Op-Ed: Tamaseugogo #7
The three elements of the American Samoa Serrata — politics, culture, and church — could easily have been the three cornerstones of the territory’s Colleganza, if we had chosen to keep ‘prosperity for all’ the territorial goal our forefathers had envisioned and subscribed to for us in the two treaties of cession of 1900 and 1904. Instead we have opted to allow an elitist group to be formed to rule and deny the rest of us a more fair and decent co-existence and brighter future for all our children.
As I stated in a previous editorial opinion piece, winning elections has now become both a means and the end, because winning is big business and an economy in itself. And our leaders, giving in to the trappings of the modern materialistic world, have progressively over time lost their God gifted mana to lead the people of American Samoa. Hence, they would do all they could to win and maintain (in the guise of their positions as public servants) their elitist status in society; at the cost of fairness and welfare of the people, and meaningful survival of American Samoa as a nation.
Permeating American Samoa politics is the Samoan culture where government leaders and administrators are traditional Samoan chiefs. The Office of Samoan Affairs, by law or custom, is led by a leading paramount chief (“fa’asuaga”) as the Secretary of Samoan Affairs; and is supported administratively by three district governors — they, themselves, are selected from leading high chiefs of each district.
The senate chamber of the Fono is composed of leadings chiefs selected at a council of chiefs meeting through negotiation and consensus for each county; that is, if the paramount chief of each county relaxes his sole traditional privilege to appoint a senator (which is sometimes a self-appointment).
The House of Representatives and positions of the governor, lt. governor and congressional delegate are popularly elected. But those contesting these positions and eventual winners are invariably Samoan traditional chiefs.
The church, not necessarily God, enters the equation because Samoans by nature are religious people who worshiped their gods in pre-European time. This religiousness continued after our conversion to Christianity and other faiths. And invariably it is the high traditional chiefs who are government leaders and administrators, and hold high church positions as well.
It is this “Triad”, driven by financial reasons, upon which the American Samoa Serrata is based and thrives. It has been thriving because of the interdependency among the three roles of the key players of the Triad.
In simple terms, the high chief needs the high paying government job to finance his cultural and church obligations; the government leader needs the prestige that comes with the cultural/familial and church positions and the votes these two institutions hold to keep winning elections or keep government positions; and the church needs high tax deductible contributions from these high paying government leaders and other government opportunities, and contributions from the general membership (from families under the control of the chiefs) to sustain their institutions.
Political alliances are forged along the lines of prominent family names, cultural significance of titles, demand for or to keep government posts or promotions, business opportunities, churches, and villages to garner the most votes and win elections.
It is the potency of this Triad that sees campaign committees walking all villages and conducting traditional gift giving (“Suas”) in certain key villages where prominent leading high chiefs or high talking chiefs reside. The practice of traditional gift giving is rendered as an unwritten contract — gifts are given with the promise of votes; in return rewards are expected if the bid for office is successful.
It’s been proven effective in the past; the result of this election however will be telling of its current effectiveness if the certain team that relies heavily on this method of campaigning takes the cake.
This cycle is played out every two and four years, and the process seems routine enough and harmless, so why do I even bother writing about it? In fact one of the leading gubernatorial camps questioned why all the fuss when the territory is normal and if any problems, they can be resolved…routinely.
But it is the uneventful and automatic nature of the process in the past four gubernatorial elections and senatorial selections, eight congressional and House of Representative elections; and the ready acceptance of the resulting development policies, or (more accurately) the lack thereof that I am concerned about. We have accepted this non-productivity as normal and that is dangerous.
Why is it dangerous?
Because outside the American Samoa Serrata, live the 99% of the population. And once we stop hearing their call for help, feeling their pain, and doing something about it; that’s the moment we lose our culture, our humanity — we self-destruct.