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Samoa Under the Sailing Gods



Part I of this book begins at the arrival of the first ship, and ends with Samoa semi-civilized—as understood by Europeans. Trade has been established. The power of the white man is known and feared. There have been punitive expeditions. The Gospel of Christ has been preached and apparently accepted. The three "r's" are being taught. Fire-arms have been introduced. This portrayal will suffice entirely as regards the natives for the remainder of the nineteenth century. In 1899 the archipelago was divided up between Germany and America. It is necessary perhaps to outline as briefly as possible the events leading up to that disruption.

Tamalelangi (Son of the Skies) who had greeted John Williams on his arrival at the Island of Savaii—died in 1859, and the year following there arose two claimants to his name of Malietoa. From 1860 onwards Samoa, becoming of commercial value, attracted the attention of three great Powers: Britain, America, and Germany. From 1869 to the end of the century there was almost unceasing petty warfare between the holders of the names of Malietoa, Mataafa, and Tamasese to the over-lordship of the islands. In these squabbles, through the medium of their warships and Consuls, the three Powers backed various parties respectively; Britain and America being usually combined, and always in opposition to the Germans.

The Samoan Wars, the preparations for which began in 1867, were taken advantage of by Theodor Weber,1 the local head of the German business house of Johann Caesar Goddefroy and Sohn, to increase the holdings of his firm. He has been page 78described as a cave-man Hamburger. During this period, when large numbers of natives were under arms, huge tracts of land began to pass from native possession into that of Europeans, being bartered for food and ammunition. Johann Caesar Goddefroy having gone bankrupt as a result of speculation, his most valuable asset was found to be in the Pacific, and his property there was developed eventually by a company trading under the name of the Deutsche Handels und Plantagen Gesellschaft für Sud-See Insulen zu Hamburg and known usually as the German Firm. The areas of land acquired by Weber—by somewhat questionable process incidentally—from the natives in Upolu were planted up as coco-nut plantations. The plantation at Mulifanua, at the extreme west of the island, was supposed to be the largest coco-nut plantation south of the Equator. It was Weber who substituted, in the Navigators, copra for coco-nut oil. Copra is the kernel of the coco-nut, dried, either in sun or kiln.

In 1873, copra being now an important item, the United States sent a Colonel Steinberger as special envoy to Samoa to report upon the archipelago. And two years later he was again landed from an American warship, this time with some pieces of artillery, to "assist the Samoans towards good and stable government." Steinberger promptly set up a dictatorship, which marked the start of European domination, and also sold himself to Weber; but falling foul of his own Consul the diplomat arranged for a British gunboat to deport him to Fiji, from whence he did not return, preferring to obtain compensation from the British Government. For this the American Consul was recalled, and the naval captain severely reprimanded. In 1878, however, the Americans secured control of Pango-Pango Harbour—the best in the whole group—in return for a promise that a benevolent interest in Samoa would always be maintained, and, when necessary, the good offices of America exerted on her behalf. This followed a request by the natives for annexation, such as had been rejected by Britain the previous year. It is doubtful if the chief who negotiated the treaty in Washington had any authority to do so. It marked the first violation of the Monro Doctrine. Rather similar treaties followed with Germany and Britain, in respect page 79of course to other harbours. The three Powers could make up their minds neither to leave the islands alone nor take them up.

The year following, the British High Commissioner for the Western Pacific came up from Fiji to investigate the case of the lynching of a seaman on the Apia Beach after his trial, as a result of a stabbing affray, in one of the consular courts. While there the High Commissioner defined the boundaries for a municipality to the town, to be controlled by a Board consisting of the three Consuls. All within the area was considered neutral territory in time of native war, and taxes were levied by the Consular Board. Outside the Municipal Area the Samoan chiefs continued to deal with their people as from time immemorial. A native Government, controlled more or less by the King for the time being, still continued to sit at Mulinuu.

New Zealand's connection with Samoa dates, somewhat amusingly, from the early 'eighties. In 1883 there arrived in Samoa a man from New Zealand, who says the British Consul Churchward, having failed to make a capture of the natives in a land-grabbing venture, turned his attention to annexation to New Zealand. Soon there began to appear in New Zealand newspapers outrageously misleading statements, making it appear that the Samoans were most anxious—"in fact quite mad"—for colonial attachment. It was stated that they fully understood the New Zealand system of government as it had been explained to them, and were marvellously attracted by the native branch of the legislation, more especially that part which treated of the vote and the dispensation of moneys for native education. By these specious productions, declares the Consul, and schemes continually working both in Samoa and Auckland, the general public were led to believe that the Samoans were dying for annexation to New Zealand, which, he adds, was most certainly not the case at any time.

