A Samoan Matai and Language Challenge

by | Le Api, The Matai Handbook | 2 comments

I love the Samoan culture the way I love my family:

  • I would protect and defend it with my life
  • I don’t always agree with it and sometimes we fight

One aspect of our culture I always seem to be in the ring with is our matai system, or fa’amatai.

On the one hand, fa’amatai is a beautifully communal practice of caring for an extended family. On the other hand, it can seem so… fiddly. And tiresome. And easily corrupted – not just by immoral people, but by a general lack of understanding.

Or do we just call that ‘cultural evolution’?

My own efforts to understand fa’amatai resulted in these posts:

And then after all that thought and consideration, I decided that I am not matai material.

Why I don’t want to be a matai

I have too much going on in my world right now to contribute significantly to extended family affairs, and I could never take a chiefly title without accepting the responsibilities it comes with.

I mean, I would have to show up to family stuff. I don’t even go to Christmas.

I DID spend time over the holidays with some of my family’s elders. It’s just mesmerizing to hear their banter about a fa’alavelave or church gathering, debating what was done well and what might have been inappropriate according to Samoan protocol.

I caught myself in thoughts like, “If I was that matai, I would have never…” and, “I’m glad I’m hearing this now so when I’m a matai, I’ll know to…”

Ia gale. Dot, dot, dot.

Then my elders would drop an alagaupu I’d never heard before, or laugh about a figure of speech I didn’t understand, and I’d have to ask them, please, for an explanation.

Our language continues to fascinate me. I’m still working on my everyday Samoan speaking skills, but I will always be in awe of our higher Samoan language – full of poetry and metaphor and so much imagery.

Piecing together those images into a captivating lauga (speech) is the work of a highly respected orator matai.

Why I might want to (someday) be a matai

So my attitude towards matai-ship (not that it’s been formally offered to me yet) has shifted slightly. I’m not matai material right this minute – for sure! – but I might be in a few years. It could happen.

No harm putting in a little preparation now, right?

My Samoan language resolution

In 2019, my goal is to master everyday, conversational Samoan. I’m okay at it now, but just okay. I figure it will take around 6 months of concentrated effort to reach that goal.

The idea is, along the way I’m going to pick the brains of the elders in my family for phrases and metaphors in our higher Samoan language, and then by the end of this year, I want to start putting together my own lauga.

And I’ll share as much as I can – all the language and lauga learning, all the tips and insight around matai protocol – here in my online api (notebook) in case I’m not the only upcoming matai looking for this kinda information.

Please check back here at One Samoana for more news and announcements about Hamo Geek Girl’s new language learning matai project (that needs a better name).

If you’re on the same journey, please let us know in the comments below.

This is going to be fun.


  1. DntFlex

    im so glad i came across your blog. im starting my journey in learning the origin before getting the malofie and this is helping me alot thank you..

  2. JJW

    Take 6 months of concentrated effort to reach a goal of mastering the Samoan everyday conversational language? Ah, how about 6 years? LOL you are still writing in English. Can you write something in Samoan? hahaha, I’m just joking!!!


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