Monotaga or No Monotaga

village fono (council of chiefs) - photo NPAS
Monotaga refers to the services certain matai (chiefs) render to the village as part of their dues and shares to the general development and welfare of the village.  These services include participating in village projects ranging from clearing and maintaining village access roads to building a church or school, and any monetary or other donations to church funds and village programs. In recent years, the government mandated the monotaga to be one of the main requirements for any chief who runs for a seat in Parliament. The requirement calls for the monotaga for a period of three consecutive years leading up to the elections.  The three years is also the minimum residency requirement for the candidate in the village he/she represents.  Some of the candidates (past and present) have been disqualified because they have failed to satisfy the monotaga requirement.  Hence the monotaga has become a controversial issue because of its vagueness and ambiguity.  It is also believed to be discriminatory since not all matais are supposed to render monotaga and it's not the same in every village in its application/execution. As recent as just last week, the courts have upheld the monotaga requirement even though Parliament had failed to define monotaga in the Act that sanctions it. The following letter of mine has been published by the Samoa Observer (Feb 27th) articulating my position on the issue.


Monotaga or No Monotaga (updated)

(My aunty and sister would cringe at the eponymous title.)

Monotaga, as a cultural and traditional practice of rendering services to the village by certain matais should not be used as a requirement to be a candidate in the elections.

First of all, there is no specific definition of monotaga that would pass legal muster. The present irony, which borders on political and legal mockery, is that while Parliament had failed to come up with a definitive, unambiguous and fair definition and application, yet the courts went ahead and enforced what obviously is a vague and convoluted, if not a politically motivated, Act. The monotaga is therefore diminished in its traditional, cultural and altruistic role. It is now "defined", dictated and regulated by law - and classified as well.

Monotaga is a practice that is broad, general and relative at best. Different villages have their own interpretation and application despite the principle and idea being perceived as being the same and/or similar throughout Samoa. It's the same notion behind the adage "E sui faiga ae le suia faavae" (practices change but principles don't). Everyone can grasp the concept/principle of monotaga, but when it comes to its actual implementation, it varies and differs if not conspicuously relative and provisional. In fact, it proves even more problematic and unintelligible when it's ported over to a strictly legal construct. We need to remember that, more often than not, traditional and status-based cultural concepts do not dovetail well, if at all, into more modern democratic institutions. Monotaga therefore represents an at large challenge for developing societies trying to assimilate more modern legal and democratic practices.

Monotaga also proves to be discriminatory within the context of the present electoral configuration. The two principal constituencies (traditional and urban) are essentially different in composition and configuration, hence at odds with each other when it comes to modern political and/or legal principles. The urban constituency is an anomaly in the larger cultural configuration as well as in some people's aspirations to keep and maintain traditional elements - especially the faa-matai - within the more modern system of government.

As the clone of the Individual Voters Roll, the urban constituencies still have some of the old biased and discriminatory intimations. And to an extent, they have become a Pandora's box for the government. Initially, when the matai title requirement for Members of Parliament became law a few years ago, the impression then was that obtaining a matai title for the Individual Voters Roll representatives was "as easy as getting a loaf of bread" - and it was, obviously. Then the monotaga requirement naturally followed, if not imposed. And since it is something that is defined and understood exclusively within a traditional village, the question was to whom (what village) will the urban representatives render their monotaga, since there's no traditionally-formed village, per se, that they represent. And yet their titles may actually belong to a village in the territorial constituencies and in which, ironically, they are considered non-residents.

Therefore the resulting "evil" out of the proverbial box is dual loyalty. The urban representatives are now torn between their urban constituencies and the village of their titles. It's become a double duty. The suggested solution for these MP's is to pay and contribute to any projects within their urban constituencies, and that should satisfy the monotaga requirement. Simply put, monotaga, as rendered in the territorial constituencies, and now required by law, does not apply to them. However, according to customs, and to the PM, they still need to render their monotaga or risk being called not real matais. It seems that the more the government wants to create a seamless co-existence between the two constituencies, the more they're drawn apart. There is a convincement within the government that due to Samoa's cultural diversity, equality across the board is not possible. What, in essence, the government is saying is that in some cases, inequality, prejudice and discrimination will still be part of life in paradise and can/should be tolerated. Just learn to live with them.

