Honorary Matai Titles

Chinese businessman receiving honorary matai title in
the village of Salea'aumua, Aleipata (photo: Samoa Observer)
Honorary matai (chiefly) titles, to some extent, are like honorary degrees awarded by universities and other higher institutions of learning.  These matai titles are awarded “in honor” of the recipients in recognition for something of significant and notable value like a monetary or in-kind donation/gift, or service that they have given to the village, district or the country.  More often than not, these honorary titles are given to non-Samoans.  The practice has been trending lately with a couple of noteworthy ones bestowed during the recent Small Island Developing States (SIDS) Conference. One of the recipients, interestingly, was the Secretary General of the United Nations; and the other was a wealthy Chinese businessman.

Since matai titles are ideally “owned” and administered at the village level, honorary titles are therefore associated with particular villages.  Though the connection between the villages and titleholders in the above two cases have not been publicly disclosed, it seems that  they were arranged through certain Members of Parliament and their villages and districts.  The two titles were conferred at the Prime Minister’s district (for the Secretary General) and the second one (for the businessman) at the village of the Associate Minister of Tourism who, interestingly, is also Assoc. Minister for the Prime Minister.  According to the press, the Associate Minister felt impressed to reward the wealthy Chinese businessman with an honorary matai title because of his help in funding some of the events during the Teuila Festival and the SIDS Conference.

These honorary titles are considered ceremonial and pro forma with no legal standing or weight. Therefore they are void of any legal rights, obligations or responsibilities as prescribed by social norms, traditions and the laws governing lands and titles in Samoa.  It seems however that all the usual protocols of the traditional bonafide saofa’i (title installation) were done in the Secretary General and businessman’s cases - sans the registration with the Land and Titles Court.  Honorary title recipients are apparently registered separately, as evidenced by certificates issued by the Department of Lands and Titles when an honorary title is conferred.  Despite the pro forma status of these honorary titles, the holders are still treated with utmost respect and given de jure recognition by the village.  This is especially true if the holder is an active benefactor to the welfare and good name of the village through service and other contributions.

Honorary Matai Title Certificate
Conversely, there’s the issue of revocation and rescission of title if/when the titleholder brings shame - through criminal or nefarious behavior - to the title; hence to the village, district and country.  Consider also that high profile recipients - as in the case of most honorary matai titleholders - can be quite vulnerable, therefore publicly conspicuous.

But most Samoans are not aware of another group of people - besides foreigners/non-Samoans - who are also recipients of honorary titles, at least within a loose interpretation of the honor.  This group consists of Samoans who reside outside Samoa (e.g. in New Zealand) who are “conferred” matai titles by a visiting matai (from Samoa), and who is also the “pule” (guardian/custodian) of the title(s).  These titles are conferred outside Samoa (in the absence of a traditional village configuration) and are usually done through deliberations and consensus among family members and the custodial chief.  These such titles will remain “honorary” - and/or unofficial - until the holders will have traveled to Samoa and fulfill the required traditional village protocols and registration with the Land and Titles Court.

Perhaps the main difference between the honorary title of a Samoan sojourner and that of the Secretary General, for example, is that the former can change his/her title status to a bonafide registered title later, and can thereafter bequeath the title to his descendants.  The latter cannot do either one - at least to date.

It can be argued, notwithstanding, that the practice of giving honorary matai titles to foreign dignitaries and the like, devalues the overall matai system - not necessarily from the quantity but quality.  Though, overall, still relatively few in numbers, the bestowed honorary titles have been those that are considered stately, honorable and distinguished within the context of the history of villages, districts and/or country.  A few examples of these honorable titles are Nafanua, Tupua and Leulua’itumua*.  All denote important and noble individuals and events in the socio-political history of Samoa.
* “Le-ulua’i-tumua” literally “The first Tumua”.
Tumua is referred to particular native titleholders (individually and/or collectively) with exclusive traditional political authority especially on the national level.


The View from Samoa

A letter sent to the Editor of Samoa Observer.  It has not been published ...yet.  I'm not sure why, maybe I've been banned or something... LOL!  I have since edited the letter, minimally.
The View from Samoa*

"O le uo mo aso uma 'ae o le uso mo aso vale."
("A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity" - Proverbs 17:17)

Thank you for your editorial "China in the Pacific, more than a Friend" dated 27 February, 2015.  I have also read about the China and the Pacific Conference (February 25-27, 2015 at the National University of Samoa) though I have not yet had access to any of the presentations. I do, however, understand that from these such conferences it's possible that new openness, new dialogue, new understanding, new hope and optimism are forged.  Participants often find common ground, tolerance and respect for each other's views and goals - at least in theory.  At the same time, it's also possible to continue to agree to be disagreeable, especially in their political tenets and ideological differences. My viewpoint, as presented in this letter, may or may not be in sync with the predominant views of the Conference, nonetheless a view that may still be worth sharing.

