Samoans can be precious about our Fa’asamoa, and at the core of the Samoan way of life is our Fa’amatai, or our system of chiefs (matai).

Ideally and traditionally, new chiefs are chosen by the consensus of their extended family, an honour bestowed on them after years of cultural tutelage and service. As Samoans tend to also be human (who knew?) the task of choosing a new matai can often be influenced by other motives too, not the least of which are the usual suspects: money (land) and power.

In the ville (One Samoana’s social network) this week, native Latia posted a very interestingly-worded question: Matai names and how much do/did they cost? And who here is/has a matai? Latia opened the discussion by stating that her father’s matai title cost him between $2,500 and $5,000.

Wow. Even with all the um… imperfection around the way matai are chosen these days, I’d never actually heard of our chiefly titles being sold. To me, that thought borders on blasphemy… but then we complain so much about corruption in the Fa’asamoa, is it really such a surprise that even titles can be bought?

A few responses into the discussion, though, and Latia’s question is thankfully clarified.

You see, the bestowing of a matai title involves a ceremony called a ‘saofa’i’. It’s a gathering of all the matai from a family and village and involves eloquent speeches, the exchanging of gifts and an ava (kava) ceremony.

The person who is receiving the title is expected to be the most generous with the gift-giving. He (or she) will give money etc. to the highest chief in the family, who will then distribute it amongst the other chiefs. We don’t normally call this ‘buying’ a title, but it’s generally not a secret how much cash the family expects the newbie to donate, so Latia has a point.

I’m curious now, too. If you have a Samoan matai title, how much did it put you, personally, out of pocket? How much did your family spend on the saofa’i? Would you do it all over again (for another title)?

Please tell us in a comment below.

xx HGG