Volume 83 1974 > Volume 83, No. 1 > The Land and Titles Court and the regulation of customary title successions and removals in Western Samoa, by Sharon W. Tiffany, p 35-57
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This article is concerned with conflicts which arise over Samoan titles and the influence of the Land and Titles Court on customary procedures for resolving title disputes in Western Samoa. 2


A fundamental feature of Samoan social organisation is the presence of kin groups based on non-unilineal principles of descent reckoning. 3 The largest of these kin groupings is the land-holding descent group called an 'āiga. 4 The non-unilineal principle of descent reckoning enables - 36 an individual to claim eligibility for membership in a particular 'āiga by tracing descent from that group's reputed founding ancestor through either male or female links. In other words, there is no determined order in which male or female links are used to trace one's genealogical connection to an 'āiga's founding ancestor, and both male and female links may be cited to establish eligibility for inclusion in an 'āiga descent group.

Membership in an 'āiga is optative, and not all potential 'āiga memberships are activated and maintained. Indeed, it would be most difficult, if not impossible, for an individual to meet the political, economic and psychological obligations involved in maintaining active memberships in all 'āiga to which he could conceivably claim consanguinity. Therefore, the number of multiple 'āiga memberships that are actually maintained will be far fewer than the number of potential memberships, and the range of activated 'āiga memberships will vary among individuals.

The Presence of multiple 'āiga memberships in the Samoan system of non-unilineal descent means that some members of an 'āiga will be geographically dispersed, while other members who choose to reside on that 'āiga's land will constitute the localised core, or nucleus, of 'āiga membership. The residential core of an 'āiga is composed of consanguineal members as well as non-members, who generally associate themselves with that 'āiga through an affinal link. 5 Most 'āiga in Western Samoa are traditionally associated with one particular village where the descent group was believed to have been originally established by its founder. Hence, the localised residential core of an 'āiga occupies the land which belongs to that 'āiga, while its other geographically scattered members continue to reside on lands owned by different 'āiga in other villages located throughout the Samoan Archipelago. Persons constituting the residential core of an 'āiga continue to exercise their membership options with other 'āiga on whose lands they do not reside by contributing goods and services when important 'āiga events, such as deaths, marriages, title installations, and house dedications take place.

An 'āiga has several titles belonging to it which are regarded as the exclusive and communal property of its membership, and each title occupies a certain position within that 'āiga's internal hierarchy of titled offices. The highest ranking, or senior, title of an 'āiga is that of its founder after whom the 'āiga is named. It is the responsibility of a descent group's senior ranking title-holder to act as trustee over 'āiga property and to promote and protect the welfare of all its members. Responsibilities of holding a senior ranking office include allocating 'āiga lands for cultivation, designating house sites, supervising the collection of 'āiga contribu- - 37 tions for redistribution, maintaining peace among 'āiga members, and representing the 'āiga at the village council (fono).

Many duties of senior ranking office are often delegated to lower ranking title-holders within the 'āiga. In fact, many affairs of an 'āiga may be administered by its internal subdivisions, which are referred to as faletama. According to Ember, 6 faletama descendants trace non-unilineal descent from either a sibling or child of the original founder of the 'āiga concerned. The number of faletama in any one 'āiga varies according to the number of children and/or siblings of the founder who are traditionally recognised as genealogical subdivisions. 7 Each faletama may be recognised by having its own chiefly title attached to it, although a faletama title remains subordinate in rank to its 'āiga'ssenior ranking title.

In summary, customary lands and titles were especially important affairs regulated by 'āigamemberships through their appointed titleholders. Traditionally, disputes which arose over the regulation and administration of 'āiga lands and titles were negotiated exclusively by 'āiga descent groups and their respective mataiships. However, the scope of affairs conducted by these traditional units was modified by the post-contact introduction of colonial judicial institutions, which were given the power and authority to adjudicate disputes arising over customary lands and chiefly titles. Hence, we must examine the Land and Titles Court if we are to understand the present role of Samoan non-unilineal descent groups in dispute resolution.


Colonial administrations in Western Samoa recognised Samoan land tenure and customary titles, but no efforts were made to outline systematically traditional Samoan custom and usage regarding lands and titles. During the New Zealand administration, the Samoa Act 1921 first defined customary land in the Territory of Western Samoa as that held by native title. 8 Additional legislation was enacted in 1924 for the establishment of a special judicial body to apply Samoan customary law to land and titles disputes. This body was referred to as the Native Land and Titles Commission, and consisted of the European chief judge of the High Court of Western Samoa, two European assessors (one of whom was the secretary for native affairs), and an unspecified number of Samoan commissioners, whose function was “advisory and consultative” only. 9 Ten years later, the commission's membership consisted of at least four Samoan commissioners, in addition to the chief judge of the High Court and two - 38 European assessors. Samoan members were chosen by the administrator of Western Samoa on the basis of their “chiefly rank”, “character, ability and reputation”. Samoan commissioners were not allowed to vote on decisions, although their consultative functions were enumerated. 10 In 1937, the commission's name was changed to that of the Native Land and Titles Court. The Samoan composition of the court was reduced by repealing the provision for four Samoan commissioners and including instead at least two “native judges”, whose advisory status was similar to that of the former Samoan commissioners. 11

The judicial powers of Samoan members on the court were gradually increased during the 1950s in anticipation of Western Samoa's independence. The Constitution of Western Samoa provided in 1960 for a Land and Titles Court, 12 and the court's jurisdiction over matters pertaining exclusively to Samoan lands and titles has not changed since the principal ordinance of 1934. 13 The importance of having a court institution for adjudicating trouble cases involving lands and titles has, therefore, been accepted by the independent Government of Western Samoa.

Composition of the Court

Members of the Land and Titles Court consist of the non-Samoan chief justice of the Supreme Court of Western Samoa who presides as ex officio president. 14 four Samoan judges, and one Samoan assessor. 15 All Samoan members of the court hold chiefly titles and are regarded as being well versed in Samoan custom, although none has completed any formal western legal training. Samoan judges are appointed by the Head of State, who acts on the recommendation of the Judicial Service Commission. A Samoan judge may not be appointed for more than three years at a time, although he may be reappointed for an additional three-years term from time to time. 16 Samoan assessors are also nominated by the Head of State on the basis of their general reputation and ability. As of 1970, there were approximately 120 assessors, one of whom is summoned by the registrar of the Land and Titles Court to sit on the bench for that day's hearing. The president of the Land and Titles Court ordinarily sits at court hearings, but he may periodically authorise any non-Samoan judge of the Supreme Court, or any Samoan judge, to act as president of the Land and Titles Court. 17

Court Procedures

Each party to a formal court hearing is represented by a chiefly title-holder, who presents his argument in the Samoan language on behalf - 39 of his constituents. 18 No Western trained attorneys are permitted to argue a disputant's case before the Land and Titles Court. Each party's evidence is heard and subsequently examined by the bench, and all parties are allowed to reply to evidence put forth by the others. The court then retires for private deliberations, and each Samoan member expresses his opinion in turn, according to amount of court experience, with the president speaking last. At least four members (excluding the president) must be in agreement, otherwise the president's decision alone becomes the official decision of the court. A decision of the court may be appealed and the petition is then heard by the president who sits alone. There are no other avenues of appeal for decisions rendered by the Land and Titles Court.