The New Zealand Government thereupon applied to the Imperial authorities for permission to despatch their steamer to Apia and hoist their flag, and even had steam up ready to leave. But permission was not granted, and Samoa remained, as before, an independent kingdom.

The native squabbles and the consular intriguing reached page 80their first crisis in March 1889, when a German and an American naval squadron, having ignored a falling barometer—being almost at the point of opening fire upon one another—were, without a single exception, hurled to destruction amid the reefs of Apia Harbour. There the skeleton of the Adler still remains. Only the solitary British warship in port managed to steam out to open sea in the teeth of the gale.

The so-called hurricane put Samoa definitely on the map so far as the publics of Europe and America were concerned, and resulted also in the Berlin Act of June 1889, by which it was declared that the islands of Samoa were neutral territory in which the subjects of the three Signatory Powers had equal rights of residence, trade, and personal protection. The three Powers recognized the independence of the Samoan Government, and the free right of the natives to elect their Chief or King, and choose their form of government according to their laws and customs. A European Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Samoa was appointed, and a President of the Municipality of Apia. Under the new arrangement a start was made upon the construction of roads. Malietoa was returned from Jaluit, whither he had been exiled by the Germans in 1887.

In the same year, 1889, Robert Louis Stevenson arrived upon the scene and built himself a house at Vailima. He constituted himself from the first a strong partisan of Mataafa, his book, A Footnote to History, being practically a pamphlet in Mataafa's favour. On December 3, 1894, Stevenson died, and was buried on the solitary woody mountain beside his famous residence. In 1893, Mataafa had been deported to Jaluit by the British and Americans.

The native wars ceased in 1894, in which year New Zealand proposed for the third time that she should assume control of Samoa, but the Consuls continued to intrigue and interfere. There came a climax in 1899, when a ruling of the Chief Justice, in accordance strangely enough with the Berlin Act, that the young Malietoa should be King in succession to his father, who had died a few months previously, was ignored. Mataafa, who had just been returned from Jaluit, declared himself for the kingship and drove the small Malietoa party, supported by the Tamaseses, together with Mr. Gurr, the page 81advocate for the natives mentioned in A Footnote to History, to the protection of the British warship Porpoise, in Apia Harbour. The Porpoise was at this time commanded by Captain Sturdee—afterwards the victor of the Falkland Islands Battle, when the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were sunk.

The Germans secretly backed the Mataafas, to whom they had hitherto been opposed. The British and Americans combined, for the first time in their history, in fighting a common foe: the rebel Mataafa. Sailors of both nations were killed; even as were Germans in 1888. British and American warships bombarded deserted Mataafan villages; and the New Zealand Government, worried perhaps at the possibility of a potential enemy becoming established fifteen hundred miles to their north, sent their steamer to Samoa and made an offer of volunteer troops, which was not accepted.

A Joint Commission from the Powers was now hurriedly despatched to Samoa with instructions that all hostilities must cease pending their arrival. It had been resolved to partition up the group.

Britain was at this time (1899) involved in the Boer War and anxious to placate Germany; but apart from this the interests of Germany and America, it has been seen, were paramount. Britain therefore, being compensated nominally by territory in the Solomon Islands, agreed to withdraw, leaving America and Germany to divide up the archipelago between them. America took the commercially unimportant islands of Eastern Samoa—Tutuila, Manua, etc.—and developed the strategically important Pango-Pango Harbour as a naval coaling-station. Germany assumed a protectorate over the commercially important islands of Western Samoa—Upolu and Savaii—together with Manono and Apolima. To all of this the consent of the Samoan people was neither sought nor given. Two or three times in the course of their history they had petitioned Great Britain to annex them, and once they had petitioned America to that effect, but they certainly had no desire for German domination or for partition between two different Powers.

"If your telegram is here rightly understood, I cannot call your conduct good," is the euphonious but cryptic termination page 82to an historic despatch from Bismarck to an erring German Consul in Samoa; and it might furnish a sufficiently pertinent comment on European policy throughout in the archipelago during the nineteenth century.