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An Account of Samoan History up to 1918


In the Samoan Social System each village is an entity acting for the most part independent of other villages or Individuals. Although each and every person in a given village is related more or less closely to people of other villages near and far, each village community legislates for and governs its own activities in an absolute manner without any reference to or consideration for communities beyond its confines.

Originally all villages were founded or established by some chief either as a result of natural expansion, difference of opinion or by instruction of some more powerful chief. The name given to a new village was frequently that of the chief responsible for its founding in which case the prefix “sa” meaning “family of” was added to his name. Other origins of the names were incidents connected with the new village, a peculiarity of the site, reasons for the founding of the village, to commemorate victories and revered names etc. Some examples are quoted: “Leulumoega:” (meaning King's sleeping place:) Nofoalii: (chair or resting place of the King:)Lufilufi: (to divide in proper proportions arid refers to the division of Political Authority in the Atua District. This division is likened to the proportioning of a fish, Fuataga and Tafua are the head, (they belong to Aleipata) Moenono and Iuli of Falefa are the middle portion and Taalo and Ofoia of Falefa are the tail. Moefaauo, Inu, Tusa, Mataafa, Manuo and Faasoa are those who divide the fish. Afega: means a “calling in place” from the fact that it was a village frequently visited for political reasons in past times. A study of place names will afford an important key to the political and sooial history of the Samoans; these place names are and/ important indications of the influence that certain titles and men had in the earlier history of the country.

A generally accepted record amongst the Samoans is that a chief named Piliaau married Sinaletavae the daughter of Tuiaanaletavaetele. They had four sons named Tua, Ana, Saga and Tolufale. These four sons were given the authority over the four districts of Upolu including Manono; and the districts were named Atua (Tua), Aana (Ana), Manono (Tolufale), and Tuamasaga (Tua and Saga).

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Under the overlordship of these four chiefs other chiefs were appointed and allotted lands and founded villages. As time progressed the number of chiefs and villages increased and when the localisation of the villages on the sea shore took place the increase was probably more marked.

Before a Samoan is recognised as an “Elder” or “One entitled to take part in village affairs” he must be created a “Matai” or head of a family or family circle. His elevation to this rank is an outstanding event in his life and is attended with much ceremony. (see article on “The Samoan family.) The appointment solemnised, he becomes a chief or tulafale(orator) and is entitled to take part in the government of his village; he is a village councillor with certain privileges which he is very jealous of. The body of councillors in each village is known as the “Alii and Faipule” and includes chiefs and Orators (Tulafale). The chiefs are the landed gentry and the Tulafale are the spokesmen for the chiefs but the latter class have rather more extended privileges than were originally theirs. None other than the Chiefs and Tulafale may take part in village councils or exeroise rights in the government of a village.

All matters concerning the village community generally, are subjects of discussion at the council meetings and these meetings are termed “fonos”. The fonos are convened by the Orators who notify the Alii of the date and place of the fono and the matters to be discussed. To the European mind these meetings appear to be interminable and frequently the remarks passed irrevalent but it is the Samoan method of arriving at conclusions and one cannot say that the subject or subjects for discussion are not thoroughly ventilated. The decision arrived at is authorative and disregard of the voice of the Council will call down certain and in many instances heavy punishment on the transgressor.

Disputes concerning land and titles, offences against the Samoan code of morals, the erection of a church, the building of a village boat, roads deputations, malagas, entertainments or any activity in which the whole village is concerned is decided by the Alii and Faipule in Council. Matters particularly and peculiarly the page 3 concern of a family are under the control of the matai of that family unless the matai brings a family matter before the Alii and Faipule.

All Council meetings are convened by an Orator of the village who is termed Tu'ua. It is his duty to explain to the assembled Chiefs and Orators the reason for the fono and the matters for discussion. The Tu'ua is usually the highest Orator in the Village. After listening to a fono of Samoans one is inclined to believe that each and every Samoan considers it a duty to add something to the discussion regardless of the value or relivance of his remarks.

There are certain clearly defined rules governing who will speak first at the fono and in what order others will follow, and any attempt to speak out of turn will give rise to disputes and may occasion the premature ending of the fono until the dispute has been settled. Whilst the fono is in session the servants of the assembled Chiefs and Orators are in attendance at the back of the fono fale to minister to their wants.

When a decision has been arrived at the Tu'ua will announce the same to the villagers giving details and instructions where necessary. In some matters of general interest to a village the Tu'ua has the authority to issue instructions without reference to the others in Council. For instance:- if a village is expecting a visitor of importance or visitors, the Tu'ua will announce what varieties of and how much food must be supplied by each matai for the maintenance of the guests and for the various ceremonies that will be performed. The principal orators may also interfere if in their opinion too many sons and daughters of chiefs are wearing the ceremonial head dress at a function.

Should a decision of the Alii and Faipule made in fono be disobeyed, the Tu'ua calls a meeting of the councillors who discuss the matter and the verdict arrived at is announced by the Tu'ua. Before the Europeans began to interfere and interest themselves in the control of village matters it frequently happened that the matter before the fono was the conduct of a member of the village who had sinned against Samoan custom. If the offence was a page 4 serious one the punishment would probably be that the offender was ordered to leave the village and repair to the locality of a member of his aiga in another village. His house and plantation would also be destroyed. For lesser offences the punishment was in proportion and it might be that he was fined a quantity of food stuffs, or merely ordered to leave the village. Any disobedience of this order would quickly bring down on the offender serious punishment even to death and would certainly result in him being seriously manhandled. In some instances the unlucky defendant would be given an hour or so in which to make himself scarce and it was then a race against time with a few mats and some food as the prize. Possibly the most drastic form punishment took without actually and directly occasioning immediate death was for the offender or offenders to be placed in canoes and oast adrift under threat of immediate death should they return to the country. More than one island in the pacific has been peopled in this manner, the unfortunate banishees having managed to reach strange lands. (To 'elau, Gilbert Islands.)

In each district in Samoa there is a village which claims the right to take the lead in important matters which are the concern of the whole district and this right is jealously guarded. These leading villages are: Upolu: Leulumoega (Aana District): Malie and Afega (Tuamasaga District) Lufilufi (Atua District).

Savai'i: Safotulafai: (Faasaleleaga District): Saleaula (Itu-o-tane District) Palauli (Itu-o-Fafine District. (In Savai'i there have of late years been further divisions and at the present time there are three additional ruling villages (Satupaitea: Safotu: Asau.) Should a matter arise that is the concern of the whole district it will be handled by one of the above-mentioned villages or rather by the leaders in the village.

It frequently happens that two villages are interested in a project, in which case each village will hold a fono and appoint one or more of the Alii or Faipule to represent them at discussions relative to the business on foot. Each representative will have the same authority and will certainly claim it. Since the advent of Christianity it often occurs that there are two religious sections in a village and these sections are not united on some village matter. page 5 Serious and prolonged disputes arise and in many cases the projected enterprise is abandoned as unanimity cannot be reached. How similar to our own religious squabbles!

It can reasonably be claimed that under the Samoan Social system each village is a separate and complete unit and can with very little difficulty adjust its own differences and manage its own affairs. No doubt there have been isolated instances of excessively heavy punishment lout when one bears in mind the fact that the Alii and Faipule of the village as rulers, adjudge each case, and their decisions are in keeping with Samoan custom, it would appear that no great fault can be found with the system.