P.M’s warning shot about matai titles

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi fired what appears to be a warning shot last week that could have far reaching implications in the future. 

Whether it’s a threat or Stui just being the daring leader he is, we know this issue will affect every single family in this country. In some cases, it already is. Which is why we cannot turn a blind eye to it.

Made through the media during his weekly programme, Tuilaepa’s missive was apparently aimed at families bestowing multiple matai titles at one time – especially sa’o titles.

What triggered Tuilaepa’s reaction we can’t quite work out but what he said was as clear as daylight. 

Looking at the mass bestowal of matai titles all over the country, he said the practice is devaluing the titles, hinting at government legislating the practice with the idea of curtailing it.

 “It’s worrying, especially when you consider the importance of the matai title,” Tuilaepa said. “Now, I’m still thinking of a way to solve this problem (growing number of matai bestowals).”

Now since when did this become a problem? And why is it so? 

If the families who own the titles agree and have legitimate reasons for their decision, who are we to say that it is a problem? 

And why is the Prime Minister suddenly concerned about this now? Could his concern be linked to certain movements from the government to promote the use of customary land for commercial purposes?

We don’t deny that on one hand Prime Minister Tuilaepa could well have a legitimate point. 

“When there are a lot of paramount chiefs (matai sa’o) in a family, it’s like a boil that’s been infected,” he said. “One would suggest (ways to develop the family) and someone else would start waving up their rights as paramount chief.”

Well he’s got a point there. The problem is, the government – including many government leaders – have not done anything about this for years. If the issue is about integrity of titles, why worry about Samoans getting titles when we see that every Tom, Dick and Harry who is not Samoan is given a title by the government through one village or another? 

Besides, aren’t the “boils” Tuilaepa is concerned bout internal matters that should be left up to individual families to sort out? 

Why is the government looking to meddle with issues that they should keep their noses well away from? Don’t the government already have enough problems on their hands to deal with? 

Anyway, back to Tuilaepa’s point, he said one of the reasons why he is concerned relates to the setting of the Village Councils. Only one title holder can take an allocated pole at the fale fono so when you have 20 of the same titleholders, that becomes quite awkward.

 “One usual practice is only one paramount chief from that title will sit in the Council while the rest sit at the back,” he said. “But if that is a problem then, they can always have a boxing ring outside and whoever the winner is can sit in the Council meeting.”

Wouldn’t that be interesting?

But it’s unnecessary of course. There is no need because in this country, people use common sense. All our problems are resolved through ava fatafata, dialogue and mutual respect. 

Still, despite how alarmed we are that the Prime Minister has raised the issue, we think he’s started a conversation that should be encouraged.

From our standpoint, we believe matters that pertain to individual families should be left to families to sort out. When it comes to titles, they belong to families and they should have the final say.  

Having said that, Tuilaepa is not wrong to ask the question about the integrity of such a practice because we are seeing it more and more. 

What do you think? Write and share your thoughts with us!

Have a great Tuesday Samoa, God bless!

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