Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Village Structure

The village is “nu’u” in Samoan. The nu’u is all extended family and everyone is related to some degree somewhere up the family tree. Each village has a chunk of land reaching from the mountains all the way down to the reef. Some of the land belongs to each family, while other parts, like the reef, are communal property. There is a very complex structure in the village. At the top of this hierarchy is the faife’au, or pastor. He is top dog in every Samoan village. Everyday people send him food and whenever there is a fa’alavelave he gets a huge chunk of the goods. Next on the totem pole is his wife. After them comes the matai, or chiefs. There are two kinds of chiefs, ali’i and tulafale. Ali’i chiefs are high chiefs while tulafale are orator chiefs. Tulafale are responsible for knowing history of the village and family, as well as being the spokesman during a fa’alavelave. All matai belong to a fono or village council. Even within the matai there is a hierarchy. You have the highest chiefs, which can include both ali’i and tulafale, and then a series of lower matai. The highest chiefs are top dogs when it comes to running the village. If you want something done, you go to them. When at meetings you will see the highest matai sitting in the front of the fale doing all the talking and the lower matai sitting at the back not really saying anything. Any decision made in the village is made trough much discussion and total consensus. It is sometimes frustrating to be at a meeting where the conversation revolves around a small detail that seems insignificant, but because total consensus is not reached the discussion goes on until everyone agrees. This is just the way it works.
Next are the chiefs’ wives. You have the faletua (high chief’s wife) and tausi (orator chief’s wife). Again there is a hierarchy here too. The wives of the highest chiefs have the most power and are the officers in the women’s committee (a women’s group made up of most of the women in the village, regardless of which hierarchy group they belong to). Again, in meetings the wives of the highest chiefs sit in the front and everyone else in the back. Moving down the hierarchy you come to the aualuma, or daughters of the village. They have a special rank since they were born in the village. Their duties are taking care of the village, especially when guests come. From this group comes the taupou. The taupou is the village virgin who mixes the ava during ceremonies and matai meetings and also dances to open and close a fiafia (celebration involving dancing). The aualuma get a lot of respect in the village. At their to’ona’i (meal after church) they always have prepared food, rather than canned goods, and the taule’ale’a send over food.
Next comes the taule’ale’a, or untitled men. These men are the “malosi o le nu’u” or strength of the village. They work really hard. They are the ones who serve the matai during meetings, go to the plantation, and do the work for the village. In Samoa, there is a phrase “o le ala i le pule o le tautua” which means service is the way to power. This means the taule’ale’a work really hard and eventually their service is rewarded and they become a matai. You also have the female version of the taule’ale’a, or wives of the untitled men. They don’t have much power at all and serve the women much like the taule’ale’a serve the matai. Their hope is their husbands work really hard so they can become a chief’s wife. People who are not from the village are really low on the hierarchy scale; being from the village is always better than being the spouse of someone from the village. Kids are lowest, they have no power.
And then there is me…I’m not really sure where I rank but I know I get a lot of respect, usually more than I feel I deserve. I get taken care of really well and usually they have me sit in a position which shows they respect me and think of me highly. If I eat with one of the women’s groups, they sit me with the higher ranking women and at to’ona’i with the matai I sit next to the pastor’s wife. It is nice to be respected, but most of the time I don’t feel I deserve it, makes me even more self-conscious than I already am being the only palagi (foreigner, usually referring to a white person) in the village. The village structure is interesting to try to figure out and if you can successfully figure it out and learn how to work within the structure you can be a very successful Pisikoa (Peace Corps Volunteer).

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