbiotic duality between church and village politics. The church has a very importantly integrative role at village level which has allowed the entire village community to converge all power resources, manpower and inter-village matters, including rites of passage and traditional celebrancy functions at village level. This traditional functions by the clergy at village level has become an embedded cultural tradition for the Samoan. The Samoan will leave his village in search of employment, a spouse, educational and career opportunities outside of the village. This may include migrating abroad to the Pacific rim nations namely North America, New Zealand and Australia.
At the polity level of village hierarchical stratification, the Samoan, has as the head of the family, the chief, or Matai o le aiga. This does not simply mean the father being the head of the family as being, inadvertantly, a Chief, or a Matai. Instead, the extended family will nominate, as their chiefs, not only fathers, or mothers, in an immediate family, but, also and often as a rule of thumb, a present Matai, especially the village Matai Ali’i, High Chief, would make a nomination to a Fono O Matai, or, a conference of chiefs, or at a village gathering, of a Matai nominee, in order to officially make nominations for future chiefs, therefore, this nomination process is called "O le tapa o le ipu", or the selection of Chieftain nominees. The date is announced for an official conference ceremony for new chiefs which is called a "Saofa’i". This is a ceremony which includes the exchange of fine mats, official speeches by tulafale who will announce the credentials of kindreds nominated and will subsequently be bequethed a chiefly title. The title is therefore bestowed followed with a kava consumption from a cup of kava in officially sealing the conference of a newly bestowed title of a matai title.
In Samoa, the Chief of a particular family is bestowed all the honour and privileges associated with such a title which invariably includes land ownership which is part of the customary tradition of village Matai entitlements. Samoans at the village level have customary land ownership which differs from the Palagi population or the Euronesians, who often are not entitled to customary land ownership, but must purchase freehold land in the Apia environs. Palagi and Euronesians are forbidden to own any customary land if they are not bestowed a chiefly title at village level. Euronesians would marry into the local indigenous population in order to lay claim to village land entitlements.
The changes of the Matai system in a modern Samoan polity has excluded the inadvertant rights to cusomary land entitlements for second generation Samoans living in Australia or New Zealand or North America, instead, the titles are merely token gerstures of honours and awards similar to an Order of Australia, or AO, or an order of New Zealand honour list. Such as the Queens Honour list for the Queens birthday honours in Australia and New Zealand. The matai title in a modern context is likened to a knighthood. If one is bestowed a chiefly title this is similar to being knighted from Anglo-celtic perspective. This does not entitle the honoured person with customary land, instead, at the entitled matai’s specific village this Matai is honoured with villagewide recognition for services renderred. Sporting legends, politicians, educational or pedagogue services, and as businessmen, whom are often the recipients of these Matai titles.
The untitled persons are known collectively simply as le Aumaga (Untitled men), or a Taule’ale’a, (a single man), and, the Aualuma (Untitled women). In the Samoan culture unlike the Tongan culture, there is a saying, "o le ala o le pule o le tautua", or the path to leadership is through services renderred. conversely, this means that the rewards for your services is an honoured Matai title. which is a knighthood, likended to an Order of Australia honours list. A person is honoured not necessarily by the community per se, but ratehr by the extended family, who have viewed the services of a particularly member of their family as extraordinary and beyond the achievements of their family peers.
The status of the Matai in Australia and in New Zealand Samoan communities is one of absolute nominal effect. The Samoans themselves often only recite chiefly titles of respective villages in celebrancy events such as funerals, weddings, and birthday celebrations, but, more often than not the status of the Matai is denuded and ignored by the overwhelming influence of the local clergy. The Faife’au or the Samoan Priest, Reverend, Father, Vicar, Pastor and Minister, of respective churches have become the real power brokers for the Samoan community outside of the Samoan village. The Samoans of Clergical families have considered themselves as being above the Matai, in Australia, New Zealand and North America. The disempowerment of the Samoan secularist chieftain system has become the bane of the Samoan tradition which has degraded the Matai system to nominal token gestures of a thank you for serving the community.
The boy from the village has realised that as a Matai from Samoa, as a purportedly member of the landed gentry in Samoa, is merely a landless labour resource, factory cannon fodder in North America, New Zealand and Australia. The opportunist peasant or taule’ale’a would best aggrandise the Samoan social ladder by going to bible college or the seminary in order to become the real power broker in Samoan communities outside of Samoa.
What of the traditional Matai system outside of the village? It is valued only as much as the size of the bank balance for a Samoan. If you are rich in business acumen outside of Samoa then you are valued much more than any nominal chiefly title no matter how traditionally prestigious the title may have been. At social political capital for the Samoan individual? It is an opportunist Samoan who becomes a clergyman, the newly appointed Lord in the Manor, who gathers all the power resources from their vassals, or serfs, who are the congregational members of their respective churches.
Thank you for your time.
O Tim Tufuga