P is for Palemene. Image: Tina Tiller

Ten words to help you understand Sāmoa’s election crisis

As New Zealand celebrates Sāmoan language week, Mata’afa Keni Lesa suggests 10 Sāmoan words and concepts to help you understand the ongoing political and constitutional crisis in the country.

1. Palota

Palota means vote or the process of voting. It could also be used to refer to a ballot. O le palota lautele refers to the general election, whereas palota laititi (small election) is used to refer to byelections, which often accompany Sāmoa’s voting process. O le faiga palota refers to the entire process of elections, and it covers the voters and the people responsible for the voting. Sāmoa held its general election (palota lautele) on April 9 2021. Six weeks later, the fight for who will govern the country continues. There is also speculation that the nation could still be called to palota in a second palota lautele.

2. Vaega fa’aupufai

Vaega fa’aupufai is the Sāmoan term for political parties. Vaega means a group of people and fa’aupufai refers to the task of dialogue, making laws and nation building. Five vaega fa’aupufai contested the 2021 palota. The three major parties are the ruling Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP), Faatuatua i le Atua Sāmoa ua Tasi (FAST) and the Tautua Sāmoa Party. Other parties included Sāmoa First Political Party and Sovereign Independent Sāmoa Party. The HRPP has ruled Sāmoa for nearly 40 years.

3. Ta’ita’i

The word ta’ita’i means to lead. It can also be used to refer to someone who has been appointed to lead a group, family, church or the nation. For the 2021 general election, the fight for control of parliament came down to the battle of two prominent ta’ita’i. One is caretaker prime minister, Tuilaepa Dr Sailele Malielegaoi, who is the ta’ita’i of the HRPP. Tuilaepa’s political career spans more than four decades, as the ta’ita’i of the HRPP and as the prime minister of Sāmoa for the past 22 years. The second is the prime minister-elect and the ta’ita’i of FAST, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa. The former deputy prime minister under Tuilaepa in the HRPP, Fiame quit last year to join FAST. She is poised to become Sāmoa and the Pacific Islands’ first woman prime minister.

4. Palemene

Palemene is the Sāmoan word for parliament. It is also commonly used to refer to the legislative assembly, although its official name is o le fono aoao faitulafono a Sāmoa. Sāmoa’s palemene is located at the Malae o Ti’afau at Mulinu’u. The parliament building is referred to as the maota fono.

5. O le (Tulafono) Fa’avae o Sāmoa

This refers to the Constitution of the Independent State of Sāmoa. The constitution has become a central focus of the 2021 general elections, even during the build up, with many legal challenges, questioning the validity and legality of certain decision-making by all parties involved. Some of the legal challenges testing the Fa’avae have gone so far as to question the authority of the ao mamalu o le malo (head of state) in terms of what he can and cannot do.

6. Fa’amasinoga

Fa’amasinoga, which is commonly used to refer to the judiciary and the courts, comes from the word fa’amasino (to judge or be judged). Fa’amasino is also used to refer to judges of the court, or anyone sitting in a position to give a judgment. The fa’amasinoga has played a critical part in the 2021 general elections given the heated battle between the HRPP and FAST for control of parliament. There have been no fewer than five legal challenges between the parties requiring fa’amsinoga since polling day, but the battle doesn’t appear to be finishing anytime soon. This does not include the filing of some 28 petitions and another 28 counter petitions between rival candidates alleging bribery and corruption. In the end, whoever governs Sāmoa for the next five years could well be determined by the fa’amasinoga.

7. Ekalesia

The ekalesia is the Sāmoan word for ecclesia. It is used to refer to the church in general. The church played a key part in the general elections this year, especially the nation’s biggest denomination, Ekalesia Fa’alapotopotoga Kerisiano a Sāmoa (EFKS), which backed FAST. The EFKS church became upset with prime minister Tuilaepa and his government for introducing a law forcing all church ministers to pay taxes on alofa (love offering) they receive from church members.

8. Loia

Loia is the Sāmoan word for lawyer or lawyers. Given the strong involvement of the fa’amasinoga, lawyers have obviously become star players in the fight for political control of Sāmoa’s palemene. What has been interesting to observe is the battle between the former attorney generals, Taulapapa Brenda Heather-Latu standing for FAST and Aumua Ming Leung Wai standing for the HRPP. Somewhere amid all this of course is the current attorney general, Savalenoa Mareva Betham-Annandale, whose decision-making has come under enormous scrutiny. Whatever happens, the one thing we can say is that Sāmoa is not short of great loia.

9. Soalaupule

Soalaupule refers to the process of negotiating and dialogue based on mutual respect. It involves at least two different parties coming together to find a solution or a compromise to a dispute. Since Sāmoa’s election impasse, there have been many calls for the ta’ita’i from all parties involved to soalaupule. But this is a difficult path to take, especially when it comes to the palota. Soalaupule is a Sāmoan concept, which involves a process where reason and truth are sometimes ignored to keep the peace, whereas the palota is a palagi idea, which demands truth and justice, requiring that the letter of the law is followed regardless.

10. Filemu

Filemu means peace. Despite everything that has happened since the general election of April 9, Sāmoa remains as peaceful as always. While there have been some protests and different gatherings for different political parties here and there, peace has been maintained through love, care and mutual respect anchored on the fa’a Sāmoa (Sāmoan culture) and aga fa’akerisiano (Christian beliefs). As a Christian nation, thousands of Sāmoans in Sāmoa and all over the world have also been praying for filemu.




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