ULIMASAO SITALA SITALA,
[In re the Matai Title “TAGOILELAGI”
of the Village of Vatia]
High Court of American Samoa
Land and Titles Division
 The concept
of “clans” is not defined in the statutes governing matai titles.
identity must be determined by the particular family’s current traditions.
customs are fluid, varying from family to family, and evolving from time to
time within each family.
Before RICHMOND, Associate Justice,
LOGOAI, Chief Associate Judge, ATIULAGI, Associate Judge, and TAUANU`U,
Temporary Associate Judge.
Counsel: For Claimant, Aitofele T. Sunia
Counterclaimant, Afoa L. Su`eseu`e Lutu
On September 21, 1998, the Court
entered the original Opinion and Order in this action awarding the matai title “Tagoilelagi” to
Counterclaimant Tilimasao Sitala Sitala, Jr. (“Ulimasao”). Claimant Fagaoali`i appealed the Trial
Court’s decision, and the Appellate Division remanded the case to this Court to
determine the customary clan(s) of the family, as well as whom is supported by
the clan(s) as the next holder of the title. Fagaoaii`i v. Ulmasao, 3 A.S.R.3d 66, 70 (App. Div.
1999). These facts are essential to a
positive finding on the second of the four selection criteria mandated by
statute, the wish of the majority or plurality of the family’s customary
clans. A.S.C.A. § 1.0409(c)(2).
hearing was held on December 14, 2000. Fagaoali`i, Ulimasao, and their
respective counsel were present. Testimony was taken, and the parties agreed to
submit written arguments. The written arguments were filed on December 21,
2000, in accordance with the agreement.
The Family’s Customary Clans
Fagaoali`i identifies a single customary clan of the Tagoilelagi family,
Uitualagi. Fagaoali`i follows the
tradition of clans based on the names of the progeny of the original
titleholder, who he believes is Tagomailelagi Tagaloalagi. Tagomailelagi Tagaloalagi had two children, a
son Uitualagi and a daughter Silaulelei, who did not have children. Thus, Fagaoali`i believes that Uitualagi is
the sole family clan today.
Ulimasao counters with five customary clans of the family, Falemalama,
Suiufa`iga, Sa`a, Sina, and Tuiasosopo. Ulimasao believes that Tagomailelagi
Tagaloalagi’s son, Tagomailelagi Ultualagi, was the first true sa`o of
the family in Vatia. Tagomailelagi
Uitualagi had four sons, Falemalama, Suiufa`iga, Sa`a, and Tuiasosopo, and one
daughter, Sina. Tuiasosopo’s descendents, if any, faded from family history a
long time ago. Thus, Ulimasao holds to
the view that the other three sons and the daughter are the source of names of
the customary family clans that are recognized and participate in current
family fa`alavelave (“family events”).
In addition to the two remaining
candidates, chiefs Te`o Tavai, who descends from Sina, and Vaifetuli Gaoteote,
who descends from Sa`a, testified at the remand hearing. The two chiefs corroborate Ulimasao’s
position that four distinct clans are presently recognized and actively
function in the Tagoilelagi family’s fa`alavelave. At these fa`alavelave,
descendents of the three brothers, Falemalama, Sulufa`iga and Sa`a, and one
sister, Sina, separately present si`i (“customary gifts”). Chief Te`o also points out that Sina’s
descendants are distinguished as the family tama-sa (“sacred clan”).
[1-2] The concept of the “clans” of a
Samoan family is not defined in the statutes governing matai titles. A.S.C.A. § 1.0401-.0414. Rather, guidance is given
only by the general phrase “clans of the family as customary in that family”
for purposes of deciding title succession controversies. A.S.C.A. § 1.0404(c)(2). As in this case, opposing claimants
frequently disagree about the identity of the family’s clans when urging
support within the family for their respective candidacies, often making
judicial resolution of the clan wish issue perplexing. In re Matai Title “Tauaifaiva”, 5
A.S.R. 2d 13, 15 (Land & Titles Div. 1987). In any case, the statutory
reference to the “customary” clans provides clear direction that clan identity
must be determined by the particular family’s current traditions. Id.; In re Matai Title “Atiumaletavai”, 22
A.S.R.2d 94, 98 (Land & Titles Div. 1992).
 Samoan customs are fluid, not
static. In re Matai Title “Atiumaletavai”, 22 A.S.R.2d 94, 97-98 (Land
& Titles Div. 1992); In re Matai Title “Tauaifaiva”, 5
A.S.R.2d 13, 14 (Land & Titles Div. 1987). They vary from family to family,
and evolve from time to time within each family. We are satisfied by a preponderance of the
evidence that Tagamailelagi Tagaloalagi was first holder of the “Tagoilelagi”
title. However, we are also convinced by
a preponderance of the evidence that the Tagoilelagi family customarily
developed, and for purposes of the present successor selection process still
has, four clans, namely the Falemalama, Sulufa`iga, Sa`a, and Sina clans, that
actively and separately participate in the family’s fa`alavelave.
