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Matai report given to PM "The whole purpose is to recommend to Government ways we can restore the dignity of the matai system," Tuilaepa Lanuola Tusani Tupufia The report of the Commission of Inquiry into the matai system has achieved a first in Samoa. Handed to Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi this week, it is the first Commission report written in English and Samoan. This was confirmed by Professor Fui Leapai Asofou So’o who said details of the report would be released publicly after it’s tabled and approved by Cabinet. Professor Fui said it’s inappropriate for him to discuss the report before it is tabled and reviewed by Cabinet. General concerns from the public on the number of matai titles being bestowed – as many as 200 – spurred calls for the Government to set up a Commission. Professor So’o said the Commission was responsible for examining the issue of surplus matai. It also looked into the question of whether matai titles still hold dignity and value. “The question was; is it appropriate to have more than 200 matai bestowed? What are some of the ways that we can regulate and uphold the dignity of fa’amatai without degrading it?” The Commission toured villages in Savai’i and Upolu. For three months, they consulted with village councils and matai on a solution to the issue. The Commission, chaired by Professor So’o, had nine members. It started in 2010. Professor So’o who is also the Vice Chancellor of the National University of Samoa said the response from people
varied. Last year, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi said the mass bestowal of matai titles by some families has belittled the dignity of the titles. "This practice has devalued the importance of the matai system, and has eaten into the core of the Fa'a-Samoa," he said. A Commission of Inquiry was necessary. "The whole purpose is to recommend to Government ways we can restore the dignity of the matai system," said Tuilaepa. The Matai system is the heart of Samoan culture where family titles are headed by a family chief - the sa'o and together with other family title holders, form a local government in a village level that its linked by oral history. These matai titles are again liked on the national level to form a traditional hierarchy and an informal administrative structure. Since political independence in 1962, this structure has been forced to sit uncomfortably on the modern democratic system and has caused a lot of friction especially in the area of human and individual rights versus the communal rights. The mass bestowal of matai titles began in the mid 1960's where some were named after trees. The root of the problem then was the voting system when only the matais were allowed to vote in the general elections. However, the mass bestowal of titles died out when universal suffrage was introduced in the early 1990's. But a new development now sees the mass bestowal of head titles - suafa sa'o - for families. Tuilaepa told TV viewers that this is due to personal greed. In villages such as Leauva'a, more than one hundred now hold the Sala title with similar numbers holding the comparative chiefly title Tuala.
Professor Fui Leapai Asofou So'o. In Iva village on Savai'i Island, the title held by the late Prime Minister, Tofilau (Eti Alesana) was split up to 120 holders in a
“The question was; is it appropriate to have more than 200 matai bestowed? What are some of the ways that we can regulate and uphold the dignity of fa’amatai without degrading it?”
single bestowal ceremony with others who did not come personally from overseas, being represented by their cousins and relatives at the ceremony. While all these title holders may have a valid claim and linkage to the title, the past practise of taking turns (average of a generation) between righful heirs to a title, has proven too long a wait for some with the material wealth and who see this as a way to expediting major developments utilizing land and property held by each title. Tuilaepa said that the option for government is to legislate against the current practices as it seems other families have been influenced by the practice set by others. *Additional information in this article was obtained from previous stories run on the issue.
04 FEBRUARY 2012 WEEKEND OBSERVER