CIS – Individuals

Chapter 11.

In the five years I have lived in Samoa, I’ve had extensive interaction with many individuals from across both islands, and from government to businesses, village leaders to the untitled.

Corruption is the norm in day-to-day living as well as in politics and power.

The two things that brass off a Palagi the most when they start to engage with Samoa are the lies and the theft. At the least tension exists as a result of these Samoan idiosyncrasies and often conflict results.


The Tuigamala family . . .

Within a year of my arrival in Samoa I met Tamapaa Tuigamala in a chance encounter (such is normal within the small islands of Samoa). We had previously met at a book launch of his brother Vaiiga in Auckland. Befriending the man cost me dearly.

Tamapaa hails from Faleasiu and Sanaapu and has a lovely cheerful demeanour that meant that I was his uso [brother] from day one. This was however to be proven highly deceptive in retrospect.

We befriended him, supported him in his efforts to enter parliament and to all intents and purposes could be considered one of the family. Many a time we would laugh, joke, socialise with him and his family befriending his mother, wife, child and extended family.

When the issue of his planned business was raised, it seemed natural for us to have confidence to invest. We did and it was inconceivable to us that anything could go wrong on the relationship side of things. How wrong this was to be!

Putting the last of our available capital into Tuigamala’s planned funeral business and becoming 50/50 Partners was probably one of the most hurtful experiences in Samoa – not so much that we lost all our money, which we did, but the lies and deceptions that occurred in the process meant that his lack of integrity has been exposed, and badly.

Like his younger brother Vaiiga, who had multiple business failures in New Zealand before coming back home to Samoa, Tamapaa seemed to have ‘a way’ with money, one way, his way, if you know what I mean! After a series of incredible events that boggles the Western business mind, a relationship had been destroyed, a business failed and all the money . . . well . . . gone!

I tried many times to deal with the issue constructively – Luigi had the best advice though – “You justa forget about it eh?”

Knowing that exposure would be coming sooner or later I called in to his shop in Vaimea to attempt to find a way to resolve the matters with Vaiiga, Tamapaa’s younger brother. My aim was to avoid further embarrassment for their mother, one who had picked up the pieces for years over the boys malfeasances. It was a waste of time with an arrogant and abusive response from the former All Black hero that just made me cringe. I simply walked away from someone who clearly has some pretty serious issues with ego.
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As I’ve said elsewhere, not one person in Samoa in more than five years who has ripped me off, has ever fronted and attempted to resolve the problem in a proper godly (or Samoan) manner, talking the matter through and getting to an agreed solution. The Tuigamala’s are no exception.

Some of this is the ‘Palagi factor’, the fact that it is a shame for a Samoan to confess to wrongdoing, especially to a Palagi. Some of this is just simple ugly arrogance.

Our Tuigamala rip-off and relationship breakdown was a not a complex matter, but it is not always so simple in Samoa as the cultural things can get in the way very easily.

The corruption in this area, of personal relationships, business dealings and so on are huge. In a nutshell it goes like this . . . a Palagi (and to a certain extent Samoans who use Palagi systems or values against fellow Samoans) can never ‘win’ in Samoa, and will never be allowed to win.

A typical relationship breakdown will go like this . . .

a) An agreement is entered into, between say a Palagi and a Samoan Matai
b) Trouble will occur, often around misunderstanding but also commonly relating to greed on the part of the Samoan
c) Conflict will occur and escalate. It will take the form of indignation on the part of the Palagi and offence on the part of the Samoan
d) Mediation (or litigation) will occur and a middle-ground is agreed upon (in the interests of expediency) between the generally honest Palagi and the generally dishonest Samoan positions
e) Samoan gains; Palagi loses; appearances are however kept good
f) The situation repeats with another topic, issue, sometimes the same one

The Samoan culture is a flexible beast, without the absolutes of right/wrong or good/bad thus it can be easily manipulated for personal benefit. Typical phrases used in the ‘games’ played are that “we don’t want to cause offence” or that Samoan culture is “all about diplomacy”, thus the absolutes of right and wrong are sidelined into a cess-pit of ‘cultural’ greyness.

Opportunism, white-lies and greed fester in a political and cultural environment where one on the tail-end of injustice can never win.

The high profile case where an entire Village Council was fined heavily by a judge for instructing the boys to burn down one families home and possessions is a perfect example of this. Years later and the family who lost all has received only minimal amounts of the judgement. Some Matais have died; others have paid something; others have paid nothing. They’ll be incredibly lucky if they ever receive justice.

Interpersonal conflict too often comes down to the power that one has in the situation, not to the lofty ideals of justice. Thus, if the decision-maker is your relative or friend, then you will have a greater chance of prevailing in a conflict situation. This form of justice, where politics and pragmatism rule over abstracts, is the norm in Samoa.

Sadly the Samoan ways in this regard are a corruption of the biblical/Judeo-Christian value system, even though they are normal here.


Satapuala Matai Violence

In 2010 we leased land from a Matai, Eniko Taufete’e and his wife Sa, in Satapuala. Three weeks after the Prime Minister opened the business we erected the signs according to the contract, but the wife of the Matai attempted to double the rent.

We resisted the greed, finding out that a conflict had arisen between the husband (who wanted to honour the agreement) and the wife (who had lied to a neighbour about getting more money for the signs).

Long story short, Samoan fists connected with a Palagi face; I ended up in hospital and we lost all, as we abandoned the premises and evacuated to our government-leased land in Aleisa.

The issue in this case study here was exactly as described in the typical relationship breakdown mentioned above. Sadly, this is a repeating story in Samoa and should be serious cause of concern for Palagi considering investing in Samoa. Rural village engagements are fraught with complexity and cross-cultural challenges abound.

There are ways to work through these challenges (a little bribery through the church and Matais is the traditional method of greasing the wheels) but it is NOT easy and it takes a good couple of years living in Samoa to understand the significance of cultural relationships.

This two years is a typical time for a Palagi to adjust. It is more like three years for Samoans born and raised overseas. Either can be shortened a little with effective mentoring/scaffolding.

Again, it’s hard to level an accusation of corruption across the board in Samoa, because there are exceptions, but they are hard to find and interpersonal challenges certainly abound.

The same or similar issues are also found in many other third world nations.1

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