A few years ago I wrote this introduction to the world of the Samoan matai.

More recently, I started a series on the path to becoming a Samoan chief… as in, how do you get chosen (against other eligible relatives) for a chiefly title? How do you prepare for the bestowal ceremony, or saofa’i? What events can you expect on your saofa’i day? How much does all of that cost to you and your family? What are your responsibilities after you become a matai? Etc.

I’m still working on the next post in that series, but I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of the matai today. We all know it’s a big deal to become a Samoan chief, but do we really understand what that job entails? What would be expected of you, regardless of where in the world you happen to live?

As I was learning about Samoan culture, I remember deciding that I wasn’t interested in gaining a taupou title (the highest ranking female role in a family/village). Instead I wanted to become a proper matai – which still isn’t common amongst women.

But then I did some research and a lot of observation… and I evaluated my lifestyle and attitudes towards family and village affairs… and then I had to finally admit to myself that I’m not cut out to be a matai. It’s not a role that I could wholeheartedly commit to, for number of reasons.

If you’re considering putting your name forward for a matai title, maybe have a think about what that would really mean to you.

Please DON’T become a matai if…

  • you’re just after land to build your house on in Samoa – matai (especially high ranking) have more of a say over family land, but it’s still not your own personal land
  • you want it so you can get a pe’a tattoo – you don’t need to be a matai to get traditional ink
  • your side of the extended family is only trying to collect as many titles as possible so they have the political advantage over all the other sides of the family – well, nothing I say is going to stop this happening, so whatever lol
  • you don’t even know the name of the village your matai title comes from – Sadly, I’ve met a few (usually young-ish) matai like this…
  • you’re only doing it for the trip to Samoa and the party – okay, I can’t really be mad at this one lol
  • you have no intention of supporting the extended family physically (by at least participating in matai meetings) and financially – seriously though…

On the other hand…

Please DO become a matai if…

  • you want to help make decisions that affect your extended family – we need smart, wise and bold leaders to speak up for us in those matai meetings
  • you’re willing to pitch in time, effort and money to help the family accomplish goals – remember, these goals will be worthwhile because YOU helped to choose them when you counselled with the other matai
  • you’re always thinking about the needs of your family members – from your aging elders to the newest babies in your family, your life is about caring for and protecting them
  • you’ve got a keen sense for politics and you know (or want to learn) how to gain power and influence people – your increase in power and influence is a good thing for your whole family, as long as you gain it wisely and for the right reasons
  • you have a deep love for your culture, and you know the difference between true Fa’asamoa and a version of it that has been corrupted by greed – if you know exactly what I’m talking about here, you have my blessing and sincere encouragement to PLEASE go get that matai title!

Do you agree/disagree with my list? What would be your advice to hopeful matai?

Please tell us in a comment below.

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