Series: 7ASR3d | Year: () | 7ASR3d228
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SOLIAI, Counter-claimants.







[In re Matai Title

“PUAILOA” of the Village of Nu`uuli]



Court of American Samoa


and Titles Division



No. 05-01


May 1, 2003




As in all matai title succession disputes, court is mandated to follow the four

criteria set out in A.S.C.A. § 1.0409(c): (1) best hereditary right; (2) clan

support; (3) forcefulness, character and personality, and knowledge of Samoan

customs; and (4) value to family, village, and country.



Court has resorted to one of two formulas to calculate the statutory and

customary requirement of “hereditary right”: (1) direct descent from the

original titleholder which may be used when family history is largely

harmonius; and (2) direct descent from the nearest titleholder, which has been used

by the vast majority of cases.  


When evaluating forcefulness of character, court compares personal attributes

and achievements demonstrating these attributes, in part, on personal

observation of each candidate while on the witness stand. 


KRUSE, Chief Justice, SAGAPOLUTELE, Associate Judge, MAMEA, Associate Judge and

TUPUIVAO, Associate Judge.



         For Claimant, Asaua Fuimaono


Tuitogamaatoe P. Fanene, Charles V. Ala’ilima


La`au Seui, Arthur Ripley, Jr.

For Ma`ae Taei, Salanoa

S. P. Aumoeualogo

For Archie Soliai,

Isa-Lei U. Iuli, L.P.

For Avea Va`afusuaga,

Tauivi Tuinei




Tepatasi M. Puailoa (“Tepatasi”) filed with the Territorial Registrar his

succession claim to the Puailoa matai title and, in accordance with the statute

made and provided for in these cases, the Territorial Registrar publicly posted

the claim between December 29, 2000 and February 28, 2001.  In due course, Tuitogamaatoe P. Fanene

(“Tuitogamaatoe”), La`au Seui (“La`au”), Ma`ae Taei (“Ma`ae”), Archie Soliai

(“Archie”), and Avea Va`afusuaga (“Avea”) filed their respective succession

claims.  The resulting

dispute, certified “irreconcilable” by the Secretary of Samoan Affairs on May

29, 2001, was eventually referred to the Land and Titles Division in accordance

with A.S.C.A. § 1.0409.  The matter came

on for trial January 27, 28, and 29, 2003, with all parties appearing with

counsel.  At the conclusion of the

evidence, and upon the filing of written final arguments, the matter was taken

under advisement.

[1] As

in all matai title succession disputes, the Court is mandated to follow the

four criteria set out in A.S.C.A. § 1.0409(c): (1) best hereditary right; (2)

clan support; (3) forcefulness, character and personality, and knowledge of

Samoan customs; and (4) value to family, village, and country. 


  Best Hereditary Right



This Court has resorted to one of two formulas to calculate

the statutory and customary requirement of “hereditary right:” direct descent

from the original titleholder and direct descent from the nearest titleholder.  See In re Matai Title “Mulitauaopele”, 17

A.S.R.2d 75 (Land & Titles Div. 1990). 

While the former may be appropriately used where family history is

largely harmonious, In re Matai Title “Misaalefua”, 1 A.S.R.3d 23, 25

(App. Div. 1997), the vast majority of cases have employed the latter, In re

Matai Title “Leiato”, 3 A.S.R.2d 133, 134 (App. Div. 1986).  Here, each party has submitted his/her

respective family tree.  But these have

proven rather difficult to reconcile, even showing inconsistencies in detail

among closely related candidates.  In

circumstances such as here, where family history and genealogical

understanding is contentious, the traditional formula for evaluating hereditary

right, the shortest descent path to the nearest titleholder, is the

overwhelmingly favored yardstick among rnatai succession candidates.  The matter before us proved to be no

exception, with the candidates readily resorting to the traditional rule.