This letter is not borne of paranoia, xenophobia or racism (as speculated of late by the government - and others - to describe  those who see and view China's increasing influence in Samoa as ruinous and suspicious).  Instead, it is based on broad and inclusive review and analysis of facts, valid information, and, yes, common sense.  The letter's main focus therefore is to inform and raise awareness lest we become naive, indifferent, passive and complacent in our relationship and partnership with those with whom we do not share our most prized principles, interests and values, acquired and ingrained through our democratic, cultural and religious orientations as a country and as a people.  Hence "The View from Samoa".

The China enigma in Samoa has gradually become a worrisome one for some, perhaps a detached one for many and obviously a welcomed, desirable and fortuitous one for the government - especially for the ruling Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) whose affections for China are a result of some concrete (pun intended) economic enticements.  These enticements seem to have become the absolute and binding tokens of friendship between the two countries - a friendship that's seemingly mutual and yet unbalanced and unfavorable, not only in terms of trade but in all other aspects of inter-nation relationships. With the increasing role of China as the benefactor, the partnership is viewed more in terms of a donor-recipient relationship; Samoa, obviously, being the recipient and slowly becoming the panhandler. Moreover, the relationship is unfortunately devoid of any common and/or shared deeply-rooted values - political, religious or otherwise.

Compared to similar "concrete enticements" from countries like NZ, Australia or the US, China's enticements, understandably, are viewed with suspect and distrust.  Perhaps because of China being a new kid on the block with its sudden surge of "ultratruistic" gestures and offerings. (By the way, the claim that Samoa's "contact with China dates back to the Chinese labour migrants in the early part of the last century" is moot in this discussion.)  Most certainly though is because of China's indifference, if not defiance, of the rule of law, freedoms, religion, civil and human rights, etc.  Ironically, whereas the HRPP's mantra is the protection of human rights, China punishes human rights advocates, as well as oppose other things of Western and democratic origin. Just this past month, China warns against "Western values" in imported textbooks as reported by the New York Times:
"This week, China's ideological drive against Western liberal ideas broadened to take in a new target: foreign textbooks.  Meeting in Beijing with the leaders of several prominent universities, Education Minister Yuan Guiren laid out new rules restricting the use of Western textbooks and banning those sowing ‘Western values.'…  Mr. Yuan said at a meeting with university officials… ‘By no means allow teaching materials that disseminate Western values in our classrooms.'
The strictures on textbooks are the latest of a succession of measures to strengthen the Communist Party's control of intellectual life and eradicate avenues for spreading ideas about rule of law, liberal democracy and civil society that it regards as dangerous contagions, which could undermine its hold on power.  On Jan. 19, the leadership issued guidelines demanding that universities make a priority of ideological loyalty to the party, Marxism and [President] Xi's ideas…  Chinese universities must ensure that the ideas of Mr. Xi, the powerful and ardently traditionalist party leader, would "enter teaching materials, enter classrooms and enter minds,' Mr. Yuan said." 
Perhaps relevant, and probably more troublesome, for Samoa of the above Western education crackdown, is the concern with our students now studying in China (with more going in the coming years). They are obviously exposed to - if not directly affected by - these types of antagonism towards the West as well as to the hardline anti-democratic policies.  Some actually see the above move against Western textbooks as being hypocritical of China which has the largest contingent of students (over 270,000) studying in the US, the most of any foreign country. The President's daughter also attends Harvard.

If learning and education can change or influence one's beliefs, views and perception then it's quite possible that upon returning from China, our students will have learned new and different radical ideas.  They will also likely absorb the same hostility towards Western and democratic ideals.  Remember that these students will eventually hold positions in government, businesses  and other administrative or influential posts where these ideas will be allowed to percolate and fester. Apparently, this exchange in education may develop into an effective method of infiltration. Though it normally takes time, infiltration can be as potent as a military invasion. Let's not forget that Samoa has had its share of conquest by partial infiltration in the past and today, from the subtle yet credible proofs of another influx, let's hope history will not repeat itself. Incidentally, the Citizenship Investment Bill is also sizing up to be another effective mode of infiltration of Samoa.

The PM has touted the obvious, that geographic size, wealth and military might are important with regards to the US and China.  Within this rising rivalry in the Pacific, together with its government's pro-China policies, Samoa is slowly becoming a "saveatuvaelua" (one with dual-loyalty) between the two powers.  The Wall Street Journal recently noted that among several advantages the US has over China, is the number of Naval bases it has in the Pacific and Asia.  As a possible countervailing move, therefore, China may ask Samoa a reciprocating favor (to all her generosity) to set up a naval base here.  It's possible.  And considering the very affable and congenial friendship Samoa has with China at the moment, I doubt the present Samoan government will be hesitant at all.  Moreover, with the aggressive and audacious efforts of the government in its revenue sources roundup (re: Casinos, Customary land leases, Investment Bill, etc.), a Chinese naval base in Samoa would be an even more attractive money tree for the government, with job opportunities for Samoans being the overriding motive, excuse and justification. The naval base question therefore  may not be an if, but when.

