"OBSERVING THE PRINCIPLE OF FA’AMAULALO"
It was with great delight that I read of the official action taken by BoH accepting the request for a longer transition period prior to withdrawal from American Samoa. An important goal achieved by Governor Moliga with the support and assistance of Congressman Faleomavaega. As an observer to the events that led up to the Bank of Hawaii agreement extending the transition time to twelve months, I witnessed the finest qualities of Samoan leadership and conflict resolution that seamlessly wove modern knowledge with traditional wisdom.
To provide context, the Governor and team had nearly exhausted all avenues to achieve the goal for an extended transition time prior to the Bank’s departure. The US Federal Reserve Bank listing of registered individuals to testify on March 12, 2013, had been released online for those, like myself, who registered. Reading the list, the Bank of Hawaii was scheduled first to testify with a line-up of top officials and corporate heavy guns sequenced to testify on its’ behalf. The corporate strategy appeared formidable.
Lined up to testify at the opposite side was Governor Lolo Moliga, Congressman Faleomavaega, a group of Samoan and local residents, community and faith based organizations and the media. It appeared more like an impending David and Goliath encounter. The general consensus was to prepare for a clash of perspectives that would inevitably overflow into other arenas.
That same evening Congressman Faleomavaega called regarding a meeting with the Governor and key staff, special assistant Iulogologo Joe Perreira and Director of the Department of Commerce, Keniseli Lafaele. The impromptu meeting discussed a call to the Governor made by a Bank of Hawaii official requesting a private meeting with CEO and Chairman of the Bank of Hawaii, Mr. Peter Ho, to be held 30 minutes before the Federal Reserve Bank hearing the following morning. It was decided that only Governor Lolo Moliga and Congressman Faleomavaega would speak during the meeting with the CEO.
We arrived as scheduled and were directed to a private section of the conference facility where Mr. Ho and two of his ranking officials awaited us. I got a front seat in observing the principle of fa’amaulalo (humility), the importance of faia (relationships and connectivity between parties), and the power of fa’aaloalo (respect): all three highly regarded virtues of Alii and among Samoans in general. (When on the faculty of the UH College of Business, I vividly recalled how these virtues were not part of the Business College literature used in preparing graduate and post-graduate business students for the corporate and business world. I wove them into my lectures anyway.)
Governor Lolo Moliga and Congressman Faleomavaega exemplified how the power of humility, love and respect can cause a very formidable financial institution to reconsider its decision. Their approach was delivered with dignity, grace and stature demonstrating the finest qualities of leadership that we should always expect of our leaders. Mystifying, I’m sure for any corporate trained strategist from overseas, was that at no time until the concluding moments (when they became secondary), was there a mention of corporate interests, assets, financial assessments, profitability or ASG’s request for extended time and reasons for it. Discussions focused on commonalities such as shared values, history that included the military, influence of family and the wisdom of ancestors. Peter Ho, I’m sure, could not help but respond in the manner he did, moved by the dignity of the discourse and the memories of ancestors who opened the pathway that raised the common good of an earlier era gone by. In the concluding minutes before the Federal hearings were to commence in the adjoining room, an understanding was reached. An understanding that was made official by a Bank of Hawaii letter reported in the Samoa News.
It was with great surprise to many, when the first to testify was not the legion of Bank of Hawaii officials originally listed, but a panel of three extraordinary men who found common ground in basic human decency, humility and respect. I also felt it was the common bond of men who were born and raised in the Pacific on islands that appear distant and separate on the surface, but who know they are connected to each other in the deep.
Sadly, the more conventional ‘modern’ approach to conflict and differences tends to be confrontational in nature and litigious. That kind of approach ignites unreasonable emotion and fuels the types of volatility that attracts lawyers, like sharks to the scent of blood. Small things become big things and big things become unmanageable, often escalating rapidly to levels where collateral damage to the innocent is inevitable. For example, the unprecedented burgeoning of lawsuits reflected by national statistics at all walks of life reminds one of an algae bloom that smothers and often kills coral reefs.
There is also the propensity to denigrate, diminish and supplant our time-tested cultural foundations of fa’aaloalo and alofa with practices from elsewhere. An army of lawyers could not have achieved what the Governor and Congressman did standing on the foundations upon which the giants of our aiga have stood. Alofa led the way. Fa’aaloalo guided reconciliation, Faia embraced forgiveness and Fa’amaulalo kneeled next to remorse, healing and spiritual restoration. That is the Samoa I was raised in and whose values I continue to be inspired by.
Faafetai for everyone’s support, suggestions and prayers throughout this trying time for American Samoa. Faafetai and Congratulations to Governor Lolo L. Moliga and our Congressman Faleomavega Eni. Faafetai to Bank of Hawaii CEO, Peter Ho. Happy Easter, American Samoa.
Papalii Dr. Failautusi Avegalio
Director, Pacific Business Center Program
Executive Director, Honolulu Minority Business Enterprise Center
Shidler College of Business Administration
University of Hawaii, Manoa campus.