Tepatasi, Tuitogamaatoe, Avea,

& Ma`ae


Tepatasi and Tuitogamaatoe, brother and sister, each claim

50% entitlement since the nearest titleholder in their ancestral line was

Puailoa Tavete, their late father.  The pedigree

of candidates Avea and Ma`ae show their respective degree of right as

6.25%.  The hereditary claims of these

four candidates are undisputed.[1]




also claims 6.25% entitlement tracing his pedigree along the same descent lines

as have Tepatasi, Tuitogamaatoe, Avea, and Ma`ae.  The latter, however, strongly oppose La`au’s

claim.  La`au’s genealogical claim is

that Puailoa Faletutulu had another son in addition to Puailoa Vaiuli, and that

being Filipo, La`au’s great-grandfather. 

In support of his hereditary claim, La`au cites to recent instances

where his father, orator Seui La`au, acted as family spokesman for certain

Puailoa family affairs during the administration of Puailoa Tavete.  Moreover, La`au points to a past succession

contest, that came before the High Court as Pua`ae`o v. Sapunu, No.

10-1935 (the “1935 succession case”), in which his paternal grandmother,

Fa`alogoifo, was a signatory supporter of one the candidates named Sipunu.


weight of the evidence suggests, however, that Faletutulu had only one son,

Vaiuli, who was himself without issue. 

The evidence indisputably shows that Faletutulu had two sisters, or

nieces according to Avea’s gafa (genealogy), named Aioleolo and Taoa.

Taoa’s line ended with Puailoa Nouata, who also passed on without issue, while

Aioleolo’s children gave rise to the most recent titleholders Pua`aelo and

Tavete, as well as candidates Tepatasi, Tuitogamaatoe, Avea and Ma`ae.


La`au’s contentions, a person’s participation in a Samoan family fa`alavelave

does not ipso facto translate conclusively into evidence of family

membership through hereditary connection. 

The authorities have long ago recognized that under Samoan custom, all

persons who live in a Samoan family are considered family members, although not

necessarily blood members.  Vaotuua

Family v. Puletele, 3 A.S.R. 145, 147 (Trial Div. 1955).  Likewise, those married into a Samoan family

are regarded as family members even though they are not blood members.  Asuega v. Mauga, 3 A.S.R 70, 73 (Trial

Div. 1953).  However, since the enactment

of A.S.C.A. § 1.0409(c), blood connection has become a pre-requisite to matai

succession eligibility. 


this matter, La`au’s father, orator Seui, referred to Sipunu on the witness

stand as his mother’s “brother.” Sipunu, however, acknowledged in his pleadings

that he was an “adopted” family member. 

The 1935 succession case’s genealogical charts,[2] while pointing out that

Puailoa Vaiuli and Sipunu were first cousins once removed, also pointed out

that Vaiuli and Sipunu’s kinship connection arose outside the Puailoa family

tree.  This is also the version of family

history as given to Avea by her ancestors; that is, La`au’s grandmother Fa`alogoifo

was kin to Faletutulu’s wife, not Faletutulu. 

Finally, we note that the 1935 succession case did not go to trial;

significantly, it was settled out of court after Sipunu had withdrawn his

unsupported claim to the title in favor of Pua`aelo, an undisputed blood heir.


in all, we find La`au’s hereditary connection claim to be, at best,




claims his degree of hereditary right as 1/128 or .008%.  He singularly traces his heritage to a

Puailoa Leo`o, said to be the original titleholder.  The evidence here shows that the Puailoa

family’s modern history began with the admission of Puailoa into the Nu`uuli

village council, and thus recited in the village fa`alupega (salutation

or honorifics) and included in the village constitution, following a marriage

alliance with a daughter of High Chief Soliai. 

Archie’s pedigree, however, does not pursue this acknowledged and well

known Soliai connection, which brought the Puailoa to the Nu`uuli village

council, but rather reaches out into the realm of myth and legend, to the

tabled original titleholder known simply as “Leo`o.”  The connection is tenuous.


