A nine year journey home

Unasa Farani Vili O’Brien and his family have now returned to Faleula village after the Village Fono banished them nine years ago.

“Even though we lost everything… including parts of our cars, house, windows and almost everything in this time after we left, we’ll leave it all to the ‘man above’.

“We’re now just trying to get things back together and develop our family as it was before.”

Unasa said that the matter was initially caused by conflict between the Ali’i and Faipule of Faleula and hisfamily.

“It was taken to court in 2008 when the village council decided that our family should be banished because of my unacceptable behavior.

The Lands and Titles Court at that time upheld the Village Fono decision. “They accused me of beating up others in the village and taking the village net but the net didn’t belong to Faleula; it belonged to Tuana’i,” Unasa said.

“My wife was also singled out for causing trouble in the Women’s Committee and our children were accused of stealing from the pastor’s wife. “It’s been years that we’ve been fighting to return and all that we’re looking for now is peace.

His wife, Anastasia O’Brien said that at the time, they were very disappointed with the judge’s decision but they had accepted it.

“Especially since the land that we live on is freehold land, not customary land and it has nothing to do with the village or village council,” Mrs Unasa pointed out.

“During that time (banishment) we paid lot of money to rent a house to live in with our children and it cost us a lot.”

In 2013, the family appealed to the Lands and Titles Court, but again they were unsuccessful.

However this month, the family received some good news.

Not only were they able to return to their land, but they received clarification of the limitation of jurisdiction of the village Fono.  

Unasa’s family thanked the judge’s decision for bringing the matter to light.

In part, the court decision reads: “The jurisdiction of any village Fono shall not extend to include: Any person who not being a matai of its village ordinarily resides in its village on government, freehold or leasehold land and is not liable in accordance with the custom and usage of that village to render tautua to a matai of that village.”

The court confirmed that the land where Unasa and his family live, is freehold land.

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