I'm sure that if it weren't for the law that requires a matai title to be a Member of Parliament, the monotaga would not have been an issue at all. Be the former as it may then, but drop the latter. I understand the main concern about matais who do not take seriously their responsibilities and become calculating and conniving especially close to election time.

Also certain matais like paramount chiefs (ali'i sili) are not supposed to render any monotaga according to customs and traditions.  They are exempt. Yet some are already in Parliament. An example would be the representative from Aleipata Itupa i Lalo (Tafua).  On the other extreme, so-called low ranking matais and those who may still hold their matai palota (ballot titles) are not expected to render any monotaga, and yet their titles have been registered and therefore are still legitimate. These matais can still run as candidates using these "inferior" titles but should not be required and/or expected to render any monotaga.

So here's my suggestion. Leave the monotaga in its traditional place. As for the candidates, make it a requirement to pay a registration fee. The fee should be non-refundable. It should be an amount representing an average across the board for a three years' worth of monotaga. And most importantly, instead of the government keeping the money, give it to the village(s). Though it sounds like a monotaga, it actually is not. It should not be considered as something in lieu of a monotaga. This registration fee is something that can be measured, is more equal, fair and can pass legal muster. Meanwhile let the village council deal with monotaga issues as part of their local administrative functions.

"Oh what a tangled web we weave
When first we practice to deceive." - Sir Walter Scott
(Oi aue, se faamoega i na lavelave ua tatou lalaga 
Mai se ulua'i taupulepulega ina ia tatou taulalama.)

Manuia le alo atu i faiga palota!

LV Letalu


My Thoughts and Notes on Samoan Tattoos - Pe’a and Malu

The two notable English loanwords of Samoan/Polynesian origins are taboo (tapu) and tattoo (tatau/tatu).  Now, on the latter.

Okay. I admit that I do have some like and dislike sentiments for tattoos.  I like the traditional pe'a ("full" body tattoo of the Samoan men). My Dad had a pe'a and I was there when he had it done, witnessing the whole feat.  However, I dislike (bordering on disgust) the trending accessories -  armband, sleeve, shoulder, full arm/hand, ankle tattoos, etc., - especially when done with the notion of complementing the pe'a.  The only two designs that traditionally complement the pe'a are the pute (tattoo around the bellybutton, although it's often considered part of the pe'a) and the punialo (navel tattoo) - the latter being optional for some.

I also like the malu (traditional tattoo above the knees to mid thigh for women) and its traditional significance.  But I despise the fact that, today, any woman who wants a malu can have it. The result is analogous to any item of value, that whenever it's duplicated, its value/worth depreciates and significance diminishes. The best example would be an expensive and valuable painting.  The more it's reproduced and copied, the lesser will be its value and worth. Or take the malu for example. When there's only one woman with a malu dancing as part of a social occasion/celebration, the scene is treasured, admired and valued. But when five or ten women all get up at the same time to flaunt and strut their malu stuff, then the scene becomes nondescript and a run-of-the-mill.

The direct link to this mass duplication of the pe'a and malu is their commercialization. The pair have fast become commodities and cash cows for the tattooists. In the past, these tufugas (artists) were also well off when they were paid with traditional forms of exchange (mats, fine mats, tapa cloths, etc.) and with some money as well. Today, they are almost exclusively paid with monies.  And considering the current commodity status of the pe'a as well as the mad rush of supplementary tattoos (mentioned above), the tufugas are better off than most employed Samoans. They also get to enjoy some fringe benefits such as travel.  It's not uncommon for these tufugas to spend time among expatriate communities in the USA, New Zealand, Australia and other countries carving (pun intended)  their niche and earning thousands through an unregulated profession.

The main reason the pe'a is considered an initiation, like most other rites of passage, is the excruciating pain involved in the traditional method and process. Therefore a pe'a is done incrementally and takes weeks if not months to complete.  Today, because of the tattoos' rising role as a source of income for the tattooists, modern forms of anesthesia and pain killers are used;  hence lessening the duration of the process. Apparently these new merchants are also catching up to the truth behind the axiom "time is money".  Conversely, the "no pain, no gain" axiom is the antithesis within the context of proper cultural and traditional symbolism.  In other words, if you didn't feel the real, unbearable, agonizing pain, because of the help of modern antidotes, then your pe'a has lost all the cultural and traditional essence and meaning.  It becomes more of just a rubber-stamped body art. Even the remedial and curative method is intolerable.  After a day's session, the men would walk out to the sea/lagoon and would soak the fresh skin lacerations in sea water (Ouch!) and then soothed afterwards with coconut oil.

