TEPATASI M. PUAILOA,
FANENE, LA`AU SEUI,
MA`AE TAEI, and ARCHIE
AVEA T. VA`AFUSUAGA,
[In re Matai Title
“PUAILOA” of the Village of Nu`uuli]
Court of American Samoa
and Titles Division
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,
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
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
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
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,
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.
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
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, 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
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. 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
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.
 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.
 These charts, as
well as statements of family history found in the 1935 case, were quite clearly
relied upon and used by the candidates.
 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.