Modernising Manono changes funeral traditions

Modernity has not touched many corners of Manono island but one tradition, the violent funerals performed for Leiataua (high chiefs) on Manono Island and Manono-uta, has been forced to change. 

The traditional funeral is known as the "Fata" and was reserved only for when local high chiefs died. It involved village men carrying the chief's coffin on a shelf and swinging machetes and axes in front of anyone who stood in its way. 

According to one of the chiefs in the island, Seumaalii Magia, these machetes and axes are to take down whoever and whatever obstructs the conduct of mourning. 

In an interview with the Samoa Observer, Seumaalii, said the Fata was one of the island's most dangerous traditions and had led to several deaths and injuries in the past. 

But modern standards of law enforcement have forced the tradition to change, he said. 

"I believe nowadays how it's done has changed a lot because if someone is to get killed from this if we stick to the real ways of doing it, I guess we'll have to face the police," Seumaalii said.

"I have never seen a Malietoa (the highest rank of chief in Samoa) being carried on a shelf but only Leiataua and that's how we know that Leiataua was a king back from the beginning," he said. 

The last Fata was performed last year, he says. No-one was injured. Only the front yards of families and their gardens were hit by weapons during and a few animals that strayed in front of the funeral procession on Manono-uta. 

According to Seumaalii, it is important for Manono to maintain its traditions and pass them onto new generations. 

"We all love the money, cars [on Manono-uta] and all the new things we have right now but it's these traditions and part of our culture that inspire us to be Samoans when we grow older," he said.

According to an old woman in the island, Saraivai Samuelu Taloto, she recalls being a small girl feeling scared whenever a Leiataua passed on.

"I've seen the fears of the families for their children when a Leiataua dies and I was one of those children back then that were forced by our parents to stay inside the house until this activity is done," she said.

For her, it doesn't matter if the traditions change as long as they're still there.

"And by change, I mean changing what we think should change because Samoa is a christian nation now so we know what to do," she said.

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