Moana Toa: Pasifika female leadership series – The Hon. Fiamē Naomi Mataʻafa, Prime Minister of Sāmoa
Moana Toa is an initiative by the AM's Pasifika Collections and Engagement team that aims to link Pasifika female leadership to culture and arts. To mark International Women’s Day 2022, the initiative will celebrate Pasifika women leading in their respective careers and recognise their contribution to changing the climate of gender equality through a series of blog posts and videos.
The literal translation of Moana and Toa in many Pasifika languages is "Ocean" and "Strong." The Pacific Ocean is home to tens of thousands of culturally diverse islands, and in many islands, the Pacific Ocean is referred to as "Our Mother." Therefore, the Moana Toa initiative aims to celebrate the strength, versatility and grace of Pasifika women and girls.
The series was created by Moemoana Schwenke, Anaseini Ulakai and Miriama Simmons.
It is a great honour to end our series with special guest, the Hon. Fiamē Naomi Mata’afa, Prime Minister of Samoa.
The Hon. Fiamē Naomi Mataʻafa is the first female Prime Minister of Sāmoa. Prior to being elected Prime Minister in 2021, she served as Sāmoa's High Chieftess, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Women, Community and Social Development, and Minister of Justice. In addition to many other achievements, Fiamē is notable for holding a number of first titles – she is Sāmoa’s first female member of Cabinet, first female Deputy Prime Minister and first female Prime Minister.
Fa’a Sāmoa – the Sāmoan way
“E au le ina’ilau a tama’ita’i” is a Sāmoan proverb that encapsulates the strength of women, metaphorically meaning that women can achieve anything they set their minds to. Fiamē is the embodiment of this proverb. Fiamē leads Sāmoa with fa’a Sāmoa, or the Sāmoan way, at the forefront. This is expressed through her honouring of Sāmoa’s cultural values, which include fa’aaloalo (respect), alofa (love), tautua (service) and loto maualalo (humility). She tirelessly advocates for greater participation of women in parliament, is committed to the rule of law and amplifies the effects of climate change on a global stage. She works to strengthen traditions and customs, and is focused on improving Sāmoa's education sector. Fiamē is undoubtedly an outstanding contributor to Sāmoan society and an exceptional example of female leadership.
The AM’s Pasifika Collection holds a diverse range of measina Sāmoa or Sāmoan treasures. We asked Fiamē about the measina Sāmoa that is most significant to her.
"Quite often when we talk about fa’a Sāmoa or measina Sāmoa we think of the tangible things like ‘ie tōga, for me, my measina are the intangibles," she tells us.
The intangibles of fa’a Sāmoa are both Sāmoan traditions and customs, and also Sāmoan cultural values of fa’aaloalo, alofa, tautua and lotomaulalo. The intangible features of fa’a Sāmoa are essential to Sāmoan identity, and act as the foundations that will nourish success of the nu’u (village), and aiga (family). They ensure the preservation and perpetuation of Sāmoan culture for succeeding generations.
Fiamē identified an important feature of fa’a Sāmoa, when she says,
In Sāmoa, we say, "'O le ala i le pule o le tautua'": the pathway to authority is through service.
The Sāmoan proverb encapsulates the importance of enacting tautua (service), as it is an essential part of one’s identity in Sāmoa. It is a cultural value that grounds the foundation of gaining leadership both within a Sāmoan village context and diaspora communities.
“When you grow up in a village environment, you see so much. So much of how we learn the fa’a Sāmoa is by observing and listening, and it's also about relationships. Something that my mother taught me is the importance of relationships. The relationships with humans, and even the relationship with our environment,” Fiamē says.
Fa’a Sāmoa also affirms that tautua is done to pay tribute to the interconnectedness of all living things. Fiamē emphasises the significance of reclaiming the interconnected relationships that we have with the environment, particularly as a means to mitigate and adapt to the harsh reality of climate change on Pacific Islands frontline communities. She is a strong advocate for action on climate change, which poses an imminent threat to the Pacific Islands through accelerated rises of sea-level, longer and more intense heat waves, and exacerbated natural disasters.