Archie’s position on family history with regards to the listing of prior

titleholders, is, like that of a number other candidates in this matter,

restricted to, or coincides with, the record of the 1935 succession case.  The 1935 succession case has listed between

Leo`o and Ta`aseu, the following as Puailoa titleholders: Saumalegalu, Tevita,

and Tagipuia.  This history varies markedly

with the history given in the case Alo Taisi v. Puailoa, HC No. 4-1908,

where the Puailoa at the time lists, under oath, the following as preceding

Ta`aseu: Pulumalesama, Taligalu, Tavili, Faifa, and Taligataleoo.  (Trial tr. at 75).  This seeming confusion adds another dimension

to Archie’s pedigree; and that is, its reliability in terms of detailing

accurately all generations in his line assuming direct descent to the original



A.S.C.A. § 1.0409(c) (1) talks in terms of male descendants prevailing over

female descendants unless it is apparent on the evidence that “the male and

female descendants are equal in families where this has been customary.”  According to Archie’s pedigree, he is descendant

from the female line; but there has been no evidence here whatsoever to the

effect that in the Puailoa family the male and female descendants are equally

entitled.  Even if Archie’s genealogy is

to be accepted, the presumption favoring the male descendants works against his

hereditary entitlement to the title.


purposes herein, we find that Tepatasi and Tuitogamaatoe prevail equally over

Avea and Ma`ae, who in turn prevail equally over the claims of La`au and



  Clan Support


this heading, the Court is required to look into “the wish of the majority or

plurality of those clans of the family as customary in that family.”  A.S.C.A. § 1.0409(c)(2).  The candidates were all at sea on the issue

of clan definition and their attempts at identifying the family’s customary



was the only candidate who attempted to define clans in the context of the

pre-Nu`uuli times.  By resorting to the

familiar explanation of “clan” in terms of descent lines from the issue of the

first titleholder, Archie suggested that the family has two clans: Samalaulu, a

female branch, and Saumalegalu, a male branch. 

The problem with this contention is that it is singularly held.  There is no supporting view for the premise

that the Puailoa family has customarily had a female branch from the outset.


remaining candidates all attempted to identify the family’s clans in the

post-Nu`uuli family development context. 

Ma`aels view vacillated between two and one clan(s), while Avea,

Tepatasx and Tuitogamaatoe suggested the evolution of two clans by default,

namely Mataua and Sina, the issue of Aioleolo.[3]  La`au’s position, quite clearly on the basis

of the 1935 succession case’s record, is that there were three clans:

Faletutulu, Aioleolo, and Taoa.  But

according to the record of the 1935 succession case, the Faletutulu and Taoa’s

lines died out after Vaiuli and Nouata failed to leave issue.


the Puailoa family is a one clan family or a two clan family, what is clear on

the evidence is that no one candidate received the weight of family support.  The various meetings held were concluded on a

note of divisiveness, with the various candidates unyielding in his/her desire

to hold the title. 



find that no candidate prevails on the issue of clan support.



  Forcefulness Character and Personality,

an Knowledge of Samoan




Under this heading, the Court is necessarily involved in a

comparative evaluation of personal attributes and achievements demonstrating

these attributes.  Here the Court relies in

part on personal observation of each candidate while on the witness stand.  See Asuega v. Manuma, 4 A.S.R. 616,

629 (Trial Div. 1965) (Court must weigh “personal demeanor, presence of mind,

the clarity, speed, and correctness with which answers were given, candidness,

the ability to stand up to rigorous cross examination, the education, the

self-confidence, and other qualities which are reflected from the speech and

behavior of the candidates, matters which can be assessed only from the

personal observation of each individual candidate”).  At the same time, “[l]eadership ability,

honesty, education, public service, involvement in church and village affairs,

and previous experience as a matai are some of the factors which aid in meeting

this criterion.”  In re Matai Title

“Leaeno”, 25 A.S.R.2d 4, 8 (Land & Titles Div. 1994). 


careful review of the candidates’ respective backgrounds, their strengths and

weaknesses, the court finds that Ma`ae prevails over the other candidates under

this heading.  He is the only party with

creditable matai experience: six years standing as the Ma`ae titleholder.  His responses to the judges’ questions

touching on the issue of knowledge of Samoan custom bespeaks that matai

experience.  Moreover, he proved to be

less prone to equivocation and embellishment while he was on the witness stand.


terms of career development, Ma`ae impressed us most.  Showing tenacity and perseverance together

with a firm purpose for personal development, Ma`ae attained his college degree

while an enlisted man in the armed forces–a strong statement on forcefulness

and character.  After retiring from a

meritorious career with the U.S Navy, with emphasis on property management,

Ma`ae returned to the territory with his education and work related expertise

to serve his family, church, village, and government.  Comparatively, his superior resume reflects

by far the greater responsibilities entailed within the positions he holds with

his Church and the number of important federal and local government



short, Ma`ae best embodies “[l]eadership ability, honesty, education, public

service, involvement in church and village affairs, and previous experience as

a matai . . . which aid in meeting this criterion.”  Id.  He best fits the bill for forcefulness,

character and personality, and knowledge of Samoan customs.