The 'Aiga Potopoto

Succession to a senior ranking title is of considerable significance because of the important nature of 'āiga affairs that are regulated by the incumbent of such a title. Hence, 'āiga procedures for selecting possible candidates for office elicit much interest and concern among 'āiga constituents.

The appointment of a candidate to a senior ranking title requires the unanimous consent of that 'āiga's membership, and only members may participate actively in the discussions regarding the respective suitability of candidates who are contending for the vacant title. The assemblage of 'āiga members for purposes of discussing 'āiga affairs is referred to as an 'āiga potopoto. 19 Any member, regardless of residence, may attend an 'āiga potopoto, 20 and any titled member who has an opinion is free to express it at the appropriate time. Untitled 'āiga members are generally represented at an 'āiga potopoto by their titled chiefs, or matai, who may speak for them. 21 Non-members may also attend the discussions out of concerned interest; however, they participate as listeners only. Attending non-members are usually either (1) spouses of 'āiga members, or (2) cognates of affines who reside in households attached to the residential core of the 'āiga concerned.

Not all persons who have a consanguineal link to the 'āiga in question will necessarily attend such an assemblage of 'āiga members. A variety of considerations determines who will attend an 'āiga potopoto, and it is recognised that some persons who are members do not wish to contribute towards 'āiga affairs through the 'āiga potopoto.

The optative principle underlying the composition of active 'āiga membership can lead to potential difficulties if a member who was absent - 40 at an 'āiga potopoto later lodges a petition with the court claiming that he was not properly consulted in that 'āiga's deliberations. However, in such cases, the court will not overturn the decision of an 'āiga potopoto unless it can be satisfactorily proven that some members were involuntarily excluded from ‘āiga discussions which were held without those persons’ knowledge. This situation would be most unusual, however, as 'āiga potopoto are very public occasions and are usually announced over the local radio so that all interested parties will have time to assemble at the appointed day and place. Hence, it is assumed by the court, as well as by Samoans, that 'āiga members who have indicated no prior interest, and who have chosen not to participate in 'āiga affairs through attendance at a formal 'āiga potopoto, have no grounds for later contesting the 'āiga potopoto's decision regarding the regulation of its 'āiga's titles.

One case in which an 'āiga potopoto's decision was contested was heard before the Land and Titles Court in 1965. The petitioners lodged an objection to their 'āiga potopoto's election of an incumbent to titled office. However, this dispute really centred around the issue of who constituted the active members of the 'āiga in question. This case was especially interesting because the petitioners lodged their complaint with the court several months after the 'āiga potopoto had made its unanimous decision on a candidate for the title, and, according to the court testimony, representatives of the petitioners had attended the 'āiga potopoto and concurred with the candidate's appointment. The schedule for the forthcoming ceremonial title installation of the appointee was therefore published in the government newspaper, the Sāvali. This is ordinary procedure before a title installation takes place so that any 'āiga members who feel that they are not properly consulted can lodge their objection with the court, and thereby halt the installation proceedings until the matter is settled privately or by the court. In this particular case, the petitioners were unhappy with the fact that the published announcement in the Sāvali did not mention their names as members of the 'āiga who exercised full rights in the regulation of their 'āiga's affairs. The omission of their names was interpreted as a move on the part of some members to divest them of their rights as 'āiga members; thus, a petition objecting to the scheduled installation was lodged with the court for redress of the situation.

The court was convinced that the petitioners were indeed members of the 'āiga, for two related reasons: (1) their presence was acknowledged at the deliberations of the 'āiga potopoto by other members of the 'āiga. and (2) their active participation in the proceedings of the 'āiga potopoto as voting members. The court acknowledged the fact that the petitioners did not object to the proposed candidate for the office, but merely wished to make it clear that they were full members of the 'āiga to which the title belonged. The court agreed that this was an important issue which required clarification, and therefore declared that the petitioners were members of the 'āiga in question and had to be consulted on all 'āiga matters if they wished. 22

A dispute of this nature illustrates the processes by which the rights - 41 of active 'āiga members must be recognised by other members of that 'āiga. If membership rights which are activated and maintained through 'āiga potopoto participation are not recognised by various other 'āiga members, then the matter can be taken to the Land and Titles Court for clarification.

Let us assume, however, that all interested parties are present or represented at a formal 'āiga potopoto which is concerned with a title succession. Unanimity is often difficult to obtain at the first meeting of an 'āiga potopoto, and several sessions may have to be held before agreement on a candidate to succeed to the vacant title is reached. Informal meetings and discussion often take place between 'āiga potopoto sessions as candidates for the contested title manoeuvre to rally more support among their 'āiga constituents. In spite of these efforts, a senior ranking title may remain vacant for months, or even years, because of intractable factions within the 'āiga.

It is not unusual, therefore, for an 'āiga potopoto to be unable to reach consensus on a proposed candidate for their descent group's senior ranking title. Traditionally, the contested office would have remained vacant until agreement was reached through further discussions, or possibly through the threat or actual use of physical violence. Today, however, āiga members may exercise two options for settling a title dispute: (1) they can allow the title to remain vacant until a negotiated agreement on a candidate is reached by the āiga potopoto, or (2) they may petition the Lands and Titles Court to adjudicate the dispute.

The option of petitioning the court proceeds in the following manner. Representatives of one of the contending parties usually initiate proceedings by filing a petition at the court's headquarters at Mulinu'u, Upolu Island. 23 The petition stating the subject of the dispute and the names of the parties involved is filed by the court registrar. The registrar begins formal proceedings by mailing requests for all interested parties to the dispute to come to the court on an appointed day where he or one of his assistants informally assist in mediating the discussion. The concerned parties are then left alone to negotiate and, hopefully, to resolve their differences. The Land and Titles Court, therefore, encourages disputants to settle their differences without a formal hearing by having its staff act as neutral mediators. However, if the disputants state that their differences remain irreconcilable after a number of informal sessions are held, a date for a formal court hearing is scheduled and publicised in the official government newspaper (the Sāvali). The case is then heard before the Land and Titles Court. Not infrequently, however, agreement is privately reached by the disputants before the scheduled date of the court hearing, or at times, during a recess of the actual court hearing.

The Land and Titles Court is anxious to have disputes over customary titles settled by means of traditional negotiations within the 'āiga potopoto, and many Samoans do try to settle their differences internally because of - 42 their reluctance to have 'āiga affairs made public through a court hearing. Nevertheless, 'āiga members throughout Western Samoa are increasingly looking to the court for adjudication of disputes that were traditionally the exclusive affairs of the 'āiga concerned. This trend towards court adjudication of trouble cases is evident in Table 1, which shows an approximate six-fold increase in both land and title disputes heard before the court since 1935.

