First academic to publish thesis in Samoan humbled

The first Samoan to ever publish a doctoral thesis in the Samoan language on top of being the first to be awarded a doctorate in culture says he is humbled by his achievement. 

Ta'iao Dr. Matiu Tautunu was honored last Friday morning by the National University of Samoa (N.U.S.) where he is a lecturer at the university's Center for Samoan Studies.

His achievement was also acknowledged with the publication of his thesis highlighting the changes in customary lands from 1845 to 2020, specifically within the villages of Amaile and Samusu in Aleipata. 

His research also covers the issues and the changes in customary lands and the passage of the Land and Titles Registration Act in 2008. 

In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Samoan, Ta'iao said it was a dream come true, to finally complete his doctrine studies and have his thesis published. 

"No words can describe how I feel about this achievement," he said. "First and foremost, I give thanks to our heavenly father for his guidance, the wisdom, knowledge, and strength he had given me to complete this journey. 

"It has not been easy, there were a lot of challenges all throughout this journey, but I am grateful to Him that I have finally made it."

Speaking during a live broadcast on the N.U.S. Samoa Fa'asoa programme, immediately following his graduation last Friday, he highlighted some of the obstacles he had to overcome to get to where he is.

"One of the major challenges I encountered was finding documents and other materials about our lands within the chosen period of time to assist me with my research," he said.

"On top of that, there was this issue of having more than one version of a story, with conflicting views and different stories recorded. 

"There were also questions from people asking me to tell them which political party I support, and I made it very clear and I also want to put it out there that this publication is not a political research and there was no political influence, it is independent and very straight forward.

"The other challenge is that there were a few people I approached during my research who refused to share their knowledge and insights."

But now that he has completed his thesis, Dr. Tautunu paid tribute to those who have contributed to the success of his journey. 

"I could not have done this alone," the 42-year-old said. "I want to acknowledge the strong support of the two villages (Amaile and Samusu) for their ongoing support all throughout my studies. 

"I also want to thank my families and friends near and far for their words of encouragement, their prayers, and support for me."

Ta'iao also dedicated his achievement to his late father and his elderly mother at home, as well as his wife and children. 

When asked about how he felt about being the first Samoan to ever publish a thesis in Samoan, Dr. Tautunu said: "This achievement is not just for me, but also the university. 

"Technically, I was asked to do this by our university (N.U.S.) for our university. It's very humbling and I owe this to a lot of people. 

"As I said before, it was not an easy journey, but the idea that this publication and research will help other students and future generations of Samoa kept me going."

According to Ta'iao his research can become source material for the next generation of Samoan researchers.

"The important thing to me and something I am grateful for is the fact that this research can be used as a resource material that our children can use when they do researches for their studies especially in issues relating to our culture and customs.

"To be the first to publish a thesis in Samoan is humbling, and it's something that we push for at the Center for Samoan Studies at the University, to encourage our children to further their understanding of our culture and customs and also to encourage them to write their researches in our own language.

"A lot of our recorded history and documents about our culture and history are mostly written in English and because most of the previous researches on culture was published in English, there is also a foreign mentality and intentions within most of those publications. 

"This is why we are urging our students to study our culture and customs and carry out researches in Samoa and have them written in Samoan so that it will not take away the true essence of our culture and way of life.

"The other significance of this achievement is that it has inspired others to take on this course and have their own researches on our culture. There are other Samoan chiefs who have already shown interest in this programme."

As a Samoan Lecturer, Dr. Tautunu strongly believes that the content of his research and thesis will draw the attention of a lot of people, especially Samoans as it covers an important and "sensitive" issue in Samoa. 

"Customary lands and land ownership is a very sensitive issue at the moment and I know this is just the beginning of more researches done within other constituencies about the changes and effects of customary lands in their own respective districts and villages. 

"I believe, the changes that have happened within Aleipata in terms of land ownership are similar to the issues that have happened in other districts in the country."

Dr. Tautunu started work on his thesis in 2017 with the hope of completing it by 2019. However, there were a few issues that prolonged the process. 

So what's next for Dr. Tautunu? He said there is the opportunity to vie to become an Associate Professor at the university.

"Next year, there is a chance (for me) to apply to be an Associate Professor, but it depends on the number of publications or books you have published thus far. 

"At the moment, I have more than 20 publications, not including my thesis, as it is categorised as an unpublished Ph.D. thesis. 

"But there was a recommendation for the examiners to have this research published as a book. So that's the next step I am now looking at. 

"We are now looking for an organisation to fund the process of publishing and printing the research into a book as recommended by the examiners."

He also made special mention of his supervisors and examiners for their contribution to his achievement. 

"I want to acknowledge my Supervisors Professor Meleisea Malama Meleisea, Associate Prof Togialelei Sakua Akeli, Professor Penelope Schoeffel also to my examiners Professor Morgan Tuimalealiifano, Associate Professor Sailiemanu Lilomaiava, and Rev Dr. Latu Latai. 

"May the blessing of our Lord be upon you all."

Ta'iao Matiu Matavai Tautunu is from the villages of Samusu, Ti'avea, Amaile, Saleaumua, Faleasi'u and Safune and is married to Repeka Tu'uga-Tautunu and they have four children.

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