In the late 1800s a wealthy Rarotongan named Tealiki (Apai) owned many plots of land in the central Apia districts of [Western] Samoa. Upon the death of his only son Tealiki (Jnr) in 1943, the descendants failed to exercise their right of ownership through possession and the lands remained vacant, a common scenario in Samoa at the time.
In 1958 (when New Zealand was responsible for Samoa’s administration) an opportunistic businessman David Hunter (Snr) along with his sister Rore (Lole) engineered the transfer of these lands to his own name, using a corrupt New Zealand official – the Public Trustee. David claimed that he was descendant of Tealiki’s sisters Tiresa & Lily and that Tealiki (Jnr) had no offspring and thus the lie that was the genesis of the land theft. All this according to the aggrieved family.
In the decades following, the Tealiki descendants could do little – they were up against powerful business and political interests. They also had little education and limited knowledge of due process to claim their lands. In 2005, one of Tealiki (Jnr’s) grandsons, Mika Fuimaono commenced a claim, lodging it with the Public Trustee. From 2005 until 2016, funded through the sale of their home, support from others in the family and more recently gaining financial support from the Parilo family of Sydney, Mika and his wife undertook a massive investigation and secured the required evidence, or so they thought.
Their court case in Samoa Supreme Court in 2016 was widely regarded by those in attendance to be overwhelming. They had the evidence of genealogy; they presented it to the court professionally and according to those present, they had won . . . unequivocally. Happy days . . . or so it seemed.
The verdict released months later though denied them justice. In a strange ruling Justice Nelson ruled, “You have convinced me that you are descendants of ‘A’ Tealiki. I’m not convinced though that you are the rightful descendants of ‘THE’ Tealiki.”
An appeal was launched on multiple grounds with a hearing scheduled for Q1, 2018. Corruption is postulated. A deliberately ‘loose’ ruling from Nelson J. leaving the door open to appeal to a higher court is also plausible.
Having faced deliberate obfuscation, conflicts of interest and adversity engineered for years, all eyes are now on the New Zealand Appellate and the appeal. It is my take that the family have a strong case based on fact, but that they have made fundamental errors along the way of obtaining justice. First they failed to act for a very long time. They ignored multiple opportunities to lay a claim. Secondly while they were up against it all the way, they made some bad choices along the way. Some of this is cultural, some of it was ignorance, some of it was because there were interests out to subvert their cause, most of all though their biggest mistake has been to trust lawyers, and not the Lord. Thirdly the problem with lawyers is that they think like lawyers and most human conflict is not resolved with the law. The family failed to understand that the Tealiki case is not primarily a legal battle – it is more a political battle and that this is best understood as primarily a spiritual battle.
My advice is that one can never expect justice, especially when there are powerful people involved against you, when you depower authority through your own misconduct. Many times in scripture we see those thinking that they are clean, falling through their hidden sins. You cannot mock the Lord and get away with it. My take is that the families appeal in 2018 will likely lose, because they need a miracle of justice to overcome the Samoan adversity [aka corruption].
Luckily I am not in the actual judgment seat on this one!
In the next post I share the actual land claim as presented to the court and heard in 2015. It is a simple Statement of Claim, well laid out and logical. The judge especially made mention of the quality and professionalism of the lawyers involved.