Cases Scheduled for Hearing before the Land and Titles Court of Western Samoa 24
Period   Number of Cases    
  Lands Titles Other Total
1935-1940 119
1941-1945 80
1946-1950 83 64 15 174
1951-1955 265 122 10 397
1956-1960 274 127 14 415
1961-1965 431 225 30 686
1966-1970 370 270 39 702
Total 1,423 808 108 2,573
Customary Criteria of Evaluation

The criteria used by an 'āiga potopoto in assessing a candidate's suitability for titled office are important for understanding the circumstances which have led to increased reliance on the Land and Titles Court for adjudication of 'āiga disputes.

Disputes over senior ranking title successions frequently occur when several persons come forth and declare themselves candidates for the vacant office. There are no hereditary rights of succession to Samoan titles and, theoretically, any member of the 'āiga concerned could be considered eligible for office. In actuality, however, few 'āiga members excell in all the qualifications felt necessary for holding an important title. Criteria considered by the 'āiga potopoto for a senior ranking title appointment include: (1) consanguinity, (2) service, and (3) personal qualities.


A candidate ordinarily must be a consanguineal member of the 'āiga - 43 to which the title belongs; that is, he must be able to trace non-unilineal descent from his 'āiga's reputed original founder. Among some 'āiga, the principle of consanguinity is in practice restricted, in that preference may be shown for candidates who can trace descent through male links from the founder of their descent group. However, not all 'āiga show a patrilateral bias in title successions, and it is correct to regard consanguinity through either males or females as a legitimate basis for establishing a candidate's eligibility by the descent criterion.

Some 'āiga memberships continue to recognise a feagaiga relationship as an important criterion in title successions. Feagaiga can be broadly interpreted as a reciprocal relationship based on kinship or ceremonial ties recognised between two or more titles attached to the same or different 'āiga. A more restricted view of a feagaiga relationship with regard to a title succession is that it is a relationship which obtains between: (1) those faletama members who trace non-unilineal descent from a female sibling or daughter of their 'āiga's original founder, and (2) those faletama members who trace non-unilineal descent from a male sibling or son of the founder. Traditionally, the senior ranking title attached to certain 'āiga could only pass to descendants on the male (tama tāne) side, while members of the female (tama fafine) side acted as consultants with veto powers over specific candidates vying for the office. 25

Today, a feagaiga relationship may be of significance for some 'āiga in assessing a candidate's suitability. However, the consideration of a feagaiga relationship in terms of selecting a candidate for titled office holds only for private deliberations within the 'āiga concerned. The Land and Titles Court makes no attempt to define the rights and obligations of a feagaiga relationship. 26 This means that the court does not necessarily regard, for example, the existence of a feagaiga relationship among the faletama subdivisions of an 'āiga as binding upon its own deliberations pertaining to the successor for a senior ranking title.

'Āiga memberships may also recognise other considerations related to the consanguinity principle. For instance, some 'āiga recognise a traditional practice of rotating their senior ranking title among their constituent faletama subdivisions. The “last testament”, or māvaega, of a title's former incumbent may also be an important consideration for some 'āiga. However, title rotation and the māvaega, like the feagaiga relationship, can today be decisive only within private deliberations of the 'āiga potopoto concerned, provided that all 'āiga members agree that such traditional practices should be seriously considered in a title succession. At present, these principles are no longer binding upon all 'āiga, nor are they binding upon the Land and Titles Court in its deliberations. 27

There are occasions when a non-member may be chosen to succeed to an 'āiga's senior title. This occurs when no suitable 'āiga member can be found, or when an 'āiga wishes to reward a non-member for his exceptional devotion and outstanding services to that 'āiga's membership. A non- - 44 member appointed to the senior title of an 'āiga is often an affine of one of its consanguineal members. No other consanguineal or affinal relatives of the non-member title-holder are, however, permitted to participate in that 'āiga's affairs as members. In other words, an 'āiga always retains exclusive rights over its titles, even if a title should be held by a non-member.


A candidate for a senior ranking titled office must be able to demonstrate his previous services to the former incumbent of the title in question, as well as his past services rendered to the village with which the 'āiga is traditionally associated. Fulfilment of this qualification generally implies that the candidate has resided in the village with which the title is associated for an extended period of time. Services normally include contributions of food, money and labour to the former incumbent of the title and to village projects. Active participation in 'āiga affairs by a member requires regular contributions of goods and services, and a candidate who cannot demonstrate regular contributions will not be as favourably considered by the 'āiga potopoto as a candidate who can.

Personal Qualities

A candidate's acceptability by the 'āiga potopoto also depends upon his general fitness for the title; that is, his personal capability of assuming the responsibilities of office. Knowledge of the 'āiga's genealogy, history, and traditions is also expected of the candidate. Moreover, the 'āiga potopoto must consider a candidate's ability to re-unite dissident factions within the 'āiga which supported other contenders for the vacant title.

The customary criteria of consanguinity, service and personal qualities constitute the three broad principles considered by members of an 'āiga potopoto in assessing the eligibility of candidates for a chiefly title. The criterion of consanguinity alone is not sufficient for establishing a candidate's rights to a title succession, and in some situations, the consanguinity principle is waived if a highly qualified non-member candidate fulfils the other criteria of service, residence and ability to the satisfaction of the 'āiga potopoto.

The Land and Titles Court accepts these three customary principles of title succession as general guidelines, but it does not feel obliged to accept other more specific principles, such as a feagaiga relationship or a māvaega.

Court Criteria of Evaluation

The Land and Titles Court recognises the customary principles of consanguinity, service, and personal fitness in evaluating claims by contenders for a matai title. The court has not, however, established any fixed hierarchy of priority for considering these criteria, as the High Court has done in the Territory of American Samoa. 28 In general, the - 45 four criteria considered by the Land and Titles Court in their approximate order of importance are: (1) “blood relationship”, or consanguinity, (2) the rendering of services to the former incumbent of the title, the 'āiga to which the title belongs, and the village and district in which the 'āiga is located. (3) place of residence, and (4) personal character and ability. 29

The court considers the claim of consanguinity to be very important in its assessment of eligible candidates. All things being equal, the court will ordinarily give the contested title to a consanguineal member, as opposed to a non-member. 30 The consanguinity principle presents difficulties for the court, however, when it attempts to determine each candidate's claim of consanguinity. Such attempts are often made difficult because of conflicting genealogies submitted to the court by the disputants. Members of the court may not use their personal knowledge of a particular genealogy, although the court is allowed access to published genealogies, such as those found in Kraemer. 31

