E le sauaina tatou tagata matutua: Re-examining abuse through cultural lens of the fonofale model

Main Article Content

Juliet Boon-Nanai
Sandra Thaggard
El-Shadan Tautolo


abuse, fa’asamoa, fonofale, spiritual, talanoa, Samoan elderly


Introduction Cultural paradigms are emerging as the appropriate way to examine Samoans’ life experiences. In this study, it proposes to employ the fonofale model to explore and examine the notion of abuse among Pacific elders main from a Samoan lens.

Methodology In framing this study, the talanoa approach was deemed culturally appropriate. Twelve Samoan tagata matutua (elderly people) were asked to talanoa (discuss) their experiences of what abuse means to them.

Findings suggest that, initially, abuse of Samoan elders was at first contested. That it is not the fa’asamoa(Samoan way). However, as the talanoa gathered mafana (warmth) and malie (maintained good social relationships), most agreed that physical abuse was uncommon within an aiga (familial) context, but other forms of abuse were apparent.

Conclusion For these tagata matutua, six different forms of abuse were identified; with particular emphasis on cultural and spiritual abuse. Following the fonofale paradigm, which reflects the Samoan worldview, this article informs the perception of spiritual abuse for Samoan elders and is relevant within the wider Pacific context.

Abstract 645 | PDF Downloads 197



1. Dong X. Elder abuse: Systematic review and implications for practice. American Geriatrics Society. 2015;63(6):1214-38.
2. Statistics New Zealand. 2018 Census totals by
topic national highlights: Statistics New
Zealand; 2018 [updated 24 January 2020].
Available from:
3. Vakalahi HFO, Heffernan K, Johnson RN.
Pacific Island elderly: A model for bridging
generations and systems. Journal of
Baccalaureate Social Work. 2007;12(2):26-
41. doi: doi:10.18084/1084-7219.12.2.26.
4. Boodoosigh R, Beres M, Tombs D. Research
briefing: Violence against women in Samoa.
Women's Studies Journal. 2018;32(1/2):33-
5. Secretariat of the Pacific Community. The
Samoa family health and safety study.
Noumea, Caledonia: Secretariat of the Pacific
Community, 2006.
6. Fa'alau F, Wilson S. Pacific perspectives on
family violence in Aotearoa New Zealand.
University of Auckland: New Zealand Family
Violence Clearinghouse; 2020. Available from:
7. Puni EE. Intimate partner violence: A case
study of Samoan male perception of IPV in
New Zealand. Auckland, New Zealand:
Auckland University of Technology; 2019.
8. WHO. A global response to elder abuse and
neglect: building primary health care capacity
to deal with the problem worldwide: main
report. . Geneva, Switzerland: 2008.
9. Dong X, Simon MA. Elder abuse as a risk factor
for hospitalization in older persons. JAMA
Intern Med. 2013;173(10):911-7. Epub
2013/04/10. doi:
10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.238. PubMed
PMID: 23567991.
10. Baker MW. Elder Mistreatment: Risk,
Vulnerability, and Early Mortality. Journal of
the American Psychiatric Nurses Association.
2016;12(6):313-21. doi:
11. Lachs MS, Williams CS, O'brien S, Pillemer KA,
Charlson ME. The mortality of elder
mistreatment.. JAMA. 1998;280(5):428-32.
12. Thaggard S, Tautolo DE-S. Bula vakavanua
and the spiritual disruption of elder abuse: A
Fijian perspective. Pacific Health Dialog.
2020;21(6):335-40. doi:
13. ACNZ. Age Concern New Zealand 2018.
Available from:
14. Gray JS, LaBore KB, Carter P. Protecting the
sacred tree: Conceptualizing spiritual abuse
