SAVAI'I - Foreign Minister Winston Peters was bestowed with a chiefly Samoan title today in a ceremony full of tradition and laughter.
Samoan Environment and Natural Resources Minister Faumuina Tiatia Liuga sprung the decision to honour him this morning before Mr Peters visited the minister's town of Gautavai.
"It's all a total surprise, I've been caught unawares here. I am totally unprepared for it," Mr Peters told NZPA before the ceremony.
He was good humoured as local woman dressed him up to look more special for the occasion wrapping him in a woven mat skirt and adorning his head with a sequined band.
After a prayer and song Reverend Amosa Tapua'i spoke about the meaning of Mr Peters new matai (chiefly) name; Vaovasamanaia. He said the title was made up of three major concepts vao; vegetation, vasa, the sea and manaia which Rev Tapua'i said meant "beautiful, handsome, awesome, delighted and joyful."
Previous foreign ministers including Phil Goff and Don McKinnon have been awarded similar paramount chief titles but Rev Tapua'i said the event was historic.
"Vaovasamanaia is a unique high chief title, it is unique to the high chiefs and orators of Gautavai and the district," he said.
"Conferring of this title onto you is the revelation of their love, their kindness, hospitality and their generosity to your honour. Now you are no longer the Honourable Winston Peters but the Honourable Vaovasamanaia Winston Peters... this is your family in Samoa these high chiefs and orators are your brothers."
During the following cava ceremony speakers joked and complimented Mr Peters -- one noted that the title usually meant being given land and women.
A relative of Mr Peters, Erima Henare, who was part of Mr Peters delegation in his role as chair of the Maori Language Commission, spoke on his behalf noting that as Mr Peters already had a partner he would take the women and the Minister could have the land.
He did not know of any other Maori to be awarded a Samoan chiefly name.
"Today is a rare ceremony, I can't think of any other Maori in my life time who have been accorded the title matai. Its a great honour and privilege for Minister Peters to receive this elevation to the position of matai."
Mr Henare said their iwi traced its journey to New Zealand through Samoa and also noted the new title complimented its name, Ngati Wai, or people of the sea.
Mr Peters said he thought the iwi would like it.
"They will be very, very pleased that one of their sons has been so privileged and so rewarded I suppose for New Zealand's engagement with this part of the world, and Maoridom's engagement as well."
Mr Peters said he would research what the name entailed.
"It's so unexpected it will take me a while to understand what that means. I intend to make myself fully familiar with my obligations and my responsibilities."
National MP John Hayes said the event was meaningful.
"Today was a celebration of New Zealand Pacificness and we are bringing our minister into the brotherhood of Pacific leadership," he said.
"New Zealanders should be very proud that this high title has been bestowed. It reflects the vastly improved relationship with Samoa and gives meaning to the treaty of friendship."