Dropping 'malo usu' is not disrespectful: academic

A Samoan culture expert and academic says the elimination of the malo usu custom from the country’s cultural practices will not be considered disrespectful.

National University of Samoa’s Centre of Samoan Studies Senior Lecturer, Ta’iao Matiu Tautunu, told the Samoa Observer in a telephone interview the most important issue for people to consider when debating the matter is the financial stability of families.

And he said he will not disagree with individuals who want the cultural practice to be retained despite the pressure that it is putting Samoan families under.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi last week called for local customs and traditions that placed families in financial strife to be abandoned, if one is to overcome the economic downturn currently being experienced due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Tuilaepa made reference to the malo usu [Samoan custom during a fa'alavelave] as one of those traditional practices that should be abandoned.

Ta’iao supported the Prime Minister’s view and added that there is nothing disrespectful if one is to abandon a cultural practice in order to adjust to current circumstances.

“If this is the Prime Minister’s point of view, then I agree with him on the other hand,” he said in an interview.

“Some people will think it’s disrespectful to our Samoan culture to remove these traditional practices but no. The value of our culture will remain respected if we know how to adjust and understand these changes when it’s necessary.

“If we look at the world’s economy at the moment, everything relies heavily on the remittances. When we have bestowments, funerals and those occasions, 90 per cent of the money that we use for these come from our families overseas.

“In supporting [the removal of malo usu], we’re trying to ease the burden during these unprecedented times in the world.”

There are villages that have abandoned the practice, according to Ta’iao, who pointed to Samusu and other villages in the Aleipata district.

The academic also believes that it is an opportune time to discard the traditional custom, given that a lot of villages have begun to “misuse” it to increase personal benefits.

He added that some have also used malo usu to disregard boundaries between families, villages and districts.

“Malo usu back in the days was simple as there were only a few chiefs from villages and districts who participated,” he said.

“These days, the chief titles have been opened further for bestowments which means more expense on malo usu.”

Malo usu, explained the academic, is the practice whereby a village or district participates in a ava ceremony of a bestowment held in another village or district to show their support. Usually, they are presented with gifts given to the newly bestowed title holder or holders, including money for each orator chief who was part of the ceremony.

That means if the malo usu comprises over 100 chiefs, the family will need to give each of them monetary gifts. Originally, the practice was only undertaken in bestowments. 

But the practice today is also done in funerals and other events. Other than malo usu, other traditional Samoan customs have also lost their values and sacredness, according to Ta’iao.

Using Aleipata district as an example, the academic said some of the practices within the district including elections have lost respect for two of the most respected villages in Aleipata, Tafua and Fuataga.

“What I’m trying to say is people have begun to lose respect for the high positions of districts,” he added.

Some of the changes that have occurred in Aleipata district are 11 villages within the vicinity of Aleipata holding their own councils today in their own malaefono [village’s special portion of land for occasions], when previously they held one in malaefono.

Though villages across Samoa share the same norms, values, traditions and customs, Ta'iao said Samoa will need to adjust to the necessary changes in order to make ends meet amidst the global pandemic.

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