against Native American elders. Psychology of
Religion and Spirituality. 2018. doi:
15. Oakley L, Kinmond K. Breaking the Silence on
Spiritual Abuse. London, UNITED KINGDOM:
Palgrave Macmillan Limited; 2013.
16. Johnson D, VanVonderen J. The subtle power
of spiritual abuse: Recognizing and escaping
spiritual manipulation and false spiritual
authority within the church. : Baker Books;
17. Counts DA, Counts DR. I am not dead yet!
Aging and death: Process and experience in
Kaliai. In: Counts DA, Counts DR, editors.
Aging and its transformation: Moving toward
death in Pacific societies. Pittsburgh and
London: Univeristy of Pittsburgh Press; 1985.
p. 131-56.
18. Tamasese TK, Parsons TL, Waldegrave C.
Pacific perspectives on ageing in New Zealand
Wellington, New Zealand: Family Centre
Social Policy Research Unit, 2014.
19. Cox C. Cultural diversity among grandparent
caregivers: Implications for interventions and
policy. Educational Gerontology.
2018;44(8):484-91. doi:
20. Pulotu-Endemann PK. Fonofale model of
health 2009. Available from:
21. Suaalii-Sauni T, Wheeler A, Saafi E, Robinson
G, Agnew F, Warren H, et al. Exploration of
Boon-Nanai J, et al. Pacific Health Dialog 2021;21(7): 419-426. DOI: 10.26635/phd.2021.109
Pacific perspectives of Pacific models of
mental health service delivery in New
Zealand. Pacific Health Dialog. 2009;15(1):18-
22. Vaioleti T. Talanoa research methodology: A
developing position on Pacific research.
Waikato Journal of Education. 2006;12:21-35.
23. Barnes SS, Hunt TL. Samoa's pre-contact
connections in West Polynesia and beyond.
Journal of Polynesian Society. 2005;114:227-
24. Braun V, Clarke V. Using thematic analysis in
psychology. Qualitative Research in
Psychology. 2006;3(2):77-101.
25 Li M, Liang Y, Dong X. Different definitions of
elder mistreatment and mortality: A
prospective cohort study from 2011 to 2017. J
Am Geriatr Soc. 2019;67:S506-S12.
26. Tam S, Neysmith S. Disrespect and Isolation:
Elder abuse in Chinese communities.
Canadian Journal of Aging. 2006;25(2):141-
27. Penhale B, Kingston P. Elder abuse: An
overview of recent and current development.
Health and Social Care in the Community.
28. Tomita SK. The Consequences of Belonging:
Conflict Management Techniques Among
Japanese Americans. J Elder Abuse Neglect.
1998;9(3):41-68. doi:
29. Boling D. Spiritual Formation and the Work of
Older Persons in the Church. Journal of
Religion, Spirituality & Aging. 2009;22(1-
2):55-69. doi:
30. Lui D, Schwenke L, editors. Soul searching. .
The Mental Health Services Conference of
Australia and New Zealand; 2003; Wellington,
New Zealand: From Rhetoric to Reality:
Proceedings of the 12th Annual The MHS
Conference 2003.
31. Ihara ES, Vakalahi HFO. Collective
worldviews and health of Pacific American
elders. Educational Gerontology.
2012;38(6):400-11. doi:
32. Ihara ES, Vakalahi HFO. Spirituality: The
essence of wellness among Tongan and
Samoan elders. Journal of Religion &
Spirituality in Social Work: Social Thought.
2011;30(4):405-21. doi:
33. Oakley L. What is spiritual abuse. 2013. In:
Breaking the silence on spritual abuse
[Internet]. NY: Palgrave MacMillan; [7-22].
Available from: ProQuest Ebook Central,
34. Fairbairn-Dunlop P, Nanai J, Ahio L. Pacific
Research. In: Wright St-Clair V, Reid D, Shaw
S, Ramsbotham J, editors. Evidence based
health practice. Australia: Oxford University
Press; 2014. p. 77-93.
35. Carter W. Adult children and elderly parents:
The worlds of the new testament. Journal of
Religious Gerontology. 2001;12(2):45-59.
doi: 10.1300/J078v12n02_06.