The court follows certain procedures when conflicting genealogies are submitted by disputants. For instance, the court primarily relies upon questioning the contesting parties to see how accurately specific genealogical questions can be readily answered. Judges may ask each party to recite the names of all previous incumbents of that 'āiga's senior ranking title in descending order. The court also looks for major discrepancies in a genealogy submitted by a party. Some contestants, for example, may claim to be faletama descendants of the only daughter of their 'āiga's original founder. Since they have never held the title, they argue that it is their turn to hold it. A genealogy of great generational depth (and most genealogies that are submitted to the court are of considerable generational depth) may indicate a very long period when no descendants of that particular faletama subdivision ever once held the senior ranking title of their 'āiga. The court's reasoning in a situation of this type is that it is highly unlikely that descendants of a faletama subdivision would have been excluded from their 'āiga's title for several generations if, indeed, they had been active participants in that 'āiga's affairs. Consequently, the genealogy is regarded as suspect by the court. The court, then, implicitly recognises that many consanguineal descendants of an 'āiga's founder are “sloughed off” during succeeding generations; and that those descendants who have actively participated in that 'āiga's affairs have greater claim in determining succession rights to their 'āiga's senior ranking title than those descendants whose membership claims have - 46 remained inactivated. 32 Furthermore, in evaluating the criterion of consanguinity, the Land and Titles Court does not accept signatures of 'āiga members who claim to be supporting a particular candidate for a title, because it is felt that signatures could be forged and petitions signed by non-members. This is in contrast with the practice of the High Court of American Samoa, which attempts to ascertain the wish of the majority of 'āiga members by allowing signed petitions supporting candidates for a vacant title to be submitted. 33 The submission of signed petitions as evidence of a candidate's support would seem to indicate that the High Court of American Samoa, in contrast with the Land and Titles Court of Western Samoa, does not give full cognizance to the fact that some 'āiga descendants have greater membership claims to their 'āiga's titles than other descendants, and that claims to differential membership rights within an 'āiga cannot be clearly determined by obtaining a majority of signatures on petitions. In other words, not all descendants of a particular 'āiga are fully and equally incorporated members of the 'āiga in question, and, as a consequence, one's rights and obligations of 'āiga membership will vary according to one's differential incorporation into that 'āiga. This suggests that not all signers of a petition would necessarily have had equal claims to participation in that 'āiga's title succession during the period before institution of this court practice in American Samoa.

Court assessment of a candidate's service to his 'āiga and to the village with which his 'āiga is associated is usually easier to determine than the criterion of consanguinity. During examination of each candidate, court members frequently ask for specific examples of services rendered by the candidate to the former incumbent of the title and to the village. Each candidate is also asked his village of residence and the length of time in residence. Personal qualifications for a title, on the other hand, require a subjective evaluation of each candidate by the court. Personal demeanour, knowledge of 'āiga genealogy and history and verbal facility are important factors considered by the court in determining a candidate's general fitness and ability to hold an important title.

In summary, the Land and Titles Court recognises consanguinity as an important principle in determining a title succession, but it also acknowledges other criteria, including personal aptitude, residency, and services to the 'āiga and the village.


A senior ranking title may be co-held between two and possibly more incumbents, all of whom jointly exercise the power and authority, or the pule, which pertains to that title. This kind of solution to a title dispute may occur if an 'āiga potopoto regards the splitting of its 'āiga's senior ranking title among contesting candidates as the only way to overcome factional cleavages and to re-establish peaceable relationships among 'āiga members.

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The conferral of the same title upon two or more incumbents is often regarded by an 'āiga potopoto as a temporary expedient for avoiding internal disputes among 'āiga members. Such expedient solutions are not always temporary, however. Some 'āiga, for example, are known to have divided their senior title among their constituent faletama for two or three generations so that such title divisions subsequently tend to be regarded as a customary procedure of title succession within that 'āiga. Subsequent attempts to “reunify” the title under one incumbent often fail, as these efforts may be vigorously contested by each faletama constituency.

The Land and Titles Court attempts to discourage title splitting when a contested title succession is brought before it for hearing. However, the court will consent to splitting a title if it is convinced by testimony of the disputants that such action will help restore harmony among 'āiga members. A court order allowing a title to be co-held is usually made on condition that after the decease of the court-appointed incumbents, the 'āiga potopoto is to revert to the practice of selecting only one incumbent for the vacant title. 34 Court orders which divide a title in an effort to restore peace among rival descent-group members do not always serve the purpose for which they were intended, however. The following case history of one such 'āiga illustrates this well.

In 1938, the court appointed two candidates, one from each of the two faletama divisions of an 'āiga to co-hold its senior ranking title. Relations between the two faletama were strained before the court's decision, but they subsequently deteriorated to such an extent that 11 disputes between the faletama constituents were formally heard before the court over a period of 26 years (i.e., 1938-64). 35 The first dispute between the court-appointed co-holders of the title occurred when one of the appointees refused to attend and thereby publicly acknowledge the official ceremonial title installation, or saofa'i, of the other appointee. A petition was filed with the court, but was withdrawn when the dissident appointee was prevailed upon by other matai of the village to proceed with the installation ceremony. This incident was thought to reflect very undignified behaviour for persons about to receive a title, according to several participants in this dispute with whom I discussed the case. However, this was only the beginning of future trouble cases between the two co-holders of the title in question.

A few weeks after the saofa'i incident, another dispute arose over the use of the official house site (maota) attached to the title. This point of contention was resolved in an out of court settlement in which each incumbent agreed to have his own guest house on that piece of 'āiga land where he was currently residing. Animosity increased further between the two co-holders when one of the title-holders petitioned the court a few years later to have the other incumbent removed from office on the grounds of alleged theft, adultery, incest, and “bad character”. - 48 None of these accusations was proven to the satisfaction of the court, which ruled that a request by one incumbent for the removal of another co-holder of the same title was insufficient grounds to warrant removal by the court. The court also made clear that its decision in no way hindered the 'āiga potopoto from exercising its traditional right to have the incumbent in question removed by unanimous consent if it desired. 36 Subsequent attempts to convene an 'āiga potopoto for purposes of discussing removal of the accused incumbent failed. Unanimity on the issue of removal was clearly impossible, since each incumbent could count on the support of his respective faletama constituents to block any actions initiated by the other incumbent. As a consequence, the 'āiga potopoto remained at loggerheads for several years over this issue, while inter-personal tensions among 'āiga members increased.

Many of the court cases initiated by the senior matai of this particular 'āiga concerned the occupation of certain portions of customary 'āiga land by the London Missionary Society, or LMS church, and its resident pastor. Usually, each religious denomination that is represented in a village has a site for its church building as well as land for the residence of its pastor. Tenureship of the land occupied by a church and its pastor varies. That is, the land occupied by a church building may be freehold, village, or customary land owned by an 'āiga descent group; whereas, the pastor's residence commonly occupies customary land by permission of an 'āiga, although arrangements differ in some villages in Western Samoa.

Both court-appointed title-holders, and their respective faletama constituencies, belonged to the village LMS church. Furthermore, the land occupied by the church building and the pastor's residence was thought to be customary land which belonged to the 'āiga of the two title-holders. About 1941, one of the incumbents decided to withdraw from the village LMS congregation in order to start his own church of a different denomination. 37 This chief's decision to withdraw from the LMS church was instigated by an internal administrative conflict within the district level of LMS organisation which resulted in the termination of the local village pastor from his church duties. The church issue was seized upon by this matai as a means for voicing his opposition to LMS administrative policy as well as his opposition to his co-holder, who decided to remain with the LMS church. Hence, a dispute over internal church policy quickly emerged as a vehicle for expressing the tensions which already existed between the two co-holders. 38

A great deal of personal bitterness among 'āiga members was engendered by this chief's decision to withdraw from the LMS church, and his action also created tensions with other 'āiga constituents of his village. This was because other 'āiga of the village were proud of their traditional - 49 affiliation with the London Missionary Society, and therefore strongly resented the introduction of a new church denomination into their village.

