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  • Uncovering Indigenous Models of Leadership: An Ethnographic Case Study of Samoa’s Talavou Clan by Leiataua Robert Jon Peterson
  • Luafata Simanu-Klutz
Uncovering Indigenous Models of Leadership: An Ethnographic Case Study of Samoa’s Talavou Clan, by Leiataua Robert Jon Peterson. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2018. isbn cloth 978-1-4985-6824-1; e-book 978-1-4985-6825-8; v–x + 115 pages, bibliography, index. Cloth, us$85.00; e-book, us$80.00. Limited circulation available by request.


Across academic disciplines, native and indigenous scholarship concerned with politics and leadership models in the Pacific has proliferated since its emergence in the latter half of the twentieth century. For example, there is a growing body of literature written by Samoans about Samoan notions and models of power and leadership, some works focusing on the political machinations at the national level and others centering on village and family hierarchies. These studies have uncovered and employed alternative research approaches such as ethnographic case studies and the popular talanoa to flesh out insider voices and to critique the essentializing gaze of empirical studies. Uncovering Indigenous Models of Leadership by Susuga Leiataua Robert Jon Peterson (hereafter Leiataua in recognition of this chiefly title) appears to have added another alternative to the growing [End Page 603] literature on Sāmoa’s politics, power, and leadership.

Uncovering Indigenous Models of Leadership completes Leiataua’s quest for doctoral credentials, and, more importantly, it defines and fills a sense of loss that plagued him while growing up a privileged “white” male in Minnesota (47, 100). His search for his ethnic Samoan roots and his discovery of his ties to the royal lines in Samoan society—the Talavou Clan—motivated him to engage his relatives in a case study about leadership in fa‘asāmoa, or the Samoan Way. Leiataua’s informants appear to have been mainly his immediate family— mother, stepfather, sisters, brother, and a couple of in-laws—and not all of them are matai, or chiefs. Curiously, they all have been assigned pseudonyms that are not Samoan, and not much is known about them aside from their relationship to the author, their status in the family, and their country of residency.

Thus, from twelve formal interviews and numerous informal conversations with relatives, what emerges in the book are the ingredients for the construction of a Samoan leadership model that Leiataua claims is missing from the existing literature. These ingredients include the “five introductory themes” (“geographic place, cultural practices, ancestry, family, and identity” [83]) and “four primary elements” (“alofa, belief in God and being humble, service to family, community/village, and country, and hustle or working hard and being on your grind” [85]). Leiataua is passionately convinced that his model, when revealed to the powers in the Global North, could be an alternative solution for stemming the socioeconomic problems of inequality, injustice, greed, and racism. He attributes these problems to a world system that is “dominated by capitalism and globalization” and that thrives on individualistic accumulations of wealth and power (85). Leiataua laments that in this status quo, 85 percent of the people in the world are merely surviving, while the top 15 percent in the Global North are thriving (8). Therefore, as he claims his model will demonstrate, this imbalance could be accommodated through leadership characterized by love, humility, service, a sense of place and identity, and a connection to the wisdom of ancestors and family. Through this “indigenous” matrix, the individual is part of the collective consciousness of the group, which, if applied or understood more globally, may allow for equality, justice, and security for all. This, Leiataua recommends, is the charge for native and indigenous scholars of the Global South; he concludes that “native, Indigenous, postcolonial scholars must continue to advance the Native and Indigenous social movement agendas across the Global South and deeply drive Native and Indigenous priorities into the core of the elite, mostly White, male, and cisgender belief systems present in the leadership of the Global North if all communities of people are to survive and thrive” (97).

Leiataua’s model mirrors some of the values and practices in Sāmoa’s respect system (vafealoa‘i), chiefly...