SAMOA: A culture of peace
Vaaletoa Sualauvi Tuimalealiifano II
August 7, 2005
Samoa`s location in the Pacific Ocean is a Blessing from God. The word `Pacific` means `peaceful`, and generally such is the way of life in the Oceania Region in contrast to the unfortunate circumstances of nations devastated by warfare, crime, violence, starvation, racial tension, discrimination, cultural demise, homelessness, severe loss of population, HIV Aids, other fatal diseases and epidemics, and national disasters.
Of course we do have problems but our Samoan culture, Christianity and the National Government cooperate to minimize them and procure peace in our country.
Christianity only arrived in Samoa in the early 19th century but was quickly espoused by the whole country because the King of Samoa at that time Malietoa Vainu`upo received it and promulgated the immediate support of Samoa`s traditional Chiefs called `Matai`.
The pagan gods were then replaced by the Christian God of the Holy Bible. The peace taught by the Holy Bible and exemplified in the life of Jesus Christ became Samoa`s concept and conviction about peace. The position of Pastor was elevated to that of God`s representative, thereby acquiring the respect and privileges that would be rendered to the paramount Chief of a village. God was affirmed as the King of all Chiefs and of Samoa.
The Pastor became very influential in the village because Chiefs regarded him as their spiritual Father and Chiefs thereby became deacons, or lay-preachers. As a result the council of Chiefs in each of the 360 villages were obligated to adopt Christian principles and values in their administration and governance of village affairs and maintenance of peace, law and order.
To be Head of State, Deputy Head of State, Prime Minister or Member of Parliament in Samoa one has to be a Chief. Therefore, when a Chief joins the national government, he is already equipped from the village or local level, for leadership and responsibilities for the whole country.
Such experience is very valuable and that is why even Samoa`s Honorable Prime Minister Tuilaepa never misses the weekly meeting of his villages` council of Chiefs to deliberate on village affairs and to ensure that peace is maintained within families and among the community. In the villages there are regulations such as going to church on Sundays being compulsory, and curfews to be held in the evening so that families can have a close relationship with God in evening prayers.
Government has built its own Prayer House and holds weekly Prayer Meetings. One week every year is dedicated to prayers and national fasting throughout the nation and villages take turns to conduct worship of God on television and the radio.
Samoa`s motto is; `Samoa is founded on God`. As the first country in the Pacific to become an independent state, its Constitution is based on Christian principles and Samoa`s customs and traditions. The belligerent nature, pride and self-centeredness of our people has succumbed to the Peace of God introduced by Christianity.
The close cooperation among the churches, Council of Chiefs and the national government has facilitated the promotion of a peaceful society in Samoa. That is why Samoa has no need for a military force and the Police force is not armed because the Council of Chiefs is a Peace Council that makes rules and decisions to regulate the conduct of the villagers and can apprehend offenders for the Police so that peace prevails for the security and welfare of the village.
Peace Councils are not a new concept to Samoa and there are at least 360 of them in the form of Councils of Chiefs. Since every Samoan is related to a Chief the Council of Chiefs is therefore respected by the people of every village.
Christianity and Samoan culture have enhanced each other and no Samoan can be homeless or starve, and will always have kinsmen to care for them, and land to live on as well as land to cultivate.
The architecture of a traditional Samoan house, having no windows or doors but open on all sides is not only suitable for Samoa`s climate but demonstrates an environment of peace, security, openness and sharing. You are welcome to enter, stay, rest, and have a meal as if it was your own family.
The family comprising several generations is very important in our country. Like other nations in Oceania we grow up in the environment of an extended family and we share what we have with not just our children, siblings and parents, but with grandparents, great-grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins.
We reciprocate each others love in kind in weddings, funerals or special occasions. We are brought up to respect and love not just our extended families but the pastor, chiefs, elders, and even the stranger living in our midst. And a child, a woman, an untitled man, or a chief would know where to sit, when to talk or express an opinion, and what chores, obligations, duties, and responsibilities to perform. These guard against infringement of rights and privileges, and disturbance of peace.
Rendering of service to the family and fellowmen is a very important component of our culture, and it merits respect and love from other people. It is a prerequisite to acquiring a title which makes one a chief of one`s extended family and village.
The different stages of a person`s life from childhood to adulthood and to old age, prepare one to live with love and respect for others and in unity and peace within ones` family, community or village. When an individual is successful, his family rejoices. When he errs, his family grieves.
When a serious offence is committed by a person against another or a family or a village, vendetta or retaliation in kind is prevented by the performance of a traditional apology whereby the offender or a member of his family or village kneels on the ground and covered by a Samoa fine mat in front of the victims` family and risks being killed or assaulted together with his family or village that accompany him.
But because of the Christian principles of love, peace and forgiveness, pardon for an offence and reconciliation of two parties is effected through such an apology despite the gravity and seriousness of the offence. This apology is a mitigating factor in sentencing of the offender by the Courts.
Peace is not just the absence of warfare, poverty or disease. It includes spiritual oneness with God. And speaking from my Samoan experience we need God in our lives. As individuals, families, and nations, we need to change our hearts; we need to love and accept each other, and not be overridden by the greed for power and domination of other people and nations.
We who are leaders must set the example. We could at least pray for true love so that we could become true peacemakers at home and educate our people to live in peace with each other and learn values from others.
We need to return to God who created this world, and made man and woman to be its custodians and multiply and be fruitful. We must also love God with all our hearts and all our minds and all our strength and love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
Without such love there can be no true and unified peace in this world.
Vaaletoa Sualauvi Tuimalealiifano II is Samoa`s Deputy Head of State. This article was first published in The World Peace Herald (www.wpherald.com) on August 7, 2005