Fa’amatai essential for overseas Samoans: Aupito

The passing on of matai titles, even to Samoans who live overseas, is an essential means of linking them to their homeland and protecting the Samoan culture.

That's the opinion of New Zealand’s Minister of Pacific Peoples, Aupito Su'a Sio.

Aupito, whose family is from Matatufu and Satapuala, has been in Samoa over the festive season to help bestow the Tiumalu title from Faletasi and Satapuala to four members of the family from Australia, America and Samoa.

Aupito lives in Auckland and was first elected to Parliament in 2008. 

He said that, for many Samoan people abroad, a title may be their “only tangible link” to their ancestry, family and land.

“I don’t know what the future holds for all of these young people but I am determined to make sure they don’t lose their connection with their roots in Samoa," he said. 

“Most of them live overseas and there is some question [about] why we should give them titles, but the reality is that receiving those titles is perhaps the only tangible link that they and their future generations will have to families here in Samoa.”

As the eldest of his generation on his mother’s side of the family, Aupito said he had taken on the responsibility of teaching the family culture to siblings and cousins scattered around their world.

His mother and her nine siblings have all passed away, while his father is the last remaining elder of his generation, leaving Aupito with a need to educate dozens of his descendants about the ways of their people.

“I feel, as the eldest, I have a responsibility to make sure that all my cousins, brothers and sisters, who [were] born overseas don’t ever forget their roots, don’t ever forget where they came from,” he said. Bestowing them with matai titles is just one way of doing that.

Last week, four members of the family were bestowed with the Tiumalu title. Aupito said it took some convincing for the local members of the Satapuala family to give those titles to the overseas family members, but they eventually agreed.

Music director and manager Noma Sio-Faiumu from Auckland, Suni Tolton from Seattle, Elizabeth Anita Perese from Melbourne and Nita Siaosi Tiumalu from Samoa each accepted their Tiumalu title on December 30, in the first bestowal of the title in 48 years.

Aupito said he hopes his family members will see the bestowing of titles as the beginning of a journey of discovering their ancestors and the values that guided them and their service as family matai.

“I think, over time, culture is changing and will continue to change,” the Minister said.

“But I believe, personally, that irrespective of the change that impacts on all of us in this globalised world, fundamental values should remain the same: the value of family, the family of service to family, of alofa, of maintaining respectful and harmonious relationships, of being truthful and honest.

“Some people feel that the matai is authority and others should serve you, but if you go back to the fundamental values, the elders would say the authority of the matai comes from God. Then the question has to be asked, what is Godly behaviour?

“I think it’s important we be really clear about the fundamental values of the fa’aSamoa and the fa’aMatai and have those discussions in the open, then be able to pass that information on to the next generation, particularly the generation who are born and living overseas.”

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