One important point of considerable contention between the two co-holders centred around the use of the LMS church building and the adjoining pastor's house. The dissenting chief who had withdrawn from the LMS congregation claimed that the church building and pastor's residence were located on customary 'āiga land to which his title was attached. Since he and his faletama constituents were no longer members of the LMS, they wished to deny other members of the LMS congregation access to these building facilities. This was an emotionally charged issue which became increasingly difficult to settle amicably between the two incumbents of the title. An attempt was made to share the church building between the two dissidents and their faletama for a time, but this soon led to physical confrontations which nearly erupted into violence on a few occasions.

The court eventually heard this dispute, and decided that it had no jurisdiction over the land occupied by the church building because an earlier incumbent of the title currently held by the two disputants had permanently granted the land to the London Missionary Society. The church eventually filed the land as a court grant during the late nineteenth century, which legalised its status as freehold property. The Land and Titles Court also determined to its satisfaction that the village of the disputants had always been a traditional LMS “stronghold”, as no other denomination had ever built a church in this village. Since the dissident faletama insisted on joining another church denomination, they were ordered by the court to vacate the LMS church premises within two months, and to build their own church elsewhere on 'āiga land. In addition, the court ordered that the dissident faletama be recompensated for its share of the expenses it originally contributed to the construction of the LMS church. Recompense was made by the other disputant and his faletama constituents. 39

The court's decision helped to defuse the highly volatile issue of who had rights of access to the LMS church and its adjacent pastor's residence. Nevertheless, the legacy of personal bitterness, 'āiga factionalism, and village resentment continues to be reflected by the strained relationship among 'āiga members, as well as by the huge file of disputes lodged by this 'āiga over the years at the Land and Titles Court.

Upon the decease of one of the court-appointed incumbents in 1963, the faletama constituents who had lost their title-holder requested that an 'āiga potopoto be held in order to select a new incumbent to the vacant office. Members of the other faletama, however, boycotted the discussions. This action subsequently led to a court hearing in which the court ruled - 50 that no incumbent could be chosen to fill the vacancy unless the 'āiga potopoto was unanimous in its decision to do so.

The court admitted during its private deliberations over this case that it had made a mistake in originally appointing two incumbents to this title. Court members felt that the current title holder was incompetent in his office in so far as he was unable to restore family unity, and the interests of the 'āiga had been neglected because of the personal rivalry between the two co-holders of the title. However, unless the 'āiga potopoto could reach unanimity in regard to having the present incumbent removed, the court had to uphold its original decision of 1938 to have the title revert to one incumbent upon the decease of the two court appointees. The court privately expressed its hope that relations among 'āiga members would eventually be normalised once the other court appointee had died. 40

The quantity of trouble cases involving this particular 'āiga which have been taken to court is unusual. However, the scope and nature of disputes which arise when a title is split without unanimous consent of the 'āiga potopoto are well illustrated by this 'āiga's conflicts, and court records serve to document 'āiga trouble cases involving two opposed co-holders of the same title. Obviously, unanimity of the 'āiga potopoto on one candidate for a title does not necessarily guarantee peaceable relationships among 'āiga constituents. Splitting a title does not guarantee family harmony either, in spite of the good intentions of the court or the 'āiga potopoto. Rather, the splitting of a senior title by court order or by an 'āiga potopoto may exacerbate already existing personal conflicts which subsequently result in disruption of collective 'āiga concerns and activities. 'Aiga members who choose to make use of the court for informal dispute mediation or for formal adjudication enable the field researcher to examine systematically the nature and frequency of trouble cases which do arise over customary titles. Court records are especially valuable in this respect, as title disputes appear to be less common than land disputes in Western Samoa, and few title disputes, in contrast to land disputes, are brought to the attention of the court.


An 'āiga may remove its title from an incumbent for failing to conduct his responsibilities of office, provided there is unanimous consent of descent group members. The 'āiga potopoto must be fully representative of all 'āiga constituents who wish to participate before its decision is considered binding. This means that any discussions which represent only certain constituent faletama, or any disgruntled factions headed by lower ranking matai, are inevitably contested by those 'āiga members who claim that they were not properly consulted in the matter. If the dispute cannot be settled internally among 'āiga constituents, a petition is lodged with the court, and the preliminary steps leading eventually to a formal court hearing are taken.

The Land and Titles Court regards removal from titled office as a very - 51 grave matter, and few petitions requesting the removal of an incumbent from chiefly office have ever been sufficiently substantiated to the court's satisfaction. According to C.C. Marsack, a former president of the Land and Titles Court, the most important causes for the removal of a title-holder from his office by the court are any of the following: (1) violating the pule attached to his office for his own personal benefit, (2) causing dissension within the 'āiga (3) refusing to participate in village affairs, and (4) living elsewhere and thereby neglecting his responsibility to his 'āiga. 41 Very few petitions for removal are formally heard before the court, largely because the informal mediation provided by the court staff encourages disputants to resolve their differences privately.

One such dispute involving a title removal was heard before the court in 1968 and is illustrative of the principles considered important by the 'āiga potopoto and the court in making their respective decisions regarding this trouble case. In 1966, two co-holders of a senior ranking title were removed from office by unanimous decision of their 'āiga potopoto which met to discuss the matter. However, removal of the titled incumbents did not resolve this trouble case. The decision of the 'āiga potopoto was contested by the co-holders of the title, who lodged a formal petition with the court stating that their 'āiga potopoto had been unfair to them. Efforts to resolve this dispute out of court failed, and the case was heard by the court two years later.

According to the testimony presented before the court, the grounds for the chiefs' removal by the 'āiga potopoto was the misappropriation of $1,600 (approximately $2,286 in American currency). These funds were received by the incumbents as compensation for five acres of their 'āiga's lands which were purchased by the government for public purposes. The lower ranking chiefs who represented their 'āiga potopoto at the court hearing testified that these funds were spent for personal benefit by the two accused co-holders without the knowledge or consent of 'āiga members. They claimed that their 'āiga's funds were taken to the urban centre of Apia by the two matai for deposit in the 'āiga's savings bank account. Instead of depositing the money, both matai spent the funds for cigarettes, yard goods, and other personal consumables. Furthermore, one of the accused incumbents was alleged to have given over 1000 tālā to his wife's 'āiga for construction of a personal residence near Apia.

