The Weight of Names in American Samoa

Karen V. Armstrong


Across the Samoan islands, a system of chiefs with ranked titles or names organizes political action. At a chiefly installation ceremony that took place in American Samoa in 2006, through a process of intertextual allusion, a brief verbal exchange served to index political alliances and relationships of the longue durée that existed in the Samoan islands before 1900. Old court records reveal how American colonial policies and practices changed the balance between chiefly titles. Today, the repetition of proper names, as tokens, references a mnemonic structure that positions Samoan political actors across time and space. The chiefs of American Samoa are constantly weighing their relationships with independent Samoa and the United States. On the one hand, the chiefs maintain a distinction between their titles and those of independent Samoa, and on the other hand they do not want full incorporation into the United States for fear that their communal land system will be privatized and alienated. The structure of titles and alliances provides a template of possibilities for political actors, but the system seems to turn back to basic principles when faced with uncertainties about island political life.


American Samoa; interdiscursivity; mnemonic structures

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