Swearing-in legitimate: Sasina chief

A high chief has defended a swearing-in ceremony of newly elected Members, which was done within the Parliament precinct last month by the F.A.S.T. party-led Government, arguing its critics misinterpreted its cultural significance.

Seve Avaula, who is a high chief from Sasina in Savai'i , told the Samoa Observer that while he understands the legality of the swearing-in is currently before the courts, he hopes his cultural knowledge and beliefs as a matai can add to better public understanding of the matter.

The F.A.S.T. held the swearing-in ceremony on 24 May in a tent outside the Parliament after the Speaker of the former Parliament, Leaupepe Toleafoa Faafisi, called off the sitting and ordered Parliament's complex to be locked despite Supreme Court orders that Parliament sit that day.

The Head of State was absent from the ceremony, which the new party argues was conducted out of legal necessity in order to meet a constitutional provision requiring Parliament sit within 45 days of an election being held. 

But the fact that the ceremony was not conducted in the Parliament chamber has led to mockery from the party's detractors and opponents.

On Wednesday, the caretaker Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi, described the event as a "concert" which was "hosted by a mother and her husband [standing in for] the Head of State."

However, Seve said ongoing insults and mockery by H.R.P.P. members irked him to the point that he wanted to speak publicly on the issue.

He argued that the fact the ceremony was done under a marquee on the lawns of Parliament should not be seen to have had any bearing on its legitimacy.

"The first point I want to clear up is [the entire Parliament area, not just the Legislative Assembly building in] Tiafau in Mulinu'u, is [itself] a 'malae' [an official ceremonial area]," he said.

"We call it Malae o Tiafau, o le malae o le fa'autugatagi a Samoa [which can be translated literally as a place of refuge and a sacred meeting ground and is perceived by Samoans as a place where solutions to problems are sought.].

"Malae o Tiafau is the location of both the Land and Titles Court and Parliament. 

"So Tiafau is a malae, not a Maota [house]. So whatever ceremony conducted on the [grounds of the] malae should be recognised. 

"It should be always official. When we hoisted the Samoan flag nearly 60 years ago [for independence], it was done outside on that same malae. 

"So I don't see why the H.R.P.P. members are making fun of the swearing-in ceremony when it was done at Malae o Tiafau.

"Secondly, the word Maota [house] in the Samoan context belongs to a particular man or family. That means, the owner or a particular maota, holds the power and authority on how things are done within the maota. 

"But a malae in the Samoan context, is something that is collectively owned by people of the land. 

"And in this case, Malae o Tiafau in Mulinu'u, is a malae, which belongs to the people of Samoa. It is after all the "malae o le fa'autugatagi a Samoa."

"It is a sacred meeting ground for all Samoans. So one man can lock that maota but he will never be able to deny Samoans from entering and stepping on the malae."

Seve said he was unfazed by the Parliament House at Mulinu'u being locked for the F.A.S.T. swearing-in ceremony last month, saying in his view it had no bearing on the ceremony's validity despite Members of the H.R.P.P. boycotting the ceremony.

"It didn't bother me and few others who gathered at Tiafau on that Monday," Seve said. 

"The reason why I say this is because we knew that what we were doing was legitimate. The Chief Justice and Samoa's judiciary showed up that morning, because they knew Parliament was [scheduled] to convene on that day. 

"Although it was not a pleasant sight for others, especially for those watching from overseas, we were comforted by the fact that we had the swearing-in ceremony at Tiafau. 

"We also refer to that malae as the malae o malo [land of victory]. So to me, it didn't matter that it was done under a tent, as long as it was done at Tiafau."

Seve says H.R.P.P. members mocking the ceremony are talking about matters which they do not fully understand.

"In Samoa, we live by the saying, o le ala ile pule o le tautua, which means, the pathway to leadership is through service," he said.

"Sometimes when I see and hear some of the matai sharing their views and speaking about the fa'a-Samoa [Samoan customs and beliefs] I find myself questioning how they got to where they are. 

"If they know nothing about service, they should go back to their families and start serving by going back to the kitchen and feel the heat of the fire from the cooking house. 

"Maybe they'll learn a thing or two from doing that. As matai, we ought to serve with love, humility, respect, and reciprocal caring.

"We also believe in the saying, e afua mai mauga manuia o nu'u [from the mountains flow the blessings for the village]. This means that the prosperity of the people comes from the leaders. 

"So those in high positions should be mindful of what they do and say, especially if they are speaking publicly at a gathering or on television. 

"The insulting remarks and mockery attitude are behaviors [by] our leaders should [cease]."

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