The members of the court regarded this particular case as extremely serious, as the allegations of the 'āiga potopoto meant that the dignity of a chiefly title had been dishonoured by the actions of its two incumbents. The charge of misappropriating 'āiga funds by the two matai was proven to the court's satisfaction, and the court judges were agreed that the 'āiga had been disgraced. The court felt that sufficient grounds had been shown for removal, but there was reluctance to remove both incumbents from office. The court noted that the incumbent who spent the bulk of the funds in order to build a house for his wife's 'āiga in another village should be immediately removed from office; whereas the other incumbent, who had only spent about 58 tālā, and who ineptly disregarded his - 52 obligations to safeguard 'āiga funds, should be reprimanded but permitted to keep his title. 42

Comments by individual Samoan members of the court during their private deliberation of this case are of especial interest in illustrating the grounds for their decision. One member argued that misuse of funds derived from the alienation of customary land was the only sufficient reason for the removal of a matai from his office. In other words, violation of the pule attached to a chiefly office for personal benefit is the only grounds for removal by the court. The opinion of this member of the court is noteworthy, because all of the other Samoan members appeared to agree. This is in contradistinction to Marsack, who does not state that violation of a title's pule is greater grounds for removal than the other three reasons that he lists. Thus, for example, court members did not emphasise the fact that one of the accused title-holders had not resided with the 'āiga to which his title belonged for over three years, although prolonged absence is considered to be grounds for removal from office.

Another Samoan member of the court concurred with the reasoning that only the incumbent who spent the greater portion of the money should be removed from office. He also added that there would have been no grounds for removal if the house built with 'āiga funds had been constructed on the land of the 'āiga to which the incumbent's title was attached, regardless of whether other 'āiga members consented to this.

During the deliberations over this case, one Samoan member of the court remarked that the 'āiga potopoto should not retain its traditional power and authority to remove a titled incumbent from office at will. I interpret this member's remarks as expressing his reservations over the potential arbitrariness with which an 'āiga potopoto could conceivably remove an incumbent as unfit for office, provided it achieved unanimous consent of its 'āiga's membership. Such a situation seems rather unlikely, however. Obtaining unanimity for a matai's removal implies serious violations of his office; otherwise, unanimous consent of 'āigamembers would be most difficult to obtain.

The court's decision in this case was consistent with the idea that it is the responsibility of the 'āiga potopoto to choose a person of character who can faithfully discharge the duties of his office. Members of the 'āiga are ultimately at fault and must accept the consequences of the 'āiga potopoto's decision if their matai should fail to uphold his chiefly responsibilities. The court, then, saw fit to remove only one of the incumbents from office, despite the 'āiga potopoto's original decision to remove both co-holders. The court's decision was largely based on the reasoning that one of the co-holders had flagrantly violated his chiefly duties by spending most of his 'āiga's funds to build a house on land that belonged to another 'āiga. On the other hand, the incumbent who spent only a small portion of his 'āiga's funds had not so grossly violated the pule attached to his office. The court, therefore, publicly reprimanded him before the bench - 53 by reminding him of his chiefly responsibilities and ordered him to return to this 'āiga and to cause no further trouble. 43


The processes of conflict resolution in Western Samoa have been discussed within the contexts of customary and court procedures for handling trouble cases involving 'āiga titles. We have seen that the options currently available to 'āiga members for resolving a title dispute now include recourse to the Land and Titles Court, and that the court represents an important procedure for conflict resolution which was not available in traditional Samoan society.

The court today is called upon to adjudicate title successions and removals which arise in three different situational contexts: (1) title disputes in which an 'āiga potopoto is unable to reach consensus, (2) title disputes in which there is some question as to whether all 'āiga members who wish to participate have been able to exercise their option to do so through customary procedures, and (3) title disputes in which the decision of an 'āiga potopoto is objected to by those affected by the decision. Title disputes occurring within each of these three contexts have been illustrated by court cases.

  • 1. The first type of conflict situation can occur if 'āiga potopoto unanimity cannot be achieved and one or more 'āiga members choose to petition the court. Any disputant has the right to lodge a petition with the court if he wishes, and this action necessitates that interested parties to the dispute must settle the matter to the satisfaction of all concerned or have the case placed on the court schedule.
  • 2. The second type of conflict situation concerns the rights of 'āiga members to participate in deciding a title succession. The Land and Titles Court recognises that all interested 'āiga members who wish to participate in their 'āiga's affairs must be consulted, and that the decision of an 'āiga potopoto is binding upon its participants only if all members have been permitted the right to express their opinions according to customary procedures. Consequently, when an 'āiga member feels that he has been excluded from participation, he may petition the court to affirm his membership rights. The court case in which certain members' names were omitted from the Sāvali announcement of their 'āiga's scheduled title installation was cited to illustrate this type of conflict situation which can arise over recognition of 'āiga membership rights.
  • 3. The third type of conflict situation occurs when a decision that has been rendered by an 'āiga potopoto is objected to by some member who lodges a petition with the court. Court hearings of this type are relatively infrequent, but if a member's dispute over his 'āiga potopoto's decision is
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not settled internally, the court may then be petitioned to review the decision of the 'āiga potopoto and change it if it sees fit to do so. The court case involving a title removal illustrates this point. The two incumbents who were removed from office by their 'āiga constituents objected to this action and lodged a petition with the court. The court upheld part of the 'āiga potopoto's original decision but ordered the other incumbent to remain in office for reasons which have already been discussed. According to the court's action in this case, the decisions of an 'āiga potopoto are binding only if the actors involved wish to abide by such decisions. If they object, they may petition the court, which is obliged to hear the matter and act according to its interpretation of Samoan custom and usage.

It can be seen that the court's action in the cited title removal case has considerable implications concerning the power and authority of 'āiga members to regulate their descent group's titles. The court does not question the authority of an 'āiga potopoto to render a decision according to customary procedures; nevertheless, the court is obliged to review the power of an 'āiga potopoto to carry out its decision if any disputant should object by petitioning the court for redress. The court is then placed in the uncomfortable position of striving to preserve Samoan custom and usage while simultaneously questioning the power of an 'āiga potopoto to make binding decisions regarding its own titles.

This survey of title cases heard by the Land and Titles Court shows that the court is an important institution of dispute resolution in Western Samoan society. Indeed, the hundreds of outstanding petitions which are annually lodged with the court and have yet to be dealt with by the court staff indicate an increasing trend towards use of court facilities by disputants.

Most Samoans recognise the importance of the court, although the extent to which court facilities are actually used by disputants may be affected by geographic proximity to the court. For example, during the period 1929-70, 22 disputes from a fairly remote village located on Savai'i Island have been filed with the deputy registrar at the Tuasivi government compound, Savai'i. During this same period, only 12 of the petitions from that village were formally heard before the Land and Titles Court at Mulinu'u Upolu Island. In comparison, one village located within the, urban area of Apia, Upolu Island, and within easy access of Mulinu'u has lodged 124 petitions with the court for the period 1911-70, of which 61 were eventually heard before the court. 44 Urban villagers have clearly made greater use of court facilities than their geographically isolated counterparts.

Over the years, the importance of court facilities as a neutral meeting ground for informal discussion or for formal hearings has increased significantly for villages with convenient access to the court's headquarters. The government of Western Samoa recently recognised the need for more remote villages, especially those on Savai'i Island, to have greater access - 55 to the court as well. This resulted in the establishment, in 1970, of an official branch of the Land and Titles Court at the Tuasivi government compound on Savai'i Island. All land and title disputes involving Savai'i Island villagers are now heard at Tuasivi instead of Mulinu'u, and the members of the court bench periodically travel to Tuasivi for formal court hearings.


