Democratic aspects of Samoa's traditional matai system (1999)
Over the years, there have been many accusations leveled at the village council of chiefs (fono a matai) in different Samoan villages for their role as the 'judicial', 'legislative' and 'executive' body. From a constitutional perspective, the village council of chiefs has been seen to continually overstep its authority in terms of issuing traditional punishments to village members. In respect of the latter, the matai have been accused of breaching fundamental rights of individuals such as when they impose banishment on villagers. Furthermore, the matais continual influencing of voters during parliamentary elections has also received much criticism. The criticism is due to the obvious reasons, firstly the matai influencing voters is in direct conflict with the ideas of democracy which stresses the freedom of the individuals to vote for whom they wish. Secondly, it breaches the whole concept of a 'secret ballot'. However, when one adopts a holistic view of Samoa's traditional system, one will find that the accusations leveled at the village council are not necessarily shared by Samoans themselves and that valid reasons are behind such actions by the matai. As a result, this study adopts the qualitative method of research in an attempt to explain why the matai execute such decisions which are seen by the West as co1:flicting with democratic ideas. Overall, the interviews and field research conducted for this study reveal the significant role of the 'fono a matai' as the judicial, legislative and executive of villages. In relation to the latter it is found that villagers are content with decisions and regulations set by the fono and that understanding the collective nature of Samoan culture helps in explaining the reasons behind actions of the matais which are deemed undemocratic by Westerners.
KeywordsDemocracy--Samoa; Villages--Samoa; Chiefdoms--Samoa; Samoa--Politics and government
RightsAll Rights Reserved
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