In response to letter titled “Democracy, church and state”

Dear Editor,

Thank you Le Mafa P for your letter. I would like to respond as follows:

Le Mafa: We have to remember that Democracy was an introduced system which was forced upon the people by imperialist invaders who were basically looking for riches to blunder [sic] from unsuspecting peace loving indigenous people around the world. Just like sexually transmitted diseases and influenza, our forefathers suffered terribly from deceptions and were never prepared for the subtle destruction of our way of life by the conniving imperialist invaders.

LV: First, let’s start with a familiar academic suggestion: Perspective. Perspective. Perspective. You seem to dwell unbendingly on the plunders and pillages of the papalagi (foreigners/”white man”). Your diction is one of accusation and vilification and therefore you’re slow to show a little open-mindedness and tolerance. You sound quite vengeful and resentful - if not patronizing. Of course the so-called invaders with their three G’s (Glory, Gospel and Gold) banner committed some atrocities and other sins, and I understand your apparent never-ending grudges and grievances; but are they enough to justify the life-long animosity that you’re harboring? C’mon. I’m sure there has to be some good that has come about as a result of these past “building blocks”, as disturbing as they may have been.

Le Mafa: Yes, we have our own ways of doing things - the Fa’asamoa. Whether it was head hunting or wars or chasing red men out of Samoa, every event in history was basically a building block or “stages of development” or “evolution pattern” you allude to that defines our culture and society and our identity as Samoans.

LV: True. Sometimes even bad experiences and events can contribute favorably to defining one’s culture and society as you said. However, in the case of your far-flung positions, you need to be careful about using those events exclusively to spite the papalagi since you are bordering on, if not actively, advocating insularism, isolationism and ethnocentrism in the process. All of them, in this day and age are feckless, vacuous and shortsighted. Now, since we both agree on the “evolutionary” patterns of society, what, therefore, according to your seemingly informed historical prognostication, would have been an alternative and/or better path for Samoa’s evolution and development, sans the papalagi experience? Or you would not want anything to do with the “conniving imperialist invaders”?

Le Mafa: I think it’s very unfair to postulate that “va fealoa’i” can be equated to utopia because that is far from the Truth. Va fealoa’i is simply “Respect” and in a hierarchal indigenous culture like our culture, maintaining social order, social status and honour can only be achieved with “va fealoa’i” Our forefathers were never warmongers or blood thirsty savages as you painted but they only resort to war as a last resort to decide pressing issues (paramount chief) - they were noble warriors – not “noble savages”. European explorers/invaders of the last century use the term “savages” to describe conquered indigenous people all over the world.

LV: Unless you’re trying to assign a radical or rudimentary meaning to “utopia” other than its basic one of “a place of ideal perfection especially in laws, government, and social conditions.” according to Merriam-Webster, you simply cannot dissociate respect (va fealoa’i) from utopia. Moreover, “va fealoa’i” is a Samoan word, but the concept is universal and Christian, entrenched in the “do unto others ...” canon. As I said, the flaw that you’re perpetrating is painting Samoa of the pre-contact years with a broad brush of bliss and blessedness. Inasmuch as I’d like to join with you in putting our pre-contact ancestors on your pedestal of “civilized”peace loving and noble warriors, I cannot - and will not. They still lacked many of the things that would have qualified them as equals of their European counterparts in terms of civilized culture. You’d have to swallow your pride and accept that. For example, one of the most important signs and characteristics of a civilized and advanced culture and society is a written language. Our ancestors did not have one; it was introduced. And that’s just one example.

Le Mafa: It was a psychological fix to boost their egos but our ancestors were brilliant navigators and they navigate the sea by reading the stars, not the map so how can our ancestors be savages then?

Another thing worth noting is that in our culture, we never refer to the old days as the “dark days” or “dark ages” This is a flawed and perplexing stratagem by the Church to insinuate their superiority over indigenous cultures. If we are living in the ‘light ages’ why is the world still suffering savagery like the people of the so called “dark ages”?

LV: Here’s a question, albeit slightly hypothetical: If the two cultures, Samoan and European, were left to separately and independently develop, by today, where do you think the Samoan culture/society would be in terms of advancement? We know where the European culture is, but what about the Samoan culture/society, again, without the fusion? Will we have already worn similar modern clothes of our own making or still wearing siapo and/or leaves? Would we have already been communicating using similar technologies (phones, emails, texting, etc.) or are we still using drums to send messages? Actually, on a second thought, the question is not hypothetical - slightly or substantially. Because we have a modern day example of societies that have been left on their own for thousands of years without outside influence. I’m talking about the tribes in the jungles of the Amazon that even predate Samoan society by thousands of years. You seem an informed enough person to know about these tribes. So perhaps the more poignant and stimulating question is:  Today, would you rather live like the Amazon tribes or in modern day Samoa? I hope you see my point because based on your obvious extreme anti-imperialistic positions, you would definitely opt for the former, I’m sure.

If you’re a genuine Samoan, especially a Samoan Christian, then you would know and understand the meaning and godless connotation of the words “faapaupau” and “pogisa”. 

Hence, Jesus Christ is the difference. Jesus Christ is the truth and the light.

Le Mafa: Fa’asamoa is a perfect system in its own environment, it was a system designed by the Samoans for Samoans and so was democracy to the Greeks. The issue with Democracy in Samoa is that, the population needs to be highly educated for them to understand the many complex facets of the system. With Fa’asamoa not completely decimated by the introduced system, the few intellectuals in government are wittingly traversing the blurred boundaries of Fa’asamoa and Democracy/Church to get away with ‘dishonesty violations’ committed under Democracy laws (OPC Report 2010).

LV:I agree that the faa-Samoa is perfect in its own environment, but that environment keeps changing. Samoa of the 21st century is not conducive to the application of the faa-Samoa of the 1800’s. In fact the faa-Samoa of the 1800’s is not the same as the faa-Samoa of the last fifty years. In other words, faa-Samoa can be relative and should be defined within a specific time backdrop for it to be intelligible. As for democracy, it - in its simplest, direct and pure form - does not necessarily need a highly educated population as you said. Samoa is perhaps the ideal place for “pure” democracy. According to Cleisthenes and the Greeks democracy works better and easier in a small monistic and homogeneous society, like Samoa.

Le Mafa: If there’s an interrelationship between state and church under the watchful eyes of Democracy, then what exactly is the role of Church in Democracy and when exactly should they come into the big picture?

LV: Good question. You have to understand the history of the church and politics; hence church and state - specifically the politicization of religion, historically and in modern times. Ironically and interestingly (and I’m glad you asked), Samoa is going to be a stimulating case study which may provide an answer for your question. As you may have read recently (here) that the government will now pass a law establishing a state religion (Christianity), and so you will certainly be edified and kept apprised. And maybe surprised.

Finally, as I said in another response of mine, the issues are broad and need to be examined, analyzed and weighed within their totality. An open-minded, educated and balanced perspective, perspective, perspective, I’m convinced, is always the better approach.

Sincerely and Open-mindedly Yours!


LV Letalu 

Lalomanu and Utah 

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