Wish of the Majority or Plurality of the Family’s Customary Clans
Based on the evidence presented at the remand hearing, our findings in
the original opinion and order of September 21, 1998, concerning family
meetings to select the successor to the “Tagoilelagi” title were essentially
correct. Quoting that Opinion and Order
at 2 A.S.R.3d 230, 234-235, we repeat those findings (deleting the reference to
a single clan based on our present finding of four clans), as follows:
The family . . . clans first met in February 1994. Ulimasao and another tulafale (or
“talking chief”) of the family were nominated.
The discussions were peaceful and harmonious in accordance with Samoan
customs. Although Ulimasao appeared to have more support, the selection was
postponed until a later time. The second
meeting was held in May 1994. Again, the same persons were nominated. After discussions, Ulimasao was still the
apparent favorite for the title, but the family . . . clans decided that yet
another meeting would be held in an effort to achieve a true consensus.
nominated Ulimasao’s competitor and was not himself nominated during the first
two meetings. However, on July 20, 1994,
he filed his claim for the title “Tagoilelagi” with the Territorial
Registrar. His action prompted the five
original counterclaimants to oppose Fagaoali`i’s claim and seek the title. When the third meeting of family . . . clans
was held, considerable displeasure was expressed over Fagaoali`i’s offer to
register the title, and Ulimasao continued to have the most support to be the
next titleholder. However, Fagaoali`i
and his supporters would not join a consensus for Ulimasao. Thus, the family .
. . clans met a fourth time. Ulimasao
still retained his previous support at the fourth meeting. However, to maintain peace and harmony, the
family . . . clans decided that Fagaoali`i and Ulimasao would jointly hold the
title. Both Fagaoali`i and Ulimasao were
given the traditional kava cup ceremony that day, but with the
understanding that Fagaoali`i would withdraw his offer to register the
title. However, the Village Council of
Vatia never met to record the family’s decision, and Fagaoali`i did not
withdraw his registration offer.
Clearly, the family met meaningfully
on several occasions to discuss and select the successor to hold the
“Tagoilelagi” title. Although Ulimasao
enjoyed the most support for selection, the family failed to reach a true
consensus choice. Though not nominated
until the fourth meeting, and then as a compromise gesture, Fagaoali`i probably
has the support of his clan, the Sulufa`iga clan, at least at this time. Ulimasao has the support of his clan, the
Falemalama clan. At the remand hearing,
chiefs Te`o, implicitly by testifying, and Vaifetuli, expressly, confirmed the
support of their clans, the Sina and Sa`a clans respectively, for Ulimasao.
Accordingly, we find that Ulimasao
has the majority support of three of the four customary clans that are
presently active in the affairs of the Tagoilelagi family. Even if we discount the Sina clan as
indecisive on the issue, Ulimasao still has the plurality support of two clans
of the four clans. Either way, Ulimasao
prevails on the clan wish criterion.
Both candidates are blood members of the Tagoilelagi
family and are qualified on this basis to hold the “Tagoilelagi” title. Fagaoali`i does prevail, however, as
previously found, on the statutory best hereditary criterion under the rules
judicially formulated to evaluate this issue.
We also previously found, and still consider, both candidates equally
qualified on the third priority criterion of forcefulness, character, personality,
and knowledge of Samoan customs.
Ulimasao prevails, however, on the second priority clan wish criterion
and, again as previously and still found, fourth priority criterion of value to
family, village, and country.
In our evaluation, Ulimasao notably outranks Fagaoali`i as the choice of
the majority or plurality of the customary clans of the family and in
leadership potential, the second and fourth priority criteria, and these
ratings surpass Fagaoali`i’s nominally stronger hereditary right. We therefore reaffirm our decision of September
28, 1998, to award the “Tagoilelagi” title to Ulimasao.
The title “Tagoilelagi” is awarded to Ulimasao Sitala Sitala, Jr. The Territorial Registrar shall register the
title in Ulimasao’s name, provided that he has resigned from and is not registered
holding any other matai title.
It is so ordered.
JUDGE ATIULAGI, Dissenting,
My view was before and still is that the title “Tagoilelagi” should be
awarded to Fagaoali`i.
Fagaoali`i has a better hereditary right to the title than does Ulimasao.
I am persuaded that the Tagoilelagi family follows the tradition of identifying
clans by the names of the original titleholder’s offspring. The first titleholder, Tagomailelagi Tagaloalagi,
had one child who had descendents, his son Uitualagi. Thus, I am not convinced that the Tagoilelagi
family has more than the one clan, identified by Fagaoali`i as the Uitualagi
clan. This single clan has not reached a
consensus to support Ulimasao, and I would therefore find that neither
candidate prevails on this issue.
Again, as I indicated before, I believe that Fagaoali`i is a more
forceful person and stronger leader.
Except while receiving his higher education, Fagaoali`i has lived in
American Samoa his entire life. He has
held a matai title in the Tagoilelagi
family for a slightly longer period than has Ulimasao. I would therefore find that Fagaoali`i
prevails on the third and fourth criteria.
Because he prevails on the first,
third, and fourth criteria in my view, I would award the “Tagoilelagi” title to