Savea title awarded to Tavita Amani
The matai title Savea of Matu’u and Faganeanea has been awarded to Tavita Amani, says the Land and Titles Division of the High Court. The eight-page order was signed by Chief Justice Michael Kruse, Associate Judges Suapaia Pereira and Muasau Tofili last Thursday.
The order noted that in these matters the Land and Titles Division’s jurisdiction to determine a matai title dispute is footed on prior compliance with the requirements, and that before any action relating to controversies over communal land or matai title occurs, each party shall file with the secretary of Samoa Affairs or his deputy affirming certain actions, among which the parties, on at least two occasions appeared personally, with two persons designated by secretary of Samoa Affairs, without attorneys of both parties and that an attempt was made to resolve the controversy.
The court said the evidence shows that Office of Samoa Affairs (OSA) scheduled two separate meetings, which Ta’amu Iakopo, the man opposing Amani for the title, did not attend, while Amani attended both meetings.
The OSA issued the certificate of irreconcilable dispute (CID) noting that the matter could not be resolved among the parties, as Ta’amu failed to appear at both scheduled hearings.
The court notes the legislative purpose manifested for enactment of the statute (for Samoan Affairs to conduct hearings prior to issuing a CID, is an extra-judicial opportunity for parties to “attempt” a resolution themselves and case authorities have accordingly given effect to the requirements in the statute as a prerequisite to judicial review.
“Ta’amu had no intention whatsoever of complying with that statute since his failure to attend the OSA scheduled meetings was clearly willful and deliberate.__”
The court noted in this case they are dealing with a situation not akin to institutional failure to comply with statutory process but parties failure akin to deliberate default. The court further states that guided by the standard of natural justice and convenience and the analogous trial court rules of civil procedure dealing with party default, the court proceeded without further delay to consider the merits of Amani’s succession claim.
The evidence shows and the court finds that Amani is eligible and qualified to succeed to the Savea family senior matai title given due regard to the eligibility requirements under the statute.
“We are satisfied that Amani is more than one-half Samoan blood, that he was born in American Samoa, that he satisfies the prescribed residency requirements, that he enjoys the support of his family for the title and that he has lived with Samoans as a Samoan.”
The order further states that Amani descends from a former titleholder Savea Taigaafi, his great, great grandfather and the court is satisfied that Amani is entitled to hold the title Savea.
According to the order, the evidence suggested that in the absence of a family matai, the day-to-day responsibilities of the Savea family has devolved to those family members who actually reside in Matu’u and Faganeanea and within the family the daily interactions have resulted in the evolution of four distinct sub-clans, namely Puapuaga, Laufoli, Mafina and Faasoo and with regards to the meetings within the families the evidence showed that Amani has the overwhelming support of the majority of the sub-clans.
Amani 64, has an education background geared toward a pastoral career. He completed his studies at the Kanana Fou Theological Seminary, and also obtained a Bachelor of Divinity degree from the Pacific Theological College in Fiji.
Subsequently, he was ordained and later held for many years the position of General Secretary of the CCCAS and has also held secular employment positions with the government and the private sector, namely ANZ Amerika Samoa Bank. He also receives rental income.
The court found that from Amani’s employment history, the success he has enjoyed with his educational endeavors, from his demeanor on the witness stand, and his responses to direct examination and cross examination on the stand, the court is satisfied that Amani has demonstrated the personal qualities, to which this statutory criterion speaks, sufficient to sustain his claim to be capable of family leadership.
The court saud that Amani has primarily lived with and rendered traditional service to the family in Matu’u and Faganeanea, in the absence of a matai he has been in the forefront of family affairs and cultural obligations, and on many occasions he has served as family spokesperson.
“Also telling, in terms of value to the family matters, is Amani’s steadfast rejection of the unprecedented suggestion by Ta’amu that the family’s title have two co-holders.
“Not only does such a suggestion run afoul of the law, but if implemented would not only impact the dignity and prestige of the Savea title but also promote the sort of unnecessary divisiveness that necessarily comes with dual (or dueling) leadership.
Regarding the terms of value to village and country, Amani has presented himself commendably in terms of beneficial service to Matu’u and Faganeanea as a church official and lesser matai of the Savea family and to the American Samoa government as an employee.
The court holds that non-conforming petition/counter-claim filed by Ta’amu has been dismissed on jurisdictional grounds and certified Amani to the Territorial Registrar as eligible and qualified, and directed the certification of succession to the matai title Savea.