O le ala ile pule o le tautua
Service is one of the key values found in the Pasifika Values within the Pasifika Education Plan 2013–2017. In Samoan culture, this value of service is reflected in the very well known proverbial expression — o le ala ile pule o le tautua — the pathway to leadership/authority is through service.
Samoans believe that if they are taught from an early age to serve their home communities and extended families, then they will be awarded leadership opportunities when they come of age. This can be seen in chiefly titles that are often bestowed on individuals on behalf of their home communities and extended families in elaborate title investiture ceremonies on the Samoan mainland. These titles are then registered with the Land and Titles Court, and titles are specifically tied to land that families have lived on for generations that they are entitled to inherit.
What is tautua?
As a concept of leadership, tautua is more than an attitude amongst Samoans; it is a value that is highly prized, and brings prestige to a family because it is a duty and obligation carried out to honour one’s family or aiga.
What can we learn about service and its pathway to leadership? Can Samoans transfer this concept of tautua, or service, into other leadership contexts? Are other Pasifika cultures and non-Pasifika communities able to transfer a Samoan view of leadership into their working contexts? I believe they can.
This blog post is an attempt to analyse the construction of the pathways to leadership by observing three stages that must be practised. It is based on:
- my own upbringing as a Samoan New Zealander
- my observations of fa’aSamoa in extended family situations in New Zealand, Australia, and Samoa
- my participation in the Ekalesia Fa’apotopotoga Kerisiano Samoa (EFKS) church in Grey Lynn, Auckland, the first Samoan church established in Aotearoa in 1963, where I currently serve and lead as a Sunday School teacher, musician, choral leader and deacon.
Sphere 1: Serve to serve — (0 years to 24 years)
As young children, Samoans are taught to honour, respect, and uphold the values of the family. They serve by completing chores that are assigned to them by older siblings and other older individuals who are afforded respect and who also hold senior positions of responsibility in the family. In traditional contexts in Samoa, children would be expected to serve senior family members and guests at all meals, keep the house clean, act as messenger and courier for correspondence between houses in the village, ensure that they are on call for anything that needs to be completed before the sun sets.
In diasporic contexts (contexts where pockets of people of the same ethnicity are scattered about in other host countries), Samoans can still practise and maintain these customs associated with service in their extended family, church community, and in social club gatherings such as sports clubs or hobby groups. So, despite the contexts changing, the values provide the foundation that moves with these modern times.
Children learn the value of service; how we serve and why it is important to serve.
Being able to serve in this way means that children learn how to contribute and become part of a working system of society.
Sphere 2: Serve to lead — (25 years to 50 years)
This next level usually comes after children have learned the basic tenets of tautua and they begin to understand how to develop their emergent leadership skills once they enter their mid-twenties.
Samoan communities expect their emerging leaders to take on board the skills they have learned whilst serving in sphere 1 to bring prestige to their parents, churches, extended families, and wider communities by continuing these acts of service — either through their academic endeavours or through their sporting, performing arts, or visual arts pursuits.
As emerging leaders, there is great responsibility in this middle phase of the pathway to leadership to maintain the balance between sphere 1 and sphere 3 as this sphere provides the critical transition phase — as the two transition arrows indicate: the first transition arrow between sphere 1 and 2, and the second transition arrow between sphere 2 and 3.
I see my peers of my generation and myself in this particular sphere, as we are seen as emerging leaders in our own communities and within our own careers. We have been able to take the leadership skills learned from serving our communities and transition them into our careers. Our generation has begun to master the collective collaboration, connectedness, and multiple diversities of the worlds that we walk in, to allow us to thrive and excel in the leadership opportunities that we are given.
Sphere 3: Lead to serve — (51 years to death)
The final sphere is reserved for the elders of the community who are tasked with overseeing the intergenerational learning that occurs, particularly with constructing pathways for service to leadership, and alternatively, leadership to service as reflected in the larger arrows that are positioned above and below the second sphere.
Grandparents of Samoan children will often be expected to guide the cultural learning of their grandchildren, to spearhead the maintenance of gagana Samoa (Samoan language), and encourage their children to expose the grandchildren to as many cultural contexts as possible so that the grandchildren become familiar with being able to identify confidently and happily as Samoans.
I must stress here that even though gagana Samoa is the most spoken Pasifika language in Aotearoa, there are still Samoan descendants who lack the language fluency to have a conversation in gagana Samoa. This does not make them any less Samoan; it just indicates that the identity makeup of Samoans is changing as quickly as the diversity of ethnicities that the current generation of Samoans belong.
Despite the quite distinct and clear division between each of the spheres, there is scope in the constructing pathways arrows that allow for co-construction between all three spheres.
This is what happens when we apply the transformation lens of how traditional customs and practices can be innovative when we apply these foundation principles in modern contexts.
This type of collaboration can be explored particularly well when all three spheres are represented in a single household or they actively participate in regular activities that allow for this intergenerational learning to occur amongst all three spheres.
Key questions to consider:
- How can we see this concept of tautua explored if we applied the different spheres to the school contexts of children (sphere 1), teachers (sphere 2) and senior management (sphere 3)?
- What types of activities would you expect to see in each of these spheres within your own context?
- How challenging is it for you to be able to see and understand these concepts of tautua as leadership pathways for all learners?
Aiono Manu Faaea-Semeatu
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