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An Account of Samoan History up to 1918

Kava Titles

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Kava Titles.

As previously mentioned all chiefs except perhaps a very few who hold very minor titles, also have a “Kava” title which title is inseparable from their chiefly or family title. Many of the title (kava) are seemingly meaningless words but if we could trace back to their origin we would no doubt find a very definite reason for their bestowal. The kava title of Iiga of Puapua, Savai'i is “Tinomalu” which means a “cold body” and the Iiga family is a branch of the Lilomaiava tribe. The story of the origin of the kava title of this family is: the first holder of the title was very fond of bathing an a stream near his house and this stream was very cool. His people believed that he was the possessor of a cold blood stream and so gave him the kava title indicative of their belief and this title has passed down to the present day.

The bestowal of a kava title usually takes place at the same time as a taulealea (young man) is appointed to a chiefly title. It occasionally happens that the kava title is given first, but only after it has been determined that the chiefly title will follow and after it has been announced that such an event will take place in the near future. In either event the procedure is the same.

When the family has decided who will be appointed to the title, the whole village is called to the house wherein the ceremony will be held. The orator of the family makes a speech and explains the reason of the invitation. He then hands to one or more of the visiting orators a piece of kava root. The Orators then display the kava and mention that it is the kava provided for the making of the drink for the ceremony. It is then given to the “Aumaga” (kava makers) to prepare. Whilst this is being done, the orator of the family explains to the assembled people that the family have decided to appoint so and so to the title of the family, and that the kava title of the new appointee will be ……….. (kava title of the family). The villagers are politely requested to recognise the new holder of the kava title and also to respect him as a matai (family head). A reply is made by one of the visiting Orators of the village, and in his reply he thanks the family page 2 on behalf of the villagers for the privilege of being present, and also congratulates the family on having found someone worthy to take the title, etc. The kava is then distributed and the first man to be called and served is the newly appointed matai. Further speeches are made and feasting indulged in. All food provided is at the expense of the appointing family, particularly the members of the immediate family of the appointee.

The following are samples of kava titles:-

Malietoa: Taumasina aumai seu fanafana.
(Taumasina, bring my pigeon catching net.)
Hataafa: Pago talitali le ipu ae taute le Mataafa.
(Pago, hold the cup while Mataafa drinks.)
Governor: Aumai/Tafa mamao.
(Bring the distant camp.)
S.N.A. Aumaia sauoleola.
(Bring the dew of life.)
Nine: (Aumafa malo ua tasi le filemu.
(Bring peace- peace and the Government are one.)

It is claimed that the power to bestow kava titles on chiefs was formerly only in the hands of the Tumua and Pule, a body of orators located in three villages in Upolu and six in Savai'i, but that as time went on this body of men delegated their authoritiy to other orators and finally we arrive at the time when every chief possessed a kava title. It is easy to comprehend that the Tumua and Pule being temporal rulers readily understood the advantages of keeping within their power the right to bestow titles. They controlled a lever whereby they could exact payment and obedience from those seeking their favour. In the cases of the most prominent titles the payment would be on competitive lines and wouldvery likely result in the title being bestowed on the individual who could command the biggest number of mats and food to be presented to the Tumua. Some idea of the extent of such payments can be gathered from the fact that when the present Mataafa was given his title he handed over 1200 fine mats and other gifts and food to the value of six hundred pounds.