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Stories articles and news abot Alison and Digby Gotts


The Samoan Experience
Three days in Tafua
EcoTour Samoa
The Samoan Election
Pruning the Mangoes
Climbing Mt SiliSili
Fourth week in Samoa

Samoan Observer Articles:

Why is there no fruit on my mango?
Want more mangoes next year?
Green oranges or orange oranges?
In search of a Samoan Orange
The Hardest Cut
Rambutan - hairy thing from the forest
Rambutan revisited
Abiu - the emporer's golden fruit
Avocado - fruit or vegetable?
Carambola - star of the rainforest
Durian - the extreme tropical fruit
Rollinia - lemon meringue pies growing in the garden
Sex and the single pawpaw
Soursop - a taste sensation
The mulch story
Do it yourself pest control
The joys of soapy water!
The hungry fruit tree
Positive insects



By Alison Gotts

Living in Samoa over the last few months it has been an interesting experience for me as an interested observer to consider the differences between an Australian election and the recent election in Samoa, and how fa’a Samoa influences the outcome, and to think about strengths and weaknesses of each system.

It is very difficult for a woman to be elected in Samoa because you have to be a Matai (village chief or elder) to be eligible to stand, and in Samoan culture most woman would not accept a Matai title - if it was offered they would pass it to their brother. So only one, or maybe 2 women have been elected out of 49. The rest are middle-aged and aging men, from the top strata of the society. Is the Australian system 'better'? It has made me appreciate just how much more representative Australia has become by getting women into parliament, especially after the recent Queensland election with nearly 40% of Labor seats going to women. This has not happened by accident – it has been a deliberate policy by the political parties to become more representative. Women’s groups have been formed such as Emily’s List to provide mentoring support and money for women who are prepared to stand as candidates. So how is a woman’s viewpoint represented in parliament in Samoa, and how do women get access to resources – at the moment it can only be through men listening and interpreting what women say – if they are interested. Samoan men may be happy with this situation – but I would be interested to know how the women feel about it.

I have learned that obedience to the family and to the village chiefs is very important in fa’a samoa and it appears that family clans and villages voted in blocks after being told who to vote for. I have already learned of the power of the group over the rights of the individual from studying the Faleaolupo village case of the jailing of those who went against the wishes of the village fono(local elders court); and the power of the family in the case of the murder of the Minister for Public Works by a son under orders from his father. The individual has limited rights, but under modern pressures, as we have seen from these two examples how much longer will this obedience be given without question in Samoa? This may see the decline of the village chiefs in being able to deliver a block of votes, particularly as villagers become more educated and questioning. How would that change the political landscape of Samoa would it make the political system any better if people voted individually according to their conscience? In the past in Australian society, many people have voted the way their parents voted, and many women voted, as their husbands told them. Only a very small percentage known as the swinging voters were prepared to change their vote according to their personal judgement at the time of the election and influence the election outcome. In the last 10 years this has changed dramatically, as large numbers of voters have exercised their individual right to choose, and swept governments with big majorities from office. This willingness to change your vote has been good for the Australian political process - it really makes the politicians keep in touch with the voters and their views. Maybe the same thing could happen here and bring the politicians down to the people.

Gift giving is very important in fa’a samao and the candidates are expected to pay voters some money to get their vote. This process is out in the open. I read one letter to the editor requesting that her employer cash her pay check early in the week leading up to the election, while there was still cash available. It seems to be a fact of Samoan life - if you don't pay the voters they won't vote for you. Where does this money actually come from – is this a nave question? Is it money collected from taxes or money redirected from aid programs? At first I thought that we are lucky to be free of so much 'vote buying' in Australia, but on reflection I think that this vote buying occurs in Australia as well - it is just more subtle than in Samoa. We still vote for who promises to give us the most, but these are not usually promises to individuals. Perhaps this blatant vote buying in Samoa is actually a positive thing – cash is flowing into the poorest villages who don’t normally see much money during the rest of the political cycle – it’s a way of redistributing resources to the have nots, from the ruling power elite based in Apia. Could a village play one candidate off against another and push up the price of a vote, so they can maximise their income? Did some village chiefs promise to deliver a block of votes to a candidate, took the money and then decided to vote for somebody else? It could be quite a lucrative racket – a village could promise its votes to each of the five candidates standing in their electorate, and collect five times the payment. Did some villages do this? An analysis of the votes, village by village no doubt would yield some interesting trends to those in the know. Will this expectation that a vote is something to sell, ever be challenged in Samoan society, or does it benefit all the political players?

The role of the media has been crucial in raising the questions the Samoan government does not want asked about its previous poor performance in dealing with corruption, the economy, and selling passports to Hong Kong Chinese. Many articles were published referring to the corrupt practices of the past. But the government was never really forced to address these issues in public debate. I was interested to see the way they used the Secretary of the Prime Minister’s Dept to try and intimidate the Leader of the Opposition into returning the passports, with threats of police action and how the media were used to direct attention on the return of the passports. From watching the Samoan election I now appreciate how important the media is in Australia for keeping the government on their toes - and that a strong, independent media is one of the most important elements of a democracy. I had taken this for granted. Samoa has the ‘Samoan Observer’ – and a few key individuals who were prepared to ask the critical questions. What if they hadn’t been there? How much would the voters have learned about the issues? Australian politicians would not get away with ignoring issues raised by the media, like they try and do in Samoa.

Christianity is very important in Samoan culture and candidates talked about God and quoted extensively from the bible with many of their election speeches sounding more like sermons. Better to judge politicians on their actions rather than their words. Talking about God seems to be all that politicians can do, as their actions reject God from their lives.


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Last updated November 6, 2014