Sydney Roosters teen prodigy Joseph Sua’ali’i bestowed Samoan Chief title read full article at

Nineteen years old is unusually young to receive a chief title in Samoa.

However, NRL star Joseph Sua’ali’i was bestowed titles for the villages of his grandparents during last month’s homecoming tour for Samoa’s national rugby league team.

A man runs the ball during a rugby league match
Suaalii has been a different player for the Roosters this year. (Getty Images: Mark Kolbe )

Being described as unusually young is familiar territory for the Roosters sensation.

He is the youngest player in Toa Samoa and played every game of their fairytale Rugby League World Cup journey — including the final against Australia.

Even one of the most followed celebrities on social media, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, gave the team a shout out.

Last year, Sua’ali’i joined the rare handful of players to make a State of Origin squad at 18 years of age.

But Sua’ali’i first made national headlines when the NRL changed its rules to allow him to play first grade for the Roosters at 17-years-old — previous rules said players had to be 18 before lining out for their side. 

Straight into Samoan language classes

Sua’ali’i’s recent trip to Samoa wasn’t his first.

His parents, Chris and Salina Sua’ali’i, always made staying connected to Samoa a priority for Sua’ali’i and his six siblings. The family return to the islands every year.

Family of Joeseph Sui'ali'i
Sui’ali’i’s six siblings and parents Chris and Salina ( to his left and right) were in Samoa for the sacred bestoment ceremonies. (Supplied: Joseph Sua’ali’i)

“I grew up in Penrith, out west, but I didn’t really grow up with the [Samoan] culture,” Sua’ali’i told ABC Sport.

“I went to boarding school at the Kings School, a ‘rugby school’… [there were] a lot of higher socio-economic people there.

“But going to Samoa and doing everything there has kind of opened my eyes to learning about the culture more, the language and learning about where I come from.”

After the bestowment ceremony in Satitoa, Sua’ali’i told media the next thing for him is to learn the language, ‘even if that means going to classes’.

“I want to do this to be able to connect with the people, especially my grandparents who speak the language. They don’t really speak the English,” he said.

True to his word, just two weeks later, Sua’ali’i spoke to ABC Sport after returning from his first Samoan language class.

“It was good, I actually enjoyed it,” he said, adding that he will continue to take lessons between training sessions.

“It’s better than doing uni or something like that,” he said.

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His fast follow through to learn Samoan is keeping with his character. 

He’s not a drinker or smoker, and is known to be introspective, and mature beyond his years. 

Sua’ali’i said the experience of his bestowment has added to his spiritual side, which he began exploring in his early teens.

“I started when I was 13 or 14,” Sua’ali’i said.

“I’ve always liked the self-help books, the meditations, just learning about myself and trying to become the best person I can be.”

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A Matai title is not just honorary

The word ‘matai’ is the Samoan translation of chief.

The Matai system or ‘fa’amatai’ in Samoan, reflects a time-honoured socio-political system of governance in Samoan society.

Pacific sport consultant, Dr David Lakisa, who is also of Samoan descent, completed his PhD research on understanding and managing Pasifika people in sport.

“The decision for players like Joseph to accept the bestowal of a chiefly title is a reflection of Pasifika athlete’s approaches to service, leadership and honouring people, land and culture,” Lakisa said.

What does ‘Anavaotaua’ mean?

Sua’ali’i received a newly created lineage title of ‘Anavaotaua’ for the village of Satitoa.  

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This is a high honour. It means he will be the first in his line to have that particular title bestowed on him.

Lakisa refers to Samoa’s chiefly title system as an “interesting mix of inheritance and election” — think of hereditary titles in the British monarchy like the Prince of Wales or Duke of Sussex.

Anavaotaua will now be part of Sua’ali’i’s formal Samoan name, family district, villages, and future ancestral ties.

“One day, if I have kids, they’d be able to take on the name,” Sua’ali’i said.

Toa Samoa’s euphoric homecoming significant for ‘fa’asamoa’

Samoa’s national rugby league team made history and won hearts around the world with their fairytale journey at last year’s Rugby League World Cup.

Mirroring Samoa’s against all odds performance at the World Cup, most of the squad arranged to fly to Samoa after Christmas, including captain Junior Paulo and star players Jarome Luai, Anthony Milford, Stephen Crichton and Brian To’o.

When the team touched down in Samoa’s capital Apia, the island nation came to a standstill.

There were days of festival-like atmosphere with street parades, parties and ceremony amongst a sea of flags, banners, and a feeling of pure joy.

Lakisa believes a homecoming is spiritually significant for the players who all live in Australia or New Zealand.

“The return to the islands is not only about acknowledging local [and global] support but a way to serve, strengthen connection with family and community including ancestors,” he said.

#australiannews #australian_news

About Ali Almond

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