And with a Chinese base as a possibility, the future of Samoa may never be the same as a democratic and Christian nation, considering archrival United States based just several miles to the east in American Samoa. Such a blatant predicament and division for the Samoas can certainly conjure up images of East and West Germany of the past, or North and South Korea of today.  It's very possible if not inevitable. True, according to the PM, that the Pacific is an "ocean of tranquility" now and in the past,  however, it can quickly be a tai'ula'ula (ocean of blood) if we covet the proverbial Trojan horse over the entrenched values, freedoms, principles and especially God upon whom our country is founded.  Speaking of God, doesn't it say somewhere in the Good Book not to be yoked together with unbelievers?  Contextually, at least.

Let's not forget that politically, religiously and ideologically, we have brothers, as in the Samoan context of "uso tu'ofe" who will not abandon us especially in time of adversity.  China on the other hand is a good and generous friend - if not a calculating one.  In that context, it's wise to remember President Ronald Reagan's watchword "Trust but Verify".

Once again, o le uo mo aso uma ae o le uso i aso vale (Faata'oto 17:17).  Maybe if China and Samoa can/will read from the same source and book, the whole enigma may be mitigated.  But that's like telling village B, with no shared history or heritage with village A, to give up its age-old faalupega (traditional salutations) and adopt village A's faalupega.  Notwithstanding, here are some traditional words of wisdom pertinent to the current situation: "Tatou ‘ae‘ae ia lea manu ua ulu, ae manatua pea, a e seu le manu, taga'i fo'i i le galu, ma ‘aua fo'i ne'i o tatou se'etia i le malu o le tai taeao.  E moni, e ‘asa faiva, ae le ‘asa masalo."

God bless Samoa!
*Based on the theme of the Conference "China and the Pacific: The View from Oceania"


Birthday Getaway - a photo essay

Dearie: Hon, Happy birthday!
Me: Thanks...
Dearie (wryly): When is your birthday again?
Me: This month - March!
Dearie (jokingly): And what year?
Me: Every year! .....(LOL!!.. gotcha!)

The only two times a birthday is an important enough occasion and milestone worthy of celebration, gifts and presents are: 1) when a person is still a little child; and 2) when a person is ooooold - I mean going on 60, 70, 80, and so on.  During the middle years, birthdays are usually just imaginary special days or as Paul McCartney would say "it's just another day".

Parents plan their little children's birthday parties. But the roles are reversed when the parents are old - it's the children who plan the party.  So in other words, when your children start planning your birthdays, that's a dead  giveaway (pun intended ..hahaha) that you, as a parent, are old, or getting old. I think that's what happened this past week, when our children committed the "giveaway" by planning my birthday present which was a getaway.  Hence according to the logic, I'm either getting old or already there. Yes, old.  So Dearie and I went on an all-expense paid trip to one of my favorite places, St. George; which happens to be one of the top rated places for retirement in the US.  Yep, another proof - if not a foreshadow - of getting old. Anyway we had a great time relaxing and just spending time together.  Faafetai Tele to our children and grandchildren!

So we packed our stuff in the car, made our last stop before the getaway.
And yes, I just looove long road trips
The seemingly endless yet scenic freeways, blue skies, clean air, snow capped- mountains and hills all
make driving a restorative and curative pleasure for me.
Not to mention the shared and cherished moments of talking, laughing, reminiscing, etc.
Just the two of us.
Sometimes flirting with what seems risky and dangerous can also
trigger a needed adrenalin rush ..:)

... stopping and resting along the way

... taking pictures and making memories

... and smiling

... me too

Dearie's dinner treat mo lo'u birthday - seki a le seafood!  lol!

Friday, we drove around to look for a place with Polynesian food
and we came across this one (Honolulu Grill).  Food was awesome.
We drove up to one of the higher points where we had a nice view of the city.
Quite a unique topography
... in front of the St. George Temple before attending one of the evening sessions
... me too

St. George Temple later in the evening.
The St. George Temple was dedicated on April 6, 1877 making it one of the first and
oldest temples of the Church.  There's about 170+ temples presently around the world.
Compare the St. George Temple with the yet to be dedicated Payson Temple below - 138 years later.
The Payson Temple (Utah) - to be dedicated in June this year (2015)
This picture was taken from inside the car by Dearie while we were traveling about 80 mph; I was surprised it turned out this nice.  The snow-capped mountains augment and complement the temple in its peaceful and pastoral setting.
"There exists a righteous unity between the temple and the home. Understanding the eternal nature of the temple will draw you to your family; understanding the eternal nature of the family will draw you to the temple." —Gary E. Stevenson

Back home Sunday evening, and had our to'ana'i.  Home-cooked meals are always the best.
(All pictures were taken using Dearie's phone)