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Samoa Under the Sailing Gods



From the Pilot Station at Matautu, which capped the eastern horn of the Apia Bay, on the line of the main coast of the island looking east, could be seen, first the American Consulate at Vaiala—with the Stars and Stripes flying from a staff across the road before it—a few other European houses, all backed by the humped roofs of a scattered native village, each with its dark interior beneath; and a quarter of a mile beyond, my cottage, which was the last habitation until one came to the Quarantine Station around the bend. The whole was a flat sandy slab of shore, covered by turf, boasting one white Noah's Ark church, two or three feet above sea-level. The road turned off inland short of my cottage—which lay beyond a small river—and was overhung by occasional lofty palms and bordered by the bluest of clear blue water, where it skirted the lagoon. The reef is awash about half a mile out; and the glare of torches, red, in patches, along it, marking men and women fishing, was common off Vaiala of nights.

To proceed in the opposite direction from the Pilot Station and Judge Roberts's house was to follow the arc of a bay—shaped like a bite in a piece of toast—through Apia, the "port and mart" of Western Samoa and also the seat of Government, until one dead-ended at the Observatory on Mulinuu Peninsula—the opposing point to Matautu. The road at first seemed almost gloomy owing to the prevalence of shade-trees; the few houses dank and subdued. Now came a smallish triangular stretch of rough grass, and then the long white timber bridge beside the shore, spanning the shallow Vaisingano River that wanders on its shingly bed. From the bridge, looking up the confined and verdant valley into hills, one could see a distant waterfall like a short bar of steel poised high and perpendicular among their sombre, wooded greenery.

On the far side of the Vaisingano, facing the sea, stood the British Club—a weatherboarded building rather down at heel, with broad-leafed and exotic banana plants behind it. Here page 6the "Beach" commenced. Various stores—including the redoubtable Mr. Westbrook's; the head-quarters of the London Mission, a white building at the end of a long stretch of turf; a road ran off inland to Vailima—the former residence of Robert Louis Stevenson; more stores; and the block of balconied offices of white-painted wood, rather ornate, and red-painted roofing-iron, surmounted by the Union Jack—the focus for the government of the four main islands under New Zealand mandate, and known as the Court House. Before this building was a tiny square of grass with a whitewashed coping round it, and there were two or three palm-trees on the far side of the road, overhanging the harbour-lagoon.

The town of Apia, as Stevenson has said, is drawn out in strings and clusters, and they permeate from the Beach. After leaving the Court House that highway hugs the rock-built shore very closely, and the few buildings to the left are insignificant—save for the Market Hall, a large erection of concrete and corrugated-iron well back from the thoroughfare—until one comes to the Marist Brothers' school, behind a gravel playground, on the banks of the Mulivai River: a long, one-storied, open-doored fabric, within which the black-robed brothers may be seen—at certain hours of the day—giving instruction to their classes. The river, which is small and clear, is spanned by a substantial wooden bridge; and on the far side is the Catholic Mission, where, from a circular stained-glass window, between the twin towers of the white cathedral, a Samoan Christ on the Cross gazes out over the reef-scarred bay.

This is the apex of the bight.

Out to sea, and beneath the gaze of the Figure in the stained-glass window, on the inner line of reef, high and dry at low tide, rests the rusty skeleton of the German warship Adler: "the hugest structure of man's hands within a circuit of a thousand miles"—a relic of the hurricane of 1889.

The Central Hotel. More stores: first O. F. Nelson & Co., then Messrs. Meredith Ltd. The Bank of New Zealand. And by the sea—there was a crescent of grass before other stores here which divided the roadway into two, and a considerable open grassy space by the sea—the Customs House and Shed. All of this, from the Catholic Cathedral, was Matafele; although page break
Apia Harbour on the Left, Mount Vaea, on the Top of Which R. L. Stevenson was Buried

Apia Harbour on the Left, Mount Vaea, on the Top of Which R. L. Stevenson was Buried

page 7the whole town now goes by the name of Apia. The roads joined again near the Public Works Department—a white house with a Traveller's Palm growing in the front garden. And at Songi—Matautu, Apia, Matafele, Songi, were once separate native villages—a road struck off inland, by the Chinese store, crossing at length on a long causeway a dense, dark swamp of tall mangroves, and being in fact the road along the line of the main coast of the island, going west. Here ended the Beach—a name signifying not only the place, but also the people who lived along it.

To continue by the shore, however, was to pass the shipwright's shop, with the hulk of a large motor-boat drawn up on the beach; the vast Copra Sheds of the Crown Estates, all the air permeated with their scent; a long, shallow, pretentious building—the Casino—with flagstaff in front, that once had housed the clerks of the great German Firm, and now served as a boarding-house for the office staff of the Crown Estates; a string of small residential houses; and finally, backed by mangrove swamp, the "wind-swept promontory of Mulinuu," with its straggling native village, and Observatory embedded amid a grove of palm-trees.

This completed the circuit of Apia Harbour.