Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

“Wherever you go, you know exactly who you are and where you come from.” – Leota Aotearoa Muaiava Sa’olele at her Saofai

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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Seinafolava Sanele Chadwick | Reporter/Director - Wellington

In December 2022, Matai Titles were conferred on four women in the village of Falease’ela, Lefaga Samoa. The ceremony, known as a Saofai, was a unique experience for the women and their families who travelled to the islands from New Zealand and Australia for their investitures. This is their story. 

Matriarch Faletua O Le Toea’ina Rosalili Muaiava is a proud mum. 

Speaking in her native Samoan tongue she says: “my entire life I was raised and nurtured in Samoa, where I became used to the Samoan way of life like chores and the like.

“So, although I have migrated and live overseas, my heart, mind and purpose remain anchored in Samoa where I was raised in the family environment.

“I will never forget my family and my purpose in life.”

Photo: Seinafolava Sanele Chadwick/Tagata Pasifika

It’s an immensely special occassion for Mrs Muiaiava, including her daughter Aotearoa Muaiava Sa’olele who will be receiving the Leota title.

“As a child growing up and seeing my parents and the importance they put on us coming back home and that’s the same importance I feel I should be passing on to my children,” she says.

“Because now that I’m older, now that I’m a mother, I now see the value of what my parents instilled in us when we were younger and coming back home and maintaining that connection with our aiga.”

“It’s critical because then wherever you go you know exactly who you are and where you come from.”

Photo: Seinafolava Sanele Chadwick/Tagata Pasifika

Leota has two young children and lives in New Zealand with her Samoan husband Fatiala Moavinimua Tiso Sa’olele in Wainuiomata.

Aotearoa’s cousin Bessie Matale Fili is also receiving the Leota title – one that her late father held.

“For me knowing the title I’m going to be taking on is my late Father’s – I’m pretty proud about it knowing I’m going to have this name, carry it, and be able to come home and help out even though I’m living overseas,” she says.

And with a Matai Title comes great responsibility. Fili’s cousin Tasi Leatuavao is also receiving the Leota title and stressed Samoans living abroad always have a duty to family, church and village.

On the eve of the Saofai, Matai’a Shana Chadwick Muaiava is feeling excited about receiving a title from her husband’s family.

Photo: Seinafolava Sanele Chadwick/Tagata Pasifika

“Lots of mixed feelings; I am excited, I am slightly nervous but a good nervous and I just want it to be tomorrow already, she says.  

“If there’s another Saofai in the future it will never be the same as this one. Tomorrow’s one moment in time, that you’ll never be able to live or experience again. So, I’m going to embrace it.”

Rosalili Muiaiava says it’s not unusual for women to receive Matai Titles. However, she says every village is different with some not allowing it at all. 

Photo: Seinafolava Sanele Chadwick/Tagata Pasifika

In Samoan she says: “But in my opinion, I don’t agree with that stance. It seems unfair and discriminatory against women that we don’t allow them to get Matai titles in villages. 

“But that is the case in some villages. I don’t think it’s fair in my opinion.

“Another point I want to mention is it’s their identity. They are women. It is who they are. Because if they don’t become Matai, they won’t have a voice in the village council, inside family meetings and other similar events. It seems like they are being restricted.

“Samoan women are also descendants of the family so we should not exclude women from receiving a Matai because it’s the right and just thing to do.”

For those receiving the Titles, the honour is not just about the status, it’s about deepening the connections to family and village for the next generation. 

Photo: Seinafolava Sanele Chadwick/Tagata Pasifika

“My Hope and my dream for both my children is that they always find a connection to their family here and for them to always maintain that connection as they grow up,” says Leota Aotearoa Muaiava Saolele

“So that wherever they go, they know exactly where they’re from because that’s the same hope and dreams that my parents installed in us, the importance of knowing your Aiga and carrying that wherever you go.”

Matai’a Shana Chadwick Muaiava says she wants her children to embrace their culture. 

“I want them in the future to ‘galulue fa’amaoni’ but also to ‘galulue fiafia’, to be happy in what they’re doing,” she says. 

“Eventually they see us doing this, they see their grandparents doing this stuff and then it becomes something that’s so natural to them, that there actually isn’t any other question. They will happily come home; they long to come here all the time. If there is any fa’alavelave they are in that space comfortably.”



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