Matai System [Management] the Same as Military [Management]?

The hot debate in Samoa presently has to do with the Police Commissioner equating the faa-matai (chiefly) management model to that of the military.  As a result, the Commissioner has come under fire from some government officials, cultural specialists, etc. and demanding an apology for “insulting” the matai establishment. Many (including myself) have opined and expressed their positions on the matter over the airwaves and online news sources - the Samoa Observer being the main one, so far.  Most seem to support the Commissioner while those who are vilifying him, had either taken his comments out of context or just bent on impetuously defending the matai system against an innocuous misunderstood claim.  These vilifiers are trying their best to protect and defend the matai system against any association with what they think is egregiously evil - the military.  And that’s the root of all their impetuosity, if not their blatant ignorance. They even blame the Commissioner for his lack of knowledge of the matai system and how it operates, and attribute that to him not having ever sat in a council meeting (fono).  Baloney!  I say.

It’s an irony that the vilifiers make such accusations and yet, they, conversely, do not understand either how the military management model works - the oldest management model in the world and whose elements are found in many management models; including the faa-matai. Apparently, their only limited and insular impression of a military has to do with guns, tanks, ammo and killing.  For example here’s what one so-called Cultural Specialist said in objection to the Commissioner’s comparison and comments:
“We don’t have guns or weapons to rule the village.... The military system can get people killed. They give orders and people follow them, but in the fa’amatai system we don’t. We don’t give demanding orders.”
Well, that’s flagrant denial - if not an outright lie - right there. But even with such an equivocation, he’s still wrong. Where has this “cultural specialist” been in the last few years when a number of villages had standoffs (bearing arms) with the government?  Where has he been in the hundreds of years when the matais had been “giving orders” - even “demanding orders”?  Was this guy living under a rock?  This is the direction of jumble and muddle that the vilifiers have taken due to some foolhardy interpretation and lack of understanding.

One of the letters (here) by an opponent of the Commissioner went as far as calling those who side with him (Commissioner), “idiots” who “[open their] foolish traps.”  I have submitted a response (below) to the letter.
Dear Editor,

I'm writing to respond to RK's letter dated 5 Jan 2016 in your Letters to the Editor section.

With RK's spites and ad hominem jabs aside, let me address some of the pivotal points of, hopefully, a more civil and respectful discussion.

I think one of the points that may have been misconstrued in the discussion thus far, is the nuanced interpretation and application of the military reference within the context of the Commissioner's comments. It seems the military management model is cast in a very negative and scornful light. The implied and assumed stigma resulting from associating the faa-matai to the military is overblown and obfuscated. This may be derived from the negative perception and authoritarian context of the military, especially those of dictatorial and rogue nations and countries. It may also stem from an insular perception - with Samoa not having a military of her own - of wars and conflicts around the world. Not all militaries are bad or evil. Some are benevolent in their undertakings and effective in their operations and logistics. The military model is perhaps the oldest management model and one on which police force managements are based.

Now what about the comparison to the faa-matai? Allow me to expound.

Not all villages have the same power structure and configuration. For some, power and authority are distributed among individual matais or groups and/or alliances (e.g. taauso, falefia/tolu, usoali’i, etc.,). The standard and more common model, however, is the one to which the Commissioner alluded, the one with the “big matai” or a paramount chief (ali’i sili, tu’ua, tulafale ali’i, etc.,) who has, at least ideally speaking, irreproachable authority (pule). In this model, any consensus by the fono will have to be either in alignment with the will of the “big matai” or would simply have to acquiesce. This acquiesced authority is bequeathed on the tu’ua via village history and traditions.

Moreover, on the aiga level where the matai is selected through deliberation and consensus, the process also endows the matai with similar acquiesced authority. This is true in all if not most of the aiga decisions. This authority stems from the fact that a matai is vested with the pule in a type of social contract arrangement where the aiga entrusts the holder with the matai title (hence power and authority) and in return he/she will “provide” for the aiga (in today’s society) and administer the aiga affairs.

Therefore in both cases (village and/or aiga), the basic elements of centralized power structure and configuration including the hierarchical and more vertical chain of command of the faa-matai are those that are also found in the military model. So the Commissioner has a point, at least to those who truly understand the entirety of the issue. His analogy/comparison, in totality, may not be comprehensively accurate. And guess what? It’s not totally false either. Furthermore, I don’t think that the Commissioner’s intention was to denigrate the fa’a-matai, considering the essence of his claim and the more popular elements of the military management model. So, again, I honestly feel that he does not owe any one an apology.

And by the way, on consensus and democracy, although the two can co-exist, they actually, in their very nature and essence, are more mutually exclusive than not.

In conclusion, let me say to those who still may not be convinced, to please lighten up! Again, I’m sure there are a lot more serious and urgent matters that need to be addressed by government officials than to insist on an apology from someone who seems sincere in effecting change in a critical branch of government, especially in light of the rising crime occurrences in the country.

Ma le faaaloalo lava,

LV Letalu

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