Cultural specialists voice concern over Police Commissioner’s comparison of the fa’a-matai to a military operation

Samoan cultural specialists Mata’afa Autagavaia Elia and the Assistant Chief Executive Officer Papali’i Peone Fuimaono of the Ministry of Education Sports and Culture

BY Lagi Keresoma

APIA, SAMOA: TUESDAY 05 JANUARY 2016: The Cultural Advisors at the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture (MESC) have voiced their concern that Samoan culture could be perceived negatively given the Police Commissioner Fuiavalili Egon Keil’s comparison of the age old Samoan  fa’a-matai system to a military operation.

Speaking to the media yesterday, MESC’s Head of the Culture Division, Assistant Chief Executive Officer (ACEO) Papali’i Peone Fuimaono and MESC Culture specialist Mata’afa Autagavaia Elia Autagavaia explained the Ministry’s concern and the negative impact of the Commissioner’s comment on Samoan culture.

Last month, the Commissioner stated to the media that the Samoan fa’a-matai system is no different from how the military system operates.

When first reported, the comments have created a debate on social media with several people calling for a change in the Samoan culture while some have wrongly labeled Samoan culture as a curse. Even the Minister of Women and Internal Affairs called for the Commissioner to apologize over his comments.

“It is unfortunate to hear such statements comparing our traditional fa’a-matai system to a foreign form of armed rule. In whatever heart the comments were made or intended, they do conjure up parts of our painful history we would rather not remember,” said Papali’i.

Papali’i did not want to counter or guess the justification of the Commissioner’s statement, but support the understanding that Samoa Police operates under the mantra of “A Safer Samoa.’

“In essence, this dream of a safer Samoa was born long before our time and it was always dependent more so on our culture of fa’a-matai than legislations or our police system,” said Papali’i.

She said it was this same traditional governing system that overthrew the strength and force of military oppression of Samoa in years past.

“Not with the force of a gun but with ‘tofa’ (reason) and ‘moe’ – in peaceful resistance and in purpose and pride in culture and country,” Papali’i explained.

She said Samoa understands military rule well because history speaks of the many lives that suffered and died fighting it.

“It is why our forefathers upon our Independence, left our Parliament – the supreme law making body of our nation – in the hands of matais,” she said.

Papali’i said the Commissioner is entitled to his own opinion, but he “should not use the fa’a-matai to justify his point.”

According to Papali’i, the “pulega  a Alii ma Faipule” has aided in the peace Samoa had experienced from generation to generation.

Compared to Pacific neighbouring countries and other countries of the world facing turmoil’s, Papali’i believes that Samoa has enjoyed peace due to the fa’a-matai system through the “pulega a Alii ma Faipule” in the villages.

“So in retrospect, a Safer Samoa is a call of duty to serve and protect our people and in so doing, protect our culture and way of life because there is none like it anywhere in the world,” said Papali’i.

She believes history tells us it was not a military system and the future will tell us the same.

“The uniqueness of Samoan culture should not be compared to something else,” said Papali’i.

“Samoan culture is communal, not an individual culture and families come together to discuss, decide and then make a decision everyone agrees to,” said Papali’i.

Police Commissioners comments not to be taken seriously
MESC cultural specialist Mata’afa Autagavaia Elia labeled the Commissioner’s comment as “stupid”.  Mata’afa said that in any government, village or organizations, there are regulations, rules and policies that guide them, and it is the same with the Ministry of Police.

The Ministry is guided by the law and it should be run as a military operation because the administration gives orders.

The fa’a-matai does not give orders or dictate to the family, but discuss things before the matai or family chief makes the final decision.

“The military operation is governed by orders and weapons,” said Mata’afa.

He further stated that there is freedom in the fa’a-Samoa compared to the military way of operation.

traditional Samoan faletele

A Samoan traditional house

In the fa’a-Samoa, if a family cannot afford to contribute to a family event, it does not render any penalty or an order from the matai. Mata’afa further made reference to village council decisions and penalties to that of the military which executed decisions without giving chances.

A ranking talking chief or Tu’ua of Vailoa, Palauli village, Mata’afa believes that Fuiavalili was speaking from “what he hears and see, but has never experienced living in a true Samoan way of life or sat in a matai meeting.

The Police Commissioner accepted his Fuiavailili matai title in a traditional title bestowal in Palauli village last month.

Mata’afa also said that police are always seeking the assistance of the Alii ma Faipule and both parties have worked as partners for a long time.
He said a classic example of this partnership is seen every time a prisoner escapes from prison and the matai are the first the police ask for their help.

The Minister for the Ministry of Women, Community & Social Development, Tolofuaivalelei Falemoe Leitaua also commented on the issue, calling for the Commissioner to apologize.

The Ministry of Education hopes that the Commissioner’s comments would not be taken seriously.