Even a democracy is not perfect

Dear Editor,

Re: Genesis, divine in humanity as indigenous people

Interesting column/opinion and responses. There’s one word that is conspicuously, hence surprisingly, missing from the discussion, much to the chagrin of any political, religious and human rights apologist. 

The word is “democracy”. Democracy is the umbrella under which issues like state, church and human rights/freedoms merge especially when discussed within the context of their collective inter-relationships.

The opinion by Mr. Ale seems to be underpinned by anti-imperialism sentiments of the past - and of the present, albeit more subdued and suppressed.

Societies, in general, go through phases and stages of development. They all start with some type of primitive stage (tribe, clan, village, etc) often living under natural laws. Status-based societies often emerge and social and political classes/ hierarchies are naturally formed, and sometimes along gender lines. Soon a social contract brings people together and form governments mainly for protection and preservation. This is the evolution pattern into which we can fit Samoa.

Democracy, in one of its ideal roles and functions, is to quash the hierarchical and status-based groups. 

And this is where we find the dilemma and conundrum that Samoa faces today. Samoa is still heavily stratified and status-based, and that makes her somewhat antagonistic toward democratic reforms. 

Sometimes we get indecisive and ambivalent and so we togi le moa ae u’u le ‘afa (let go of the chicken but still hold onto the string). We embrace new democratic ideals, but still yearn for our “divine indigenous values and rights”. 

We even become like the Israelites of old in believing that they were better off in Egypt than in the wilderness. Sometimes, as a country, we are meant to be in a “wilderness” - a metaphor for reform, renewal and recommitment. Some have even proposed a cultural democracy as a solution and compromise. Effectively, cultural democracy may very well be the phase where we presently are in Samoa.

But we also need to remember that things have not always been “divine” and dandy in bygone times, as posited. There wasn’t always a “va fealoa’i” and/or “paradisal” utopian living before the papalagi. We had our own culture of inter/intra violence. 

Headhunting, warfare among tribes and families (as noble savages) were common. Indeed, I firmly believe that some of the lofty and virtuous aspects of our “culture” that we’re touting were also heavily influenced by foreign forces, especially Christianity. 

In fact we Samoans often refer to pre-missionary years as “aso o le pogisa” (“dark days”- our own version of the “dark ages”). And so we need to have some contextual time references when referring and talking about culture, otherwise we fall into the trap of mistakenly painting the whole pre-papalagi times with a broad brush of bliss and blessedness. 

The column seems to have this nuance and overtone.

Democracy, as we all know, is not perfect, but it’s perfect for us today. 

Churchill puts it best when he said that Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those that have been tried. 

So let’s not bully the modern state and church and incriminate the papalagi in a close-minded fashion. I’m sure the institutions, in and of themselves, are good with honorable objectives and goals but maybe the people running them are the real “noble savages” (pun strongly intended). That’s where our real focus should be.

Lastly, the main difference between “indigenous human rights” and modern human rights is that the former are more about the rights of the group/community while the latter have more to do with rights of the individual. Ponder that for whatever it is worth in the context of the column, since there seems to be a conflation of the two in there. Faafetai.


LV Letalu 

Utah and Lalomanu

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