Complaints over Malietoa biography

Some descendants of the late Malietoa Tanumafili II are disappointed about what they term an 'unauthorised' biography on one of Samoa's key historical figures.

Malietoa Tanumafili II was bestowed one of Samoa's four paramount chiefly titles and served as Samoa's head of state from 1962 up until he died in 2007.

For direct desendant, Papalii Iosefo Titiuatoa Malietoa Tanumafili II, he believed there had been no discussion with the entire family about the biography being done by academics.

His nephew, Malietau Malietoa, was also up in arms about it being written without the entire family's support and wrote to Victoria University to express his views.

But in one letter of reply from the university, the paramount chief's name was repeatedly misspelt and caused him offence.

"My grandfather's name is insultingly misspelt and they want to do a biography on him and can't even get the name correct."

He's also not happy about the latest correspondence from Victoria University of Wellington who have been looking at publishing the book.

"The focus of the biography will be on his public life as a modern and customary leader with two works intended," the letter stated.

"One a pictorial biography and the other a historical biography."

The letter also said that the researchers have no intention to highlight any personal details of the late Malietoa that did not extend into his public life.

"The researchers have been in conversation with the remaining children that they were able to locate from the late Malietoa Tanumafili II's first marriage. Those three individuals have given their support and consent to this project."

Victoria University in Wellington did not put up anyone for comment on this story.

Papalii Iosefo Titiuatoa Malietoa Tanumafili II said a conversation with all family members is proper cultural practise but this side of the family is feeling ignored and excluded.

Although his own mother was not Malietoa's wife, the man whose biography is being written about, is still his father.

"It just felt so sad that we are being disrespected in this way, but having said that Morgan should have approached us to have our blessing."

But there is support for the academic biography to be written and published.

Among the backers are the National University of Samoa, the Centre of Samoa Studies, the Museum of Samoa, Samoa's Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration chief executive, and the CEO of Samoa's Legislative Assembly.

The academics involved in compiling the bio are Morgan Tuimaleali'ifano, at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji, and Victoria University of Wellington's Graham Hassall, who used to work at USP.

Morgan Tuimaleali'ifano said work actually began in 2000 when Malietoa was still alive.

"When we picked it up we tried to link up with him and we did, we did link up but by then when we did the trail had gone cold, Malietoa had passed away and Malama had not done anything further."

Mr Tuimaleali'ifano, who is also a Malietoa cousin, said the bio is very much a collaborative effort, with academics and historians in Samoa, Fiji and New Zealand.

He said that he did consult with family connected with the marriage.

"They have material from him on his personal life and I am a member of the family as well and as a professional teacher and a historian, we have every right to research and write about our family and our leaders."

Mr Tuimalealiifano said others are more than welcome to write their own biography on him too if they want.

"There is nothing to stop them," he said. "But they probably won't as it is a lot of work."

He said there is no time line on finishing it yet either, with both academics juggling other projects and work.

The Malietoa title is one of Samoa's highest most prestigious chiefly titles in Samoa with authority over land and people, but has been vacant since 2007.

But there is family dissension there too, after the recent title bestowal in Malie village caused threats of legal action and appeals.

The title was bestowed upon Fa'amausili Moli Malietoa last month, after the Lands and Titles court ruled in his favour last December.

But numerous appeals have been lodged against Fa'amausili being able to hold it.

Papali'i Iosefo Titiuatoa Malietoa Tanumafili II is among those who believe Fa'amausili is not the rightful title holder and his side of the family are pursuing a legal court process to contest it.

"We firmly disagree with what did take place and we will still disagree until the protocol with the title is done in an appropriate way because none of the most traditional way of bestowing the Malietoa title was ever part of the ceremony."

Criminal charges have been sought against the newly installed Malietoa title holder, Papali'i Fa'amausili Moli Malietoa, as well as other chiefs and orators from Malie village, for holding the ceremony.


Photo: supplied Victoria University's Graham Hassall, (left), and Morgan Tuimaleali'ifano from the USP in Fiji