Resolution of title disputes in Western Samoan society cannot be fully understood without reference to both traditional 'Biga descent groups and the Land and Titles Court. 'Aiga memberships continue to regulate their titled affairs, but it is also clear that the court's role in resolving title disputes has become more important in recent years. The customary authority of 'āiga memberships to regulate their titles is respected both by Samoans and by the court, but the presence of the court does provide 'āiga members with an alternative to traditional procedures for the regulation of 'āiga affairs. This article has described both customary procedures and new procedures and considerations introduced by the court for the resolution of 'āiga title disputes.


The support of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research and the UCLA Department of Anthropology during my research in the Samoan Archipelago for the period of June 1969 through October 1970 are gratefully acknowledged. The research on which this article is based would not have been possible without the assistance of many people. I am especially indebted to Su'a Thomsen, Secretary to the Justice Department of Western Samoa, who first introduced me to the staff of the Land and Titles Court, and who gave generously of his time to pursuit of my research at the court. Many thanks are also due to Barry C. Spring, former Chief Justice of Western Samoa and President of the Land and Titles Court, and Auelua Enari, Registrar of the Land and Titles Court, who kindly permitted me access to court files. I am very grateful to the members of the court staff who cheerfully tolerated my requests for files and graciously served me tea at tea breaks. My many long discussions with Momoiseā Imoa, Fa'amasino Fesoasoani of the Magistrates' Courts, were most helpful to me. My thanks are also due to Dr. William A. Lessa, who read and commented on an earlier draft of this paper. Finally, I wish to express my deep gratitude to those Samoans who discussed these court cases with me, but who must remain nameless.

