The village of Si‘ufaga, located on the northeastern side of Savai’i, is stunningly beautiful with its white sands and shallow turquoise waters.
It seems paradoxical that this ideally locale for human settlement should set the scene for a discussion on violence against women and girls but over 160 men, women and youth recently engaged in an intense dialogue on the issue.
Organised by Galumalemana Steven Percival of the Tiapapata Art Centre Inc., the event at Si‘ufaga was the first in a series of community conversations to be held in selected villages throughout Samoa and supported by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives.
“From the moment we arrived to the final farewell, the villagers exemplified Samoan hospitality at its finest,” stated Galumalemana, “but what was heartening was the realization that these villagers did not shy away from talking about what has commonly been regarded as a private concern.”
The team assembled to help facilitate the discussion which included a representative from the Ministry of Police and a team from National Health Services, among others. The message from Maotaoalii Kaioneta Iupeli, Police Public Affairs and Media Officer, was clear: “violence in all its forms is an offence.”
Maotaoalii opened his presentation by examining the family unit in the context of Samoa then went on to describe the many forms of violence that are offensive both under the law and to Samoan society.
He painted a graphic picture of both the victims (who are mainly female) and offenders (who are mainly male) in domestic violence cases handled by the Police. The most vulnerable age group, he stated, are 20 – 40 year olds, the age at which most people are either married or settled with defacto partners. The key to the success of this first exercise in community dialogue can be linked directly to the strengths of the Samoan culture.
The ritual ‘ava ceremony to welcome the visitors to the village is more than just a greeting. It reaffirms kinship links, provides lessons in history and culture, and pronounces to the entire village that these visitors are under the watchful protection and care of the council of chiefs, treat them with respect. It is an example of vā tapuia, a cultural construct governing relationships of mutual respect between people, in this case, between visitors and the host village.
“Vā tapuia is considered a key to addressing family dysfunction that is manifest by violence and the ill treatment of family members,” explained Galumalemana, “and is an example of where Samoa may rekindle old solutions to the problem of violence against women and girls.”
The aim of the village workshops are to gather the views of villagers on the causes of violence and what they, in their various village groupings such as the council of chiefs, the women’s committee and the church youth groups, may do to help prevent violence.