The 'Aumaga: The poor, the powerless and the immobile (Updated)

.. inspired by this Samoa Observer picture.

By definition, the ‘aumaga is a group of taulele’a (untitled men) in a Samoan village. It is one of the few social/gender-based groups in a typical village. The aumaga’s main role involves rendering the tautua (service) to the matai (chiefs/titled persons). The taulele’a (plural; singular: taule’ale’a) are similar to the vassals of the feudal system during the Middle Ages, with the matais as lords.
When the chiefs meet, usually in council, the ‘aumaga would sit “in-waiting” outside and around the house where the meeting is held.  They would cook and prepare other things needed for the meeting.
Most, if not all, members of the ‘aumaga are adult men who are school dropouts or did not have the opportunity - for one reason or another - to continue their formal education.  For some families, they handpick a certain male early in his life to "tausi le aiga" (take care of the family) and eventually join the ‘aumaga. Generally, the aumaga do not have jobs; instead they labor exclusively in executing their family and village responsibilities.

Up until the 1950's and 60's, when families were mostly small and fewer in numbers, and Samoan society was semi-primitive, traditional and therefore homogenous, the aumaga members were relatively mobile - socially and politically - within the traditional structure and model. Many of them became successors to their respective family matais through the traditional tautua which consisted mainly of making sure the matai meets his village and/or church dues and obligations and is also protected and cared for. Some more fortunate ones who were bequeathed the titles and honors of ali’i sili (paramount chiefs) of their respective districts (traditional and, later, electoral) went on, by right of their hereditary status, to become Members of Parliament (MP’s) in the then emerging modern system. Mobility therefore was existent, though still limited, prescribed and mostly status-based.

Economic mobility, however, was generally non-existent for the ‘aumaga. Villages were still agrarian communities and so much of what was produced and earned was vassal and subsistence-oriented. Not until some of the aumaga would emigrate (usually to New Zealand) on work permits that their economic status would change, both abroad and at home. The remittances would help build a more modern fale palagi (European house) or buy a car back home in the islands. The common expression to describe families with this new wealth, hence new status, is “ua maua mea” (are able to afford things). Affluence and accumulated wealth then would be “mau mea” (having many things). Emigration also removes one from being a bonafide member of the aumaga, unless the individual returns home within a specified period of time.

Today the changes in the socio-political and economic systems in Samoa have rendered the contemporary ‘aumaga members effectively immobile. Their lack of a good education and modern skills have halted or stalled any mobility, not only within the modern system but also within their “rightful domain” - the traditional system. Mataiship, which used to be their ambition, inheritance and lot, has gradually been ceded to the more educated and well-off members of the extended family.

These privileged family members usually live in Apia (Samoa's main city) holding well-paid jobs. Collectively, they have carved a niche of their own and created an upper class (re: Update below) within the socio-political and economic cultures of the country. Most of them lived and grew up in the city and rarely, if at all, associated with their aiga (family) roots in the villages, until their political ambitions, in most cases, compelled them to reconnect and renew their aiga ties because of the chiefly title prerequisite of Parliamentarians.

And titles they do get - usually not one but two and sometimes more. Multiple names, like sausage links, is one of the unique characteristics of these individuals. Names that would even make Shakespeare rethink asking “What’s in a name?” A typical example is the present Prime Minister whose whole name altogether reads: Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Neioti Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi (and still growing I’m sure - re: red text in Update below). Decades ago, the PM used to be known only by the last two names Sailele Malielegaoi. His rise to prominence in his political career has garnered and “earned” him those other names, which are actually chiefly titles from different villages which claim affinity to the Prime Minister. This same stenciled pattern of multiple chiefly titles is found among the elite (re: Update below - 2nd paragraph) - Members of Parliament, government Ministers, Associate Ministers, CEO’s, lawyers, etc. - who acquire the titles through more modern means like education, wealth and accompanied status.  Sadly, however, this elite class is one that desperate and poor families in the villages have helped create, by awarding and conferring matai titles based on the above-mentioned merits.

So in Samoa, the general rule (pun intended) is: If you’re educated, rich, popular/prominent and powerful (re: blue text in Update below) and your bloodlines run through every village, you will eventually acquire names/titles that  look like a Samoan bucket list to some, and to foreigners, a Da Vinci vowel code. To this title/name-hogging class, Samoa is an open society while to the ‘aumaga, it’s a closed one that has made them poor, powerless and immobile.

...telling it like it was ...and is.

UPDATE (Source: Talamua.com):
Amongst the new title holders was Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi, who was bestowed the chiefly title of Galumalemana.
Other prominent people who were bestowed the matai titles included Court Judge Fepulea’i Ameperosa Roma, National University of Samoa Vice Chancellor Professor Fui Leapai Tu’ua Asofou So’o, Chief Executive Officer for the Ministry of Commerce Industry & Labour (MCIL), Peseta Magaret Malua, former Manu Samoa Joe Stanley and journalist Autagavaia Tipi Autagavaia. 
( “Opposition whip publicly declares support for HRPP ruling party,” ~ October 2015)


  1. Sorry to intrude on your blog but I am looking for the Samoan translation for "family is eternal". Much appreciated

    1. No worries. "family is eternal" = "[e] fa'avavau le aiga" (Samoan).