Malietoa Tanumafili II dies aged 94

Sunday May 13, 2007

Malietoa Tanumafili II - Samoa's Head of State for 45 years and cousin
of the late former Fiji President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara has died at
the age of 94 according to reports.

Malietoa Tanumafili II was also the cousin of Tonga's late King
Taufa'ahau Tupou IV who died last year 88.

His death ends the last of a once powerful 20th Century Polynesian

All three men were heads of state at times of independence and all
held powerful chiefly titles recognised as royal across the Pacific.

Malietoa Tanumafili II was born on January 4, 1913, the son of the
first Tanumafili.

The title Malietoa is one of Samoa's most powerful and gave the holder
title over much of Samoa.

Uncertain times ahead as Samoa deals with new order


For at least the last decade Samoans have always offered a quiet
prayer when word came that Malietoa Tanumafili II was ill.

Samoa is a young nation and no one under the age of 45 had ever known
the country without the fatherly leadership of Malietoa.

Now he is dead and the question of succession arrives for the first
time in the history of the Independent State of Samoa.

But three years ago quiet measures were put in place to prepare for
the inevitable when two men were sworn in as members of Samoa's
Council of Deputies. One was former prime minister Tuiatua Tupua
Tamasese Efi, and the other, Tuimaleali'ifano Sualauvi II.

No one would publicly say that the appointment of these two men - who
would serve as deputy head of state - was about succession and Tupua's
family was deeply critical of a media report that suggested this. At
the time Tupua was refusing to join the Council but a curious
double-standard was involved.

Samoa's high chiefs do not like talk of succession and titles. But
they themselves over a lifetime fight through the Lands and Titles
Court in a manner that is barely polite.

As it is, the issue of who comes after Malietoa and how, carries
important historical significance while defining the way ahead for Samoa.

ne has to go back to the 19th century to see the last such battle, not
least because the combined longevity of the Tanumafili puts succession
beyond the living memory of any person now. Samoa has four tama-a-aiga
or royal titles, heads of extended families:

Malietoa, Tamasese and Tuimaleali'ifano. The fourth, Mata'afa, has
been vacant since 1997.

When Samoa was negotiating with New Zealand for independence and
drafting a constitution, the question of head of state, or the 'O le
Ao o le Malo', was potentially vexatious. But they came up with a
joint life-term Head of State. One was Malietoa, the other was Tupua
Tamasese Meole, the father of the current holder.

Under the constitution, the Fale Fono or Legislative Assembly, will
elect the next head of state for a five year term.

The presumption, not stated in the constitution, is that the post will
go to a 'tama-a-aiga' and a member of the Council of Deputies. But it
has never been tested.

Independence came in 1962 and a year later, Tupua Tamasese died.
Malietoa lived on as a very much-loved man, incorruptible, humble and
funny. With his death, his most likely successor as Head of State will
be Tupua Tamasese Efi. In the 1970s he served as prime minister, under
the Tupuola Efi title.

He has collected a slew of paramount titles-some following protracted
and unedifying legal battles. Although he says he does not want the
job, he is not his own man: he must serve the thousands who eventually
bestowed the royal title on him.

As a politician, Tupua enjoyed the cut-and-thrust of party politics
and political debate. He is also a stickler for fa'a Samoa (or Samoan
culture) and the Samoan language.

The various extended families under his titles though made no secret
they did not enjoy the vision of their prince engaged in the political
trenches, feeling he should be above the fray. An additional factor
for Tupua has been the problem that once a politician, always a

He lost his premiership to the Human Rights Protection Party, which
continues to reign in Samoa, and his personal animosity for the late
Prime Minister Tofilau Eti was strong.

In fact electing a new Head of State will be the easy part; head of
state is a ceremonial title in which the holder must act on the advice
of government.

Not so the next Malietoa, awesomely powerful with control of much of
Samoa's land. The title came about nearly a thousand years ago when
Samoa was under Tonga's suzerainty.

Led by two chiefs, Samoans were able to drive the occupiers off, who
left with a shouted chant across the waters: 'Malie tau, malie toa'
(splendidly fought, brave warriors!).

As a result, it became one of the central titles and when Europeans
showed up later, it was perhaps the most interfered with of them all.
The appointment of a new Malietoa will be a two-stage process. The
first will involve defining those who have the pule or authority
within the Sa Malietoa, the extended family, to name a successor.

By tradition, authority rests with the nine senior matai or chiefs in
the village of Malie, west of Apia, in the district of Tuamasaga, on
the island of Upolu. In theory, they must also consult the district of
Safotulafai in Savai'i and the island of Manono.

But it will not be simple as the Sa Malietoa is large and diverse, and
those excluded can be counted on going to the Lands and Titles Court
at Mulinu'u, on the western side of Apia harbour. There, some brave
judge will make the decision on who can make the next decision.

Thus empowered, the matai will go off and consider who will be so blessed.

Nothing is automatic, and titles do not always pass to the first born
of the next generation. It will, however, take many years.

Pacific: Samoa: New Zealand Regrets Abuses

Published: June 5, 2002

Western Samoa received a formal apology from its former semicolonial ruler New Zealand for a decade of deaths and ill treatment. The New Zealand prime minister, Helen Clark, made the apology in the capital, Apia, on the nation's 40th anniversary of independence. She said the apology was for negligence in an influenza epidemic in 1918 that killed 8,000 islanders and police suppression in 1929 of an independence movement and later banishment of island chiefs. John Shaw (NYT)

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