Court awards Galea'i title to Moaaliitele Tuufuli
by Lewis Wolman
Samoa News, American Samoa
Senator Moaali'itele Tuufuli was awarded the Galea'i title by the Land and Titles Division of the High Court Friday, almost three months after the matai title trial ended.
The paramount chief title from Fitiuta, Ta'u, Manu'a has been vacant since Galea'i Peni Poumele passed away in July of 1992 while serving as Lieutenant Governor of American Samoa.
Five years ago, the formal procedure to find a successor began when Tafua F.M. Seumanatafa registered the title. Fourteen counterclaimants filed within the 60-day protest period, and five years later the process concluded on Friday when a four-judge panel affixed their signatures to their decision.
Associate Justice Lyle Richmond presided at the trial held in February, but matai cases are decided by the unanimous vote of the associate judges. In this case, they were Chief Associate Judge Tuaolo Fruean, Associate Judge Sagapolutele Malaeola, and temporary Associate Judge Tauanu'u Faisiota (formerly the Chief Associate Judge, now retired).
Five men eventually appeared in court earlier this year to vie for the title (the remainder either withdrew their claim or passed away), but when the decision was handed down it was overwhelmingly in Moaaliitele's favor.
His claim to the title was judged the best in three of the four criteria set out in local law. In the one criteria where he did not simply prevail, his claim was just as good as one other candidate and better than the other three.
THE COURT DECISION
Under the controversial matai law, the court considers four criteria when awarding a matai title. In order of priority, they are summarized as follows:
In a 12-page decision, the court found that Moaaliitele clearly prevailed on criteria 2, 3, and 4. As for criteria 1, the court ruled that Moaaliitele and Tafua had an equally good claim.
- 1) Best hereditary right;
- 2) the wish of the majority or plurality of family clans;
- 3) the forcefulness, character and personality of the candidates, as well as their knowledge of Samoan customs (especially the title's own family, village, county and district); and
- 4) the value of the holder of the title to the family, village, and country.
Both Moaaliitele and Tafua claimed to be the great great grandson of Galea'i Ulutui, and thus held a 1/16th right to the title. Other candidates claimed a closer connection to a Galea'i title-holder, but the court did not look favorably on their presentations.
After a very detailed and complicated review of the complex matter of bloodline, the court concluded that there were "considerable doubts about the knowledge of family history shown by candidates Tuiavatele Filifili, Tagataolemoana Le'i, and Paopao Eliu and the depth of their research on this topic."
Acknowledging that Tuiavatele and Tagataolemanu have a better mathematical claim to the title (1/8th, as opposed to 1/16th), the court stated that "we are persuaded by a preponderance of the evidence, however, that while Tafua and Moaaliitele established their hereditary rights to the Galea'i title with clear and convincing information, Tuiavatele, Tagataolemanu and Paopao failed to satisfactorily show their respective asserted hereditary rights to the title because of their vague, incomplete, and uncertain knowledge concerning their family history."
Therefore Tafuna and Moaaliitele were considered equally worthy of the title with respect to hereditary right, prevailing over the other three.
(The court applied the "traditional rule", looking at a candidate's relation to a titleholder, instead of the modern "Sotoa rule", which looks at a candidate's relation to the original titleholder. The Sotoa rule was inappropriate in this case, the court stated, because the candidates did not agree on the identity of the original titleholder.)
The court recognized two clans that make up the Galea'i family: Tutu and Pulenu'utu. Each clan met separately on various occasions to discuss the clan's choice for the new Galea'i.
The Tutu clan was supporting Setu (Seth) Galea'i, son of the former Galea'i, while the Pulenu'utu clan was supporting either Moaaliitele or Otto Haleck.
"Beginning after the first anniversary of Galea'i Peni Poumele's death, both clans met as an extended family on four occasions to discuss the" selection of the next Galea'i.
The meetings were held in Fitiuta in 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1997. (Thus two of them were held after Tafua registered his claim for the title.)
At the fourth meeting, all of the candidates were either present or represented. The Setu candidacy was withdrawn, as were many others. The Pulenu'utu clan expressed a preference for Moaaliitele over Otto. "This set the stage for the traditional ava cup ceremony denoting the next titleholder's selection," and that ceremony indeed took place.
But the candidates who ended up in court with Moaaliitele were not present at that meeting, held October 25, 1997, and they had the right to "persist in their respective candidacies." They did persist, but to no avail, as the court ruled that "by a consensus at a properly constituted family meeting, the two clans of the extended Galea'i family... selected Moaaliitele (on October 25, 1997) to be next holder of the Galea'i title."
PERSONALITY ET AL
The candidates were found to be "a well-educated group" who have each achieved success in their chosen careers.
Each candidate lives on Tutuila, but all remain involved in Fitiuta affairs. Each candidate "takes ardent part in worship and other matters pertaining to the church he attends on Tutuila."
Thus the court found that "all of the candidates posses the characteristics of a good family leader.
"However, based on demeanor as well as testimony, we further find that Moaaliitele is more forceful than the other four candidates... and accordingly prevails over the other four candidates on the criterion of forcefulness, character, personality, and knowledge of Samoan customs. In a footnote, the judges states that they considered evidence entered at trial involving possible violations of laws, but "only as unproved allegations." Such evidence was presented against Moaaliitele and involved matters that took place many years ago and as recently as the Fono Golden Jubilee.
VALUE TO FAMILY...
The court had "no doubt that each candidate would bring credible and worthy service to the family, village and territory as the next holder of the Galea'i title.
"Again, however, Moaaliitele stands out, based on his high-level service in ASG and as the holder of the sa'o title of the Moaaliitele family of Fitiuta for over 30 years.
Moaaliitele was represented in court by Afoa Lutu;
Tafua was represented by Sala Samiu;
Tuiavatele was represented by Tautai Faalevao;
Tagataolemanu was represented by Asaua Fuimaono;
and Paopao Eliu was represented by Arthur Ripley, Jr