Measina Sāmoa in the AM's Pasifika Collection
Tānoa, commonly known as ‘ava bowl, is one of Sāmoa's oldest ceremonial crafts. Tānoa is a large wooden bowl that stands upright on four or more legs, and is hand carved from the ifilele tree. Each tānoa is made with the use of intricate Sāmoan carvings, symbols or coconut sennit. Customarily, tānoa is the ceremonial bowl used for the ‘ava ceremony, one of Sāmoa's most important formal customs. The ‘ava or dried roots of the kava plant is mixed with water in the tānoa using fau or strainer made from the bark of the hibiscus tiliaceus tree. The ‘ava ceremony is held during the bestowing of chiefly titles, formal meetings or village gatherings. In such contexts, tānoa is symbolic of unity, as it brings communities together.
“You begin your service within your family, your village, your community, your country. And then, internationally,” Fiamē says.
Women conduct vital roles within the community. For example, the ‘ava ceremony is most often prepared by the daughter of a high chief or ali’i, also known as the taupou. The taupou serves her nu’u or village through the ceremonial duties she carries out, such as leading ceremonial processions, dances, rituals and the preparation of the ‘ava. The taupou will sit behind the tānoa and mix the ‘ava with customary movements.
‘Ie Tōga, commonly known as fine mats, are the most prized possessions of Sāmoa. The fine, silk-like quality of the ʻie tōga determines its cultural value. ‘Ie Tōga is made from lauʻie, a long leaved pandanus, or laufala, a courser leaved pandanus. ‘Ie Tōga is traditionally made by the women of the village. The preparation and weaving process to make an ʻie tōga is intricate, and to complete an ‘ie toga can take days, months or years. At their completion, there is a celebratory parade by the women who weaved them. The giving and receiving of ʻie tōga is an integral part of fa’a Sāmoa. ‘Ie Tōga are seen, exchanged and gifted at special occasions such as weddings, funerals and the bestowing of chiefly titles. They are passed down from generation to generation, and are a mode of passing on Sāmoan heritage that is a reinforcement of reciprocity and mutual respect in the nu’u (village) and aiga (family).
While the organisation of women's roles may differ among villages, it is common to see the aualuma (untitled women) make ʻie tōga in a fale lalaga (weaving house). The aualuma serve their nu’u and aiga by fulfilling responsibilities such as the weaving of fine mats, which is the central wealth of a village. The women who create ʻie tōga are highly skilled and dedicated artists who participate in perpetuating fa’a Sāmoa, and the art form of Sāmoan weaving.
You serve because of the interconnectedness of all things, it determines your identity in Sāmoa.
Fiamē articulates the importance of the intangible features of Sāmoan culture, which include fa’a Sāmoa traditions and customs, and cultural values. Tautua or service is a fundamental cultural value that ensures the passing down of cultural knowledge, traditions and customs to succeeding generations. The significance of the intangible features of Sāmoan culture is evident in the highly skilled and dedicated craftsmanship given to make measina Sāmoa such as the tānoa and ‘ie tōga – both highly valued treasures in Sāmoa.
We extend deep gratitude to Hon. Fiamē Naomi Mataʻafa for sharing her wisdom on measina Sāmoa, and highlighting the brilliant aspects of Sāmoan culture that often go unspoken. She epitomises the essence of tautua or service in her every day life, and we are honoured to receive her expert cultural knowledge.
Fa’afetai tele lava Prime Minister of Sāmoa the Hon. Fiamē Naomi Mataʻafa for inspiring women and girls to pursue their aspirations in the highest capacity.
A special thank you to Pacific Women’s Professional and Business Network (PWPBN) for the platform to ask a question during “The Standing Ovation Interview” with Hon. Fiamē Naomi Mata’afa and the Originals Friends4Fiame.
Thank you for reading our final instalment of Moana Toa.