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Mea Alofa can be declined

Mea Alofa can be declined

The Samoan custom of mea alofa or "lafo" may support the giving of money to chiefs but this can still be turned down without causing offence, according to a Pacific community spokesman.

Radio 531 PI host Sefita Hao’uli, a Tongan married to Samoan newspaper columnist Tapu Misa, said his understanding was that in Samoan culture you could decline lafo and it was not seen to be bad manners. Hao’uli was appearing on Eye to Eye on TV ONE on Saturday morning, in a debate on the Taito Phillip Field affair.

Some Samoan community leaders such as rugby star Peter Fatialofa have come out in support of Field saying chiefs regularly received money in the form of "lafo" or customary thanks from their people. But Sefita Hao’uli said: “In Samoan culture you can actually decline a gift and it’s not seen to be a sign of bad manners because, if the reason for declining is justified and it’s understood, then those who are providing the gift will understand.”

While he acknowledged that Samoan culture had a part to play in New Zealand, Hao’uli said he did not agree that MPs could accept mea alofa.

“There is another culture, the culture being the public service. The culture of being in fact a person whose been elected to higher office where in fact that’s the culture that we should be considering, because if an Asian gives a Samoan a gift, for instance, is that considered to be Fa’a Samoa still? My answer to that is: No… Once you become a Member of Parliament the protocol of being a person in public office changes and I think for [Maori] koha the same would apply. Whatever part of the world you come from you need to respect a consensus that people in higher office ought to behave in a certain manner.”

Also appearing on the Eye to Eye panel was National MP Lockwood Smith who said while he respected Samoan culture, a custom like this could not translate to the New Zealand Parliament.

"A Member of Parliament must not accept cash for the work we do, because the problem is it leads on to other unacceptable things.”

Fellow panellist Tafafuna’i Tasi Lauese, chairman of the Mangere LEC, supported Taito Phillip Field, saying there was a lack of understanding of Samoan culture involved in the controversy.

Also on the programme, host Willie Jackson asked Labour Party President Mike Williams if Phillip Field would be the next Labour candidate for Mangere. Williams said he couldn't predict that, but he would be surprised if Field put his name forward.

Eye To Eye with Willie Jackson will be repeated on TV ONE at 11pm on Tuesday.


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