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No. 21 (December 1957)
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The Samoans still use an outrigger canoe not dissimilar to the type used by the Maoris of the great fleet of 1350. (NPS Photograph)

In our last issue, Professor Davidson of the Australian National University explained traditional Samoan leadership and how it works. Soon these leaders will run an independent Samoa. This article, specially written for Te Ao Hou, describes the shape of this new Polynesian State.


Part II

During the past ten years the people of Western Samoa have made rapid strides towards self-government. If present plans are carried out—as they almost certainly will be—the Samoans will in 1960 obtain full control of their government, except in relation to a few matters such as external affairs which they have agreed should be left with New Zealand.

The present period of political development began in 1947, when, after discussions with Samoan leaders and with a mission from the United Nations, the New Zealand Government announced a comprehensive plan. Its basic aims were as follows: to ensure that the Samoans should feel that the new government was their government, representing their own ideas and interests; to give as much power as seemed possible at the time to Samoan representatives; and to lay the foundations for a gradual transfer of authority from New Zealand as the Samoans gained experience of the new system. A Council of State was set up consisting of a High Commissioner, as head of the Government, and two Fautua representing the Samoan people. Its members jointly represent the Samoan Government on all formal occasions; they symbolise, in other words, the dignity and the unity of Western Samoa. The Fau-

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Left and right are the highest Samoan leaders, the Hon. Tamasese and the Hon. Malietoa, the two Fautua, Centre: His Excellency Mr G. R. Powles, C.M.G., High Commissioner.

tua, the Hon. Tupua Tamasese and the Hon. Malietoa Tanumafili, are the heads of the traditional princely families of Tupa and Malietoa. A new Legislative Assembly was established, with full powers (including control of finance), in which the Samoan representatives had a majority. And a much older advisory body, the Fono of Faipule, was left in existence for the time being—both to give advice on the problems which were worrying the people of the villages and to choose the Samoan members of the Legislative Assembly. (The Faipule themselves were directly elected by the matai of the different districts.)

As soon as the new political “set-up” (as it was commonly called) was working, steps were taken to give the people's representatives a closer knowledge of the work of government. Permanent committees of the Legislative Assembly were established to assist the heads of the larger departments in the planning of policy; and special committees were formed, from time to time, to study problems of particlular importance. By 1953 it was felt that the [ unclear: ] should meet in Samoa to work out a solution to those problems. After much preliminary work had been done, this Convention, which contained representatives of all sections of the people of Samoa, met at the end of 1954. Developments since that time have been based upon its decisions. In 1956 the elected members of the legislature who were on the Executive Council took responsibility for the administration of certain departments—a half-way step towards full cabinet government. In the present year, the existing Legislative Assembly and Fono of Faipule are both being replaced by a much larger Legislative Assembly, nearly all of whose members will be directly elected. The new legislature will contain from 41 to 45 Samoan members, five European members, and “not more than three” official members. The High Commissioner and the Fautua will no longer sit in the legislature. Instead, the members will elect a Speaker to control debates, [ unclear: ] s in New Zealand.

Of course, to be successful the new self-governing Samoa must achieve much more than a satisfactory constitution. It must work out policies for economic development that will enable it to maintain a high standard of living for its people; it must have an adequate system of education; it must bring the traditional forms of village and district councils into conformity with the needs of modern life. But, at least, the co-operation of the New Zealand authorities and Samoan representatives over the past ten years had laid a firm political foundation for these developments. From now on the roads to success will be controlled by the Samoans themselves.


What sort of men, among the Samoans, have been leading (their country forward during recent years?

The two Fautua, Hon. Tupua Tamasese and Hon. Malietoa Tanumafili, exemplify much that is characteristic of modern Samoan leadership. Their position is firmly based in the traditional social structure, but they have, as well, a broad knowledge of modern life. Both succeeded to their responsibilities as young men; both have travelled widely outside Samoa and kept in touch with events through reading, the radio, and their many friends in other countries. Tamasese, in particular, whose predominant interest is in public affairs, is always ready to discuss problems of local or world politics and brings to his side of the discussion a wealth of knowledge. Thus, though the position of the Fautua is primarily one of formal representation, their actual influence in practicle politics is very considerable and owes much to their experience and knowledge.

