What makes American Sāmoa distinct from the rest of the United States' territories is the Faʻamatai or the Indigenous chiefly system that has been intact since before the arrival of foreigners.
In a traditional nuʻu, village, every person belongs to an ʻāiga, a family clan. This includes both the "nuclear" and "extended" families within the household and it is the matai who leads them. "Matai" is translated as a "chief," but it more broadly refers to a "titled" person. They are selected by their family members and "installed" through a formal ceremony that confers her or him the rights and responsibilities of leading the family. The matai can be either male or female and all suli, blood heirs, of the family are entitled to become the matai, should it be the will of the family.
The matai is not born into the role, but is selected by the family members, either through consensus, or if that cannot be reached, they are selected by the courts. Although male and female children can contend for the title on their mother or father's side, most matai in American Sāmoa are disproportionately male.
The matai's role is to lead the family in its affairs. One of their most important duties is the maintenance of family's assets, primarily its communal lands. Communal lands are native lands restricted to Samoans and are owned by the ʻāiga and nuʻu. All heirs of the family are entitled to a piece of their family lands but must, in turn, render tautua (service) to the ʻāiga to maintain this. The matai acts as a trustee who oversees and distributes these family lands for the benefit of the whole family. If one does not maintain tautua to their family, the matai has the right to take back the land and redistribute it to other family members or hold it in trust for future family usage.
This tautua is rendered to the matai and ʻaiga through participation in and contributions to faʻalavelave, special occasions such as funerals, weddings, church dedications, title investiture ceremonies, and others. Members of the family either contribute fine mats, foodstuffs, and/or monetary donations and/or participate in the exchange ceremonies and activities to fulfill the obligations for the faʻalavelave.
Because communal land is owned by ʻāiga and maintained by the matai, fulfillment of obligations through the faʻalavelave is necessary to maintain rights to the land and entitlement to the matai title. Since communal cannot be bought or sold, members of the family do not have to pay for rent or mortgage or property taxes. "Taxes" are paid through rendering service to the matai and the ʻāiga. This ensures that everyone has a right to a piece of land and that no one becomes "homeless." This economic system sustains Samoans' way of life ensures that everyone is taken care of, both in this life and in the next.
There are two general classes of matai, the aliʻi or high chief and tulāfale, the orator chiefs. Aliʻi are the higher class of chiefs and tulāfale are their designated orators, who conduct official political and oratory duties on behalf of their aliʻi. These matai lead their own families in the village and come together at the village fono, the council of chiefs.
The fono acts as the governing body for the village and, maintaining order and conducts official business on behalf of the village when dealing with other villages and itūmālō (districts) and the Territorial government. Each village designates their own pulenuʻu, village mayor, who represents them in the government.
This sociopolitical system is called the Faʻamatai and is an endemic feature of the Faʻasāmoa, the Samoan way of life. It has sustained Samoan life for thousands of years and is necessary for the maintenance of Samoan land, language, and culture for American Sāmoa's posterity.
American Sāmoaʻs Senate comprises matai only, a unique feature of its legislature
LOCAL GOVERNMENTSamoan Affairs
All matai are under the "local" government comprised of "pulenuʻu" (village mayors) who are a liasion between the village and territorial government
The Land and Titles Division of the High Court of American Sāmoa adjucates affairs pertaining to Samoan land and the Faʻamatai
NOT FULLY AMERICAN
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