Another significant part of getting a pe'a in the past, is the fact that it's an aiga (family) decision - not an individual's as it is today in most cases.  Today, anyone who wants and is able to afford the costs of getting a pe'a or malu can and will have one - just for the sake of having one; again with no real cultural or traditional significance.  The pe'a has also been a mark of a male who is agile, well versed and skilled in performing cultural roles and tasks such as food preparation, oration, and other manual labors in serving the matai and aiga.  This particular versatile male is called a soga'imiti.

Unfortunately there are those who wear the pe'a who cannot/will not stand the smoke and heat of the umu (Samoan oven), and would wear sandals to avoid stepping on a motumotu (burning tinder) and die (haha!!) or suffer some other malady; cannot climb a coconut tree, let alone an apple tree; cannot folafola a sua (orate traditional gifted foods/stuffs) or make a lafo (clear ground for planting taros and other tubers); and could only fish using a fagai'a (dynamite), etc. etc. These are just a few of the responsibilities that come with having a pe'a.  And so to those who belong to this pseudo-soga'imiti group, the elders would often say: "Se ua maimau le pe'a ia oe se" ("Pity, you really don't deserve that pe'a")...You see, that's why I don't have a pe'a...hahaaa...actually it's by choice that I don't have one. (Dearie told me that a pe'a would look really nice on me lol!) But as for the duties and responsibilities of a soga'imiti, I've "been there ‘n done ‘em all!" ...#kamaSamoamao'iasikama.  Ia ga!

Pe'a Notes:

Pula'u (pron. poolah~oo) An adult young man without a pe'a, often a taule'ale'a (non-titleholder) and especially a member of the ‘aumaga (group of taulele'a).  It's not, as claimed by others, any adult male without a pe'a.

Soga'imiti - A taule'ale'a with a pe'a, especially one that is active and skilled in performing manual tasks and labors in the everyday life of family and village.

Pe'amutu - An unfinished pe'a, or a male with one.  This is often regarded as a disgrace and dishonor.  Because of the severe unbearable pain, some - even the strongest men - were/are not able to finish their pe'a.  Pe'amutu however is not as common today, as in the past, because of the modern pain medicine and anesthesia.

Lama -  Ink/pigment.  The soot collected from burning the candle nut (later a kerosene lamp was used) is mixed with a solvent to get the lama.  This soot collection should be done during daytime - not at night due to superstition

Faoa le lama - This expression means "snatched ink/pigment".  Like most other traditions, tattooing has its own set of superstitions. When the lama (ink) is faoa, it is believed that the aitu (spirits) have snatched or stolen the ink and as a result, the pe'a will eventually fade, appear faint and discolored.   This is a result of the tattooed male having gone to some place, especially at night, alone without his partner (soa) or anyone else as a companion.

Soa - Soa is "partner". Traditionally, a group of men to be tattooed, should be of an even number. Therefore, each one will have a partner and will operate on a buddy system concept. Members of the group cannot go alone anywhere, they should always go in pairs, threes or more. The purpose has to do with superstition that links directly to the lama (ink). If one cannot go with his partner, a family member should accompany the tattooed individual. This practice is a precaution against the  "faoa le lama" misfortune and superstition.

Sama - A native lotion made from mixing lega (turmeric) with coconut oil.  Sama was used mostly by men as a type of body oil/cologne to smell nice and appear attractive to women especially during night time trysts (re: lyrics below).  Sama is yellowish in color (re: samasama for yellow).

Samaga [o le] Pe'a - This is the official completion of the whole process of having a group of men tattooed. During the ceremony an egg is cracked and the yolk (lega) is dripped on top of the head of each individual. This is followed by the samaga or applying the sama to the pe'a.
Note: The significance of the egg yolk (also called lega) may have something to do with its association (both in color and name) to the lega used in making the sama.