  Value to Family, Village, and Country


this heading we also find that Ma`ae stands out decisively from the

others.  Ma`ae’s service to the country

singularly stands out in terms of his past service to national government,

while serving 23 years in the military, and in terms of his on-going service to

the territorial government.  As

previously noted, his superior resume reflects the different federal and local

government commissions in which Ma`ae has participated, including serving on

the U.S. Labor Department’s biennial Wage and Hour Review Board for the

territory.  He continues to serve the

local government as a property management specialist.


terms of value to family and village, Ma`ae has creditable matai experience and

he would not be subjected to the difficulties associated with the gender bias

currently in effect with the Nu`uuli village council.  The title Puailoa is included within the

village honorifics taumafaalofi and effective representation and

recognition within the council will only enhance the family’s prestige and

well-being within the village. 

Additionally, the Puailoa family has relatively large land assets that

require appropriate management and conservation skills.  (Current dealings with the family’s land tend

to reveal improvident and preclusive development, an apparent reason for the

large slate of candidates.)  Ma`ae is

uniquely qualified in this regard. 


we are confident that Ma`ae is in the best position to lead and bring the

family together.  With the large number

of candidates contesting succession, and from our observation of the candidates

and in listening to them, we find that there is an unmistakable atmosphere of

distrust among the Puailoa family factions. 

This state of affairs certainly has something to do with the family’s

large real estate holdings; it has something to do with the family’s history

with third party adverse claimants dating back to pre-American Samoa Government

times; and it also has something to do with the perception of dominant use by

the immediate heirs of the last titleholder. 

La`au and Archie are relatively young, but their leadership potential is

solidly grounded in terms of education and service to family, church, village

and country.  As prospective traditional

leaders, their biblical “season” will soon come.


and Tuitogamaatoe’s side of the family has dominated the title since the 1930s,

and the fact that they were unable to bridge their differences within their own

immediate circle does not bode well in terms of either being a potential family

mediator/conciliator.  It is apt for a

descendant of Sina to succeed.


track record and circumstances deems him best suited for leadership potential

at this time.  We rate Ma`ae first on

this criterion.




on the foregoing, we hold that Ma`ae is qualified to hold the title Puailoa as

he prevails on the third and fourth statutory criteria although preceded by

Tepatasi and Tuitogamaatoe on the first. 

The second criterion is discounted.


Territorial Registrar shall, in accordance with A.S.C.A. § 1.0409 (b), register

the metal title Puailoa, attached to the village of Nu`uuli, in candidate Ma`ae



is so ordered.




[1] We note that

Avea and Ma`ae actually share with Tepatasi and Tuitogamaatoe a common ancestor

in Puailoa Ta`aseu or Vaiofaga.  The

Court in In re Matai Title Sotoa, 2 A.S.R.2d 15 (Land & Titles Div.

1986), first suggested calculating a candidate’s hereditary right by reference

to his relationship to the ordinal titleholder as being more desirable, because

“every new titleholder does not start a new line of hereditary.”  A variation of this rule employs blood

relation to the nearest common ancestor. 

See In re Matai Title Tuiteleleapaga, 15 A.S.R.2d 90, 90-91 (Land

& Titles Div. 1990).  If this

variation of the Sotoa rule is employed among candidates Tepatasi,

Tuitogamaatoe, Avea, and Ma`ae, they would all prove equal in hereditary right.

[2] These charts, as

well as statements of family history found in the 1935 case, were quite clearly

relied upon and used by the candidates.

[3] Aioleolo’s first

marriage alliance bore Mataua, the ancestor of Tepastasi and

Tuitogamaatoe.  Her second marriage

alliance bore Sina, the ancestor of Avea and Ma`ae.