Among the members of the

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Assembly and of other governmental bodies, there have also been many who bring to public affairs a similar blending of traditional and modern ways of thought. In some cases, their very presence in public life has shown the complex way in which Samoan tradition has been modified in response to present needs. This has been possible because of the lack of rigidity in Samoan custom. For example, certain villagers and the holders of certain titles have traditional rights of precedence in a district; but this can be made a largely formal matter when there is reason for placing practical responsibilities in other hands. The right to speak for the district of Aana, for example, resides with the orator group of the village of Leulumoega; but the first representative of Aana in the Legislative Assembly was the Hon. Tofa Tomasi, the holder of a relatively minor title in the less important village of Faleasi'u. Tofa's political position, which he occupied till his death with the full backing of Leulumoega, was probably as secure as that of any man in Samoa. It was based on his personal qualities and knowledge. Besides being an extremely adroit politician, Tofa was both a man of wealth (made in trading) and the Samoan authority on economics. The matai of Aana were well satisfied to be represented by such a man, who, by his talents, brought credit to the district as well as to himself.

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Although Samoan society is changing, traditional ways in work and dress have persisted. (NPS Photograph)

The present Samoan members of the Executive Council—men who are carrying out something like ministerial duties—all exemplify, in their different ways, the same broad trends. The Hon. Tualaulelai Mauri has been engaged during the whole of his adult life in commercial and administrative work; he has spent long periods in both New Zealand and Fiji; he has represented Samoa at overseas conferences and in varied negotiations. The Hon. Tuatagaloa Leutele—a man of powerful influence in the traditional social system—had led his home district most effectively in the development of education, medical services, and public works before his energies became so fully engaged in national politics. The Hon. To'omata Lilo-maiva is both a man of high title in the island of Savai'i and a wealthy cocoa planter. The Hon. Fonoti has been the leading figure in more than one commercial company, as well as a planter in his home district of Lotofaga. These men do not under-rate the importance of the intricate and sophisticated forms of Samoan social life, but they are also accustomed to the atmosphere of the modern board-room. They are both Samoan chiefs and men of affairs

In the control of district and village affairs, the same type of leadership is found in many places. The formal structure of district and village fono has not been changed; but often the real work of administration has been delegated to committees which are dominated by the younger and more progressive matai. Generally, where there is a leader of outstanding qualities, he finds a full outlet for his talents. One notable example is Vaisala, in the district of Vaisigano, which for many years has had the progressive leadership of the Va'ai family. The former head of the family was a government clerk in German times; later, as a Faipule in the 1920's, he visited New Zealand and Tonga. He became imbued with the importance of education and sent his own sons and several other boys to boarding school in Apia. Now, these men are playing important roles not only in Vaisala itself but in a number of other villages in Savai'i, as planters, traders, teachers, introducing progressive methods into the administration of the places where they live. The son who has succeeded him in Vaisala, a former school-teacher, continues his work there. The village has an excellent school, which also functions as a community centre for adults. Young Planters' societies have been formed both to promote improved standards of production and to provide mutual aid for members in times of illness or other trouble. Many of the people of Vaisala make quite large incomes from the growing of cocoa.

These examples are only a few amongst many. The Samoan scene is not, of course, one of

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universal progress. In the Legislative Assembly there have always been some members who have little to contribute constructively to the adaptation of Samoan life to the needs of modern times. Among the villages, there are not a few where the leaders have shown insufficient adaptability in face of changing needs and where, as a consequence, their authority is declining and the young men are tending to drift away. But the emergence of a progressive leadership, even if only here and there, is itself an indication of the vitality and flexibility of Samoan culture. Taken in conjunction with the more sympathetic and liberal policy of New Zealand in the years since the war it goes far towards explaining why Western Samoa is on the verge of taking its place in the world as a self-governing country.