Samoa - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Rank goes with age and the position a matai title holds within the complicated title structure. An older sister ranks higher than her brother. The descendants of a sister still enjoy a special respected status within the descent group. Christianity has emphasized the status of the wife, however, and the sister's position is not as pronounced today as it once was. Within most descent groups, there are two sets of matai: aristocrats ( ali'i ), who embody the group's dignity; and orators ( tulāfale ), who take a more official role when they speak on behalf of the ali'i at certain formal public events. Each matai supervises and looks after the family under his immediate control and is responsible for it vis-à-vis the community.

Political Organization. Communities (nu'u) are Politically independent but are organized into districts and subDistricts for ceremonial purposes. Aboriginally, war, too, was a supracommunity concern. Ceremonies on a supracommunity level often focus on the life-crisis rites of certain very high-ranking titleholders, the tama-a-'āiga, which are not to be confused with matai and should rather be called kings. Formal political control within the community is exercised by the council of matai (fono) with the 'aumaga (the untitled men's organization) serving as executive body. Women's committees exist today in all communities, playing an important role in community affairs as an unofficial arm of local government. They replace or complement the aualuma, the group made up of the sisters and daughters of the community, which played an important ceremonial role in former times.

Social Control. Informal social control is exercised through gossip and was formerly aided by the open Samoan houses, which prevented privacy. Formal control is exercised through the fono, which retains the right to expel individuals and, in rare cases, entire 'āiga from the community and its lands.

Conflict. In aboriginal times and throughout the nineteenth century, conflicts over titles and lands often resulted in wars. Such cases are adjudicated today by special law courts. Competitiveness—such as evidenced in, for instance, the zeal of untitled men to distinguish themselves as good servants to their matai, in oratory, in donations to the church, etc.—adds areas of conflict to social life.

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