Lastly, here's a verse (with sama mentioned) of one of the popular oldies  that is often misinterpreted.

Incorrect (underlined words lines 3 & 4)
Ala maia malie lou finagalo
Lou vaita'ele ua le lava
E tausiusi o si a'u tama
E te o'o ai i au evaga

Ala maia malie lou finagalo  (Wake up, don't feel bad)
Lou vaita'ele ua le lava  (There's not enough water for your bath)
E tausiusi o si a'u sama  ([But] this sama of mine is translucent enough)
E te u'u ai i au evaga  (You can dab with it for your outings)

Everyday translation:
Gofo i luga e alu e ka'ele
A le lava vai la e i le kaloge
Ia vaai le lolo lale e ke u'u kapakapa ai
Ma e faamagogi ai i kou shumpa ea poo a....

Sounds like nothing's new under the sun...hahaa... kusa a pe le ka'ele ua le o sua le paipa, ae a magogi a i le fagu sausau le loomiki ia ua seki fo'i.... LOL!!!.


BYU - Best in the World

Business Insider (December 2015)

Often the only way to justify spending tens of thousands of dollars on business school is the promise of a high starting salary post graduation.

We took a look at our list of the 50 best business schools in the world and re-evaluated them on a ratio of starting salary to tuition to determine which schools give you the best bang for your buck. The higher the starting salary and lower the tuition and fees, the better the school fared on this ranking.

Because our ranking is globally focused, we only considered out-of-state tuition, ignoring the discount those who live close to the school may receive. Residency discounts would naturally make some schools an even better bargain for students eligible to take advantage of them.

Brigham Young University's Marriott School of Management came in No. 1 on our list, with grads going on to earn average starting salaries of $102,800, more than twice the $47,900 cost of tuition. Coming in at No. 2 is Nanyang Business School (Singapore), where the cost of tuition ($39,100) is only half of what grads, on average, will make at their first jobs ($80,300).

1. Brigham Young University — Marriott School of Management

part of the BYU campus
Location: Provo, Utah
Average starting salary: $102,800
Program tuition and fees: $47,900

Named for the family that founded the world-famous chain of hotels, the Marriott School of Management aims to train students for business-leadership roles. The Mormon-affiliated school has five concentrations — entrepreneurship, finance, global supply chain, marketing, and organizational behavior/human-resource management — and at less than $50,000 for the entire program, it's among the most affordable MBA degrees available.


On the Present US Presidential Election ...

Can we ever avoid politics completely?  I mean politics as we commonly know and understand it. Apparently not.  If the so-called most powerful person in the world, as in the President of the United States, is derived from politics, and if our everyday lives are affected, influenced and dictated - to a large extent - by politics (as in government regulations), then I guess politics is like the weather.  It’s always there “weather” we like it or not.  And if Aristotle is right in his claim that man, by nature, is a political animal, then all the more reason for our inevitable inverse involvement - directly and/or indirectly.

Some politics are more ubiquitous and pervasive than others.  American politics of course being the most ubiquitous - yes, like the weather.  And no other time do we find this truer than during the Presidential Election year, and leading up to it. This year (2016) happens to be one of those times.   Unlike the last election year (2012) when I religiously followed the election and pulling for Romney, this year I try  my best, with not much success, to circumvent the ruckus and brouhaha of the political mayhem.  This time, it’s the comedy, the clowning, the stupid comments, gaffes, weirdness of the candidates - more than profound platforms and promises (as empty as they are anyway) - that I find exciting and entertaining, as always.  It’s the reason I stay on top of most of the current fiasco, especially the laughter resulting from the intrinsic idiocy of the candidates trying to pitch their inflated resumes through political one-upmanship and smarmy promises.

Politics, after all, gives us many of the jokes and gaffes, lasting innuendos and embarrassing moments. Speaking of lasting political innuendos and embarrassments, this election year has resurrected a few in an almost blatant audacious manner.  The Clinton and Bush bynames are again in the mix. A former first lady (wife of president Bill Clinton) - Hillary - and Jeb Bush, the son and brother of the two former Bush presidents, respectively, are presidential candidates.  Some people do not believe in an American political dynasty, hence the disdain for the two families. Others may have either very short  memories or forgiving hearts, especially those who seem to barefacedly support Hillary who is presently alleged to have improprieties of her own while serving as Secretary of State, and therefore currently under investigation by the FBI.  But despite this sometimes unruly and rowdy character of American politics, it also is a source of the best medicine, no, not ObamaCare, but the medicine of laughter.