  • Abbreviations: TAS—Territory of American Samoa.
  • TWS—Territory of Western Samoa
  • WS—Western Samoa
  • WSDJ—Western Samoa, Department of Justice.
  • DAVENPORT, William, 1959. “Nonunilinear Descent and Descent Groups.” American Anthropologist, 61:557-72.
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  • DAVIDSON, J. W., 1967. Samoa Mo Samoa: The Emergence of the Independent State of Western Samoa. Melbourne, Oxford University Press.
  • EMBER, Melvin, 1959. “The Nonunilinear Descent Groups of Samoa.” American Anthropologist, 61:573-7.
  • EPLING, Philip J., and Ardith A. EUDEY, 1963. “Some Observations on the Samoan 'Aigapotopoto.Journal of the Polynesian Society, 72:378-83.
  • FIRTH, Raymond, 1957. “A Note on Descent Groups in Polynesia.” Man, 57:4-8.
  • FREEMAN, J. D., 1961. “On the Concept of the Kindred.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 91:192-220.
  • GILSON, Richard P., 1963. “Samoan Descent Groups: A Structural Outline.” Journal of the Polynesian Society, 72:372-7.
  • —— 1970. Samoa 1830 to 1900: The Politics of a Multi-Cultural Community. Melbourne, Oxford University Press.
  • KRAEMER, Augustin, 1902-3. Die Samoa-Inseln. 2vols. Stuttgart, Schweizerbart.
  • LEACH, E. R., 1960. “The Sinhalese of the Dry Zone of Northern Ceylon”, in George P. Murdock (ed.), Social Structure in Southeast Asia. Viking Fund Publications in Anthropology 29. Chicago, Quadrangle Books, pp. 116-26.
  • —— 1962. “On Certain Unconsidered Aspects of Double Descent Systems.” Man, 62:130-4.
  • MARSACK, C. C., 1961. Notes on the Practice of the Court and the Principles Adopted in the Hearing of Cases Affecting: (1) Samoan Matai Titles and (2) Land Held According to Customs and Usages of Western Samoa. (Rev. Ed.). Apia, Government Printer.
  • MEAD, Margaret, 1969. Social Organization of Manu'a. Bishop Museum Bulletin 76. Honolulu, Bishop Museum Press. 2nd Ed.
  • SCHULTZ, E., 1911. “The Most Important Principles of Samoan Family Law, and the Laws of Inheritance.” Journal of the Polynesian Society, 20:43-53.
  • TERRITORY OF AMERICAN SAMOA, 1961. Code of American Samoa 1961.
  • TERRITORY OF WESTERN SAMOA, 1935-59. Department of Samoan Affairs. Annual Reports, 1935-1959. Wellington, Government Printer.
  • TERRITORY OF WESTERN SAMOA, 1921. Samoa Act 1921.
  • TERRITORY OF WESTERN SAMOA, 1924. The Samoa Native Land and Titles Commission Order 1924.
  • TERRITORY OF WESTERN SAMOA, 1934. The Native Land and Titles Protection Ordinance 1934, No. 2.
  • TERRITORY OF WESTERN SAMOA, 1937. The Native Land and Titles Protection Amendment Ordinance 1937, No. 2.
  • TERRITORY OF WESTERN SAMOA, 1952. Land and Titles Protection Amendment 1952, No. 8.
  • TIFFANY, Sharon W., 1973. Cash Cropping and Political Change in Western Samoa: A Case Study. Unpublished Paper.
  • TIFFANY, Walter W., n.d. Samoan Mataiships. Unpublished Paper.
  • —— 1971. Political Structure and Change: A Corporate Analysis of American Samoa. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis (Anthropology). University of California, Los Angeles.
  • WESTERN SAMOA. Constitution, Part IX, Art. 103.
  • WESTERN SAMOA, 1966. Samoan Land and Titles Protection Amendment 1966, No. 8.
  • WESTERN SAMOA, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, MS.1. Land and Titles Court. Files.
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  • WESTERN SAMOA, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, MS.2. Land and Titles Court Branch, Tuasivi, Savai'i. Files.
  • WESTERN SAMOA, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, 1960-69. Annual Reports, 1960-1969. Apia, Government Printer.
  • WESTON, Sharon W., 1972. Samoan Social Organization: Structural Implications of an Ambilineal Descent System. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis (Anthropology), University of California, Los Angeles.
1   This is a revised version of a paper presented at the symposium on Political Development in Oceania during the 1st annual meeting of the Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania, March 28-April 1, 1972, at Orcas Island, Washington.
2   The complexities of Samoan title-holding made it necessary to restrict the topic to senior ranking titles attached to Samoan non-unilineal descent groups, or āiga. Therefore, I do not deal with lower ranking 'āiga titles, or with other kinds of Samoan titles, such as tāupou (“ceremonial maiden”) titles, and certain honorific titles (ao).
Certain details of the disputes discussed here were omitted, and the anonymity of the disputants involved has been carefully preserved, owing to the extremely sensitive nature of these trouble cases. The court cases were researched in the files of the Land and Titles Court at Mulinu'u, Upolu Island, Western Samoa. I did not observe the actual disputes which were described in the court files, but I knew personally many of the disputants, who willingly discussed aspects of these cases with me during my filed research. It is also important to note that the cases described in this article are not necessarily exhaustive of all customary principles which could potentially be activated upon occurrence of a title dispute.
3   Many terms have been used to describe the principles of non-unilineal descent reckoning. Davenport (1959) and Ember (1959), for example, employ the term nonunilinear; whereas, Firth (1957) uses the terms ambilineal descent group and ramage. Leach (1960) and Freeman (1961) prefer to retain the term cognatic for denoting descent groups and categories based on non-unilineal principles for reckoning membership. Hence, a plethora of terms to describe the principle of non-unilineal descent can be found in the literature. Leach (1962:131) argues that ambilineal, multilineal, omnilineal, optative, and other such terms for non-unilineal descent are “not the language of science but of gobbledygook”.
4   There has been debate over native terms for Samoan kin groups. Some of the disagreement among different researchers probably arises from the fact that one term ('āiga) refers to several structurally distinct kinship groupings in Samoan society. Unless otherwise stated, the term 'āiga in this article refers to the largest and most inclusive kinship grouping in Samoa in which membership is based on the principle of non-unilineal descent. See also Weston 1972; S. Tiffany 1973.
5   The localised residential nucleus of an 'āiga is also referred to as 'āiga. To avoid confusion, I restrict the term 'āiga in this article to refer to a common descent group based on non-unilineal descent principles in order to distinguish it from its localised core. A more detailed discussion of Samoan 'āiga is presented in my dissertation (Weston 1972).
6   1959:575.
7   Ember (1959:575) states that each Sept (or 'āiga) must have at least two faletama (or sub-sept) divisions: (1) the “male line”, in which descendants of one faletama trace consanguinity from the brother or son of the 'āiga's founder, and (2) the “female line”, in which descendants trace consanguinuity from the sister or daughter of the 'āiga's founder.
8   TWS 1921:sect.278. During the previous German administration of Western Samoa, a Land and Titles Commission was constituted in 1903 under the governorship of Dr. Solf. Members of the commission consisted of three Europeans aided by Samoan advisers. See Davidson 1967:81.
9   TWS 1924.
10   TWS 1934.
11   TWS 1937.
12   WS, Constitution.
13   The principal ordinance pertaining to court jurisdiction over customary lands and titles is TWS 1934.
14   The chief justice of Western Samoa is a non-Samoan judge recruited by the Western Samoan government for this position.
15   TWS 1952:sect. 2-3.
16   TWS 1937: sect. 5.
17   WS 1966.
18   The official language of the court is Samoan, which is translated into English for the benefit of the president.
19   Various writers differ somewhat in their views of the 'āiga potopoto. See, for example, Gilson 1963; Epling and Eudey 1963; and W. Tiffany 1971.
20   The vacancy of a senior ranking title often brings 'āiga members who reside as far away as New Zealand, Hawaii, or the continental United States to 'āiga potopoto discussions.
21   Matai is a generic term for “chief”; that is, any incumbent of a title office, irrespective of titled rank.
22   WSDJ MS. 1.
23   Persons living on Savai'i Island go to the government compound at Tuasivi, where a branch of the Land and Titles Court was officially opened in 1970. Before 1970, all Savai'i petitions were lodged at Tuasivi, but formal court hearings took place only at Mulinu'u, Upolu Island. Residents of Manono and Apolima Islands file their petitions at Mulinu'u.
24   Figures for the years 1943-44, 1946, 1960-61 were unavailable. Also, statistics available for the period 1935-47 were not classified into the types of cases handled. Figures cited for 1970 are for the months of January through March only. As of March, 1970, 306 petitions were still outstanding. The actual number of decisions rendered by the court is slightly less than the table figures indicate, as there is about a 10 percent attrition rate because of petition withdrawals after a date has been scheduled or during the court hearing. The category of “other” refers to cases dealing with such issues as removal from the village, the height of a house foundation, or use of an 'āiga's guest house. Figures were compiled from the following sources: Territory of Western Samoa, Department of Samoan Affairs, Annual Reports, 1935-1959, Wellington, Government Printer; Western Samoa, Department of Justice, Annual Reports, 1960-1969, Apia, Government Printer.
25   See Schultz 1911:51-3; Davidson 1967:23-4; Mead 1969:18; Gilson 1970:35-9
26   Marsack 1961:11.
27   Ibid:13-14.
28   TAS 1961 acknowledges the following order of criteria regarding successions to titles: (1) blood relationship, (2) “The wish of the majority or plurality of those clans of the family as customary in that family”, (3) “The forcefulness, character, personality, and knowledge of Samoan customs”, and (4) “The value of the holder of the matai title to the family, the village, and the country” (Title VI, sect. 6.0107).
29   Marsack 1961:10-4.
30   The court has in the past waived the criterion of consanguinity and given a contested title to a non-member who has had outstanding qualifications. However, such court decisions are usually made only when there are no suitable consanguineal members available. See Marsack 1961:10-11.
31   1902-03.
32   The processes whereby many consanguineal descendants of a founding ancestor are eventually sloughed off through inactivated membership rights and non-participation in that descent group's affairs are common to all non-unilineal descent systems.
33   W. Tiffany n.d.
34   Marsack 1961:8-9.
35   This figure refers only to actual cases adjudicated by the Land and Titles Court. At least 18 additional petitions were also filed by 'āiga disputants during this 26-year period, but were eventually settled out of court. The number of court petitions filed by members of this 'āiga is extraordinarily high.
36   WSDJ MS. 1.
37   This particular church was originally founded in Tutuila, American Samoa. At the time of the court hearing of this dispute in 1943, the church had approximately 1,400 members who were residing on Tutuila and Upolu Islands (WSDJ MS. 1). As of 1970, this church still had a very small membership in Western and American Samoa, and was associated with only a few 'āiga constituencies.
38   In order to protect the identity of the disputants involved in this trouble case, the details of the LMS administrative dispute cannot be discussed here.
39   The amount of goods and money to be recompensated was easily determined in this case, because the dissident chief had maintained written records of all distributions that he had participated in over a 25-year period. Such long-term record keeping is rather unusual. The goods contributed and received by participants at large Samoan distributions are usually recorded at the time of the event, but these records are not always easily accessible to the field researcher as distribution records are either sent to 'āiga members who reside abroad, or they are eventually misplaced and lost.
40   WSDJ MS. 1.
41   Marsack 1961:14-15.
42   The court noted during its private deliberations that the matai who was to be reprimanded was inept because: (1) he was persuaded to wait outside the bank while the other incumbent was supposed to deposit the 'āiga's funds, and (2) he failed to confirm that the bank deposit had been made (WSDJ MS.1).
43   This individual was reluctant to comply with the court's decision to return to the village of his 'āiga. This matai had, in fact, quickly left his village at the time when his 'āiga constituents discovered the misappropriation of funds. He lived in a near-by village while he petitioned the court and engaged in subsequent negotiations to resolve the dispute with his 'āiga The court stated that it would view any efforts of retaliation with extreme disfavour, and would press criminal charges if necessary. The matai returned to the village with no further incident.
44   These figures were derived from the files at the Land and Titles Court, Mulinu'u Upolu Island, and the Land and Titles Court branch, Tuasivi, Savai'i Island.