Fagasa Sataua High Chiefs speak out on amendments

High Chiefs from Fagasa Sataua Savai’i have expressed concerns over a proposed Land and Titles Court (L.T.C.) overhaul before Parliament, particularly a provision limiting the number of paramount chiefs a family can have. 

Faavae Siami Crichton, who was among three High Chiefs who spoke on the issue, argues that the proposed amendment, on its second reading before Parliament, will only "bring chaos in families, not peace." 

The three bills in question are the Constitution Amendment Bill 2020, Land and Titles Bill 2020, and the Judicature Bill 2020.

The bills will give rise to an independent, self-sustaining new branch of the judiciary with the ability for complainants to appeal decisions to the Supreme Court removed.

Under the L.T.C. changes, which are currently before Parliament and which the Government says is designed to uphold the integrity of the titles system, only five matai sa’o (High Chiefs) for each family may be registered at any one time.

The three High Chiefs, Lafailapaitagata Falekomiti; Samu Sekone Koneferenisi; and Faavae told the Samoa Observer they were disappointed to only first hear about these amendments on the news:

“We did not know anything until we watched it on television and radio. These are not minor changes, they are huge reforms and the public should have been informed about it properly. 

“Sadly that is not the case; we took the trip to come to Upolu so we can uplift the three bills so they can go through it properly and advise people in our village,” said Lafai. 

He said the Government should not interfere with families when it comes to appointing the Sa’o (paramount chief) of their families:

“The Government does not have the right to invade into appointing of the Sa’o for any family.

He said they, as Chiefs, were tasked by the village to find out the “gist” and the ramifications of the proposed amendments. 

During the interview, Fa’avae said the specific part which they disagree with is the proposed changes to the L.T.C., including limits on the number of Paramount Chiefs a family can have.

He said this is a direct attack on the Samoan family’s right to manage itself. 

“This will only cause disputes within families. It will not be a peaceful process and I am telling you, Samoans will go to lengths to protect what they believe is rightfully theirs and if there are more than 10 families vying for the paramount title, they will fight over it,” he said. 

According to Fa’avae, his interpretation of this specific amendment is that it appears the Government is meddling with family affairs. 

“And that is wrong on all levels. Also the eligibility criteria to be a Chief indicated under the proposed changes is that the Village Mayor has to endorse [the title]  before any family can proceed with their title bestowment.

"With all due respects to them and their role in the village, but why do we need them to endorse our family affairs?

The High Chiefs also took issue with why they were not informed about these “huge reforms”. 

Last month, the former Vice Chancellor of the National University of Samoa, Professor Fui Asofou So’o, said the practicalities entailed in a proposed change to the bestowal of titles could cause major conflict for families. 

The Professor said conflicts would be especially heated among families that have, after three generations, have had multiple holders of a single title. 

A Professor in Samoan Studies, Fui said the idea to uphold and retain the dignity of the matai system by having one title holder may be a preferred option but in reality the situation is different. 

“There is an implication in [the Bill’s] statement that the dignity of the matai system could only be upheld if we limit the number of titleholders,” he said. 

After many discussions on the issue with different generations, Fui said there was no definite agreement on the number of titleholders needed to retain the dignity of the fa’amatai system. 

He explained that people are very aware that there are some villages and families that have had multiple titleholders for up to three generations. 

Some matai titles, he said, have up to 300 of the same holders.  

“On the one hand you have a figure and on the other how do you get people to agree on it. There are different dynamics in every family," he said. 

“In some families [multiple title holders] keeps the peace within families because if one side is not given the title a petition will be filed in Court. 

“I think it's going to cause more problems than peace in some cases…”

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