For the Republicans, perhaps the two weird and laughable candidates are Trump (as in Donald Trump) and Ben Carson the brain/neurosurgeon whose success story has been told in the movie “Gifted Hands”.  A very inspirational story.  But as a candidate for President, Carson is a joke. Literally.  I kinda blame Obama for Carson’s determination - foolhardy as it may be.  He may have thought that if Obama can be President, any other black guy can do it too, especially for someone with expert knowledge of brains...hahaaa....(Actually, Carson does not think that Obama is genuinely Black.) Carson thinks therefore that he has the brains to be President.  Unfortunately, based on some of his gaffes, he seems brainless and obviously is not suited to hold the highest office in the land.

one of his ridiculous comments
Ben was asked about his campaign just last week in Iowa and he said his goal is to “save America” (Trump’s is to make America great again).  But I seem to have the notion that Carson’s brain is wired to his neurosurgeon profession.  To “save America”, meaning America is apparently dying like most of his patients and his goal is to save her.

In the Iowa caucuses last night, Carson came fourth (behind Cruz, Trump and Rubio), meaning he has very little chance of surviving the operation (pun intended).  His campaign was asked what Carson’s next plan is.  The answer: “He’s going to Florida to get a fresh change/set of clothes.” Really?  Most people did not know what they meant if it was literal or figurative.  It turned out that it was the former.  The campaign said he's worn the same clothes for three weeks. Only a doctor would say that, asking for a change of clean things, as in a fresh set of gloves, or a new clean needle, etc., etc.  It seems that he is so attached to his neurosurgeon job that he is not able to dissociate himself from the jargon and influence.  Let me invoke Plato’s definition of justice here, which is:
“To do one’s own business and not to be a busybody is justice.” (Republic 433b.) The idea is that justice consists in fulfilling one’s proper role – realizing one’s potential whilst not overstepping it by doing what is contrary to one’s nature.”
Simply put - at least for the purpose of this post - if one’s business, nature or calling is a neurosurgeon, then stick with it. Leave politics to the politicians. According to Plato, it will be an injustice, as a medical doctor, to overreach into politics.

the bodacious (as in bold+audacious ) Trump
And for the pompous and bodacious Donald Trump, the limits are less delineated.  He has denigrated women and offended minorities with his audacity, and at times, his arrogance.  He wants to ban Muslims from coming to America.  The Republican Party has become very worried and uneasy about Trump's positions, which will hurt the party.  Even the media and Washington republicans dislike him while he continues to tout and enjoy comfortable leads in all polls.

Amazingly, Trump sang Ted Cruz’s praises a few months back, as being a nice terrific friend, while Cruz was lagging behind in the polls. Surprisingly, last night, Cruz won the Iowa caucuses, with Trump coming in second.  Now Trump seems to look at Cruz as, at best, a frienemy.

Trump and Carson are so-called “outsiders” - that is, not of the Washington or local political establishments.  They want to appeal to the public outcry of being tired of Washington and its cliques.  And for Trump, it seems to be working.  He has been leading in the polls from the get-go, and may very well win the GOP nomination, unless Americans start espousing Plato’s philosophy and start reminding Trump to stick to his business guns and acumen, and stay out of politics. Or Trump may defy Plato and remind everyone that there was - and is - such a person called a Renaissance Man, and he can be one.  In fact he has been running beauty pageants and a TV reality show and he’s already been married three times anyway ...So he can at least multitask...hahaaa.... Stay tuned!

This is Ted Cruz’s main campaign slogan: TRUSTED.  But with Trump's loss to Cruz last night, I won't be surprised if Trump will change one of his main campaign banners to read like this ..."TRUMPTED"  ...LOL!   Oh wait, what if these two end up as a team (President and Vice President) in the General Election???  Then they can use the same banner ..hahahaaa.  And hopefully they (individually or together) can weather the Billary Clinton storm (yeaaahhriggght!) and come out victorious.