The Origins of International Rivalry in Samoa: 1845–1884
In the last fifteen years of the nineteenth century, the small island group of Samoa played a part in world affairs quite out of proportion to its size and intrinsic importance. It is in and after 1884 that published correspondence on Samoa becomes voluminous. In that year the German Consul in Samoa forced an agreement on the de facto Samoan rulers—the native King and Vice-King—which virtually handed over the government to Germans, while the British and American Consuls protested vigorously and ineffectively. The act was not repudiated. In January 1885, the German flag was hoisted and remained flying for a year; in 1887 Germany declared war on the Samoan King's party, and from that time Samoan affairs were constantly before the public in Europe, the United States, and Australasia. The important point is that these events were brought before public notice, and became subject-matter for diplomatic correspondence—Anglo-German commissions were held in 1885 and 1886 to inquire into the causes of the disturbances; conferences were held to discuss the future of the islands (1887, 1889, 1899), not because native disputes in themselves mattered, but because they were interfering with the ambitions of the great nations concerned. The tangled affairs irritated statesmen in Europe and America, who, while recognizing the apparent insignificance of the question, yet refused to give up rights on the islands. On one occasion (1889) the outbreak of hostilities between page 16German and American men-of-war in Apia harbour was only averted by a hurricane that wrecked three German and three American warships. On another occasion (1899) hostilities actually broke out, and an American man-of-war bombarded German plantations. On at least two occasions the Samoa question was the cause of strained relations between Germany and England.1 The sudden prominence given to Samoan affairs is not because there were no Samoan affairs of importance before 1884. It is because after 1884, when Germany embarked upon a colonial policy and there was the likelihood of German annexation, the problem, which had been primarily one of keeping Samoa peaceful with a minimum of trouble, now was one of maintaining a balance between the rights of Great Britain, Germany, and the United States. This delicate task was the work of diplomatists in Europe, and not foreign representatives in Samoa.
1 1887; see Die Grosse Politik, vol. iv, p. 150. 1899; Schwertfeger, B., Die Diplomatischen Akten, pt. i, chap, xcvi, no. 4056 des Auswärtigen Amtes., pt. iii, Die Politik der freien Hand.
Apart from the growth of these conflicting interests within Samoa, its strategic position attracted the Australasian Colonies and America. Consequently there grew up, outside Samoa, a demand from New Zealand for annexation, quite unrelated to New Zealand interests within Samoa, which were negligible. Similarly, the growth of American interests in the islands was due, only partially, to the activities of Americans in Samoa itself.
On the one hand, therefore, we find interests growing up within the islands which assume dimensions large enough to summon the attention of outside Governments. On the other hand, we find interests that grew up, in the first place, outside the islands, and that were extended to the islands in the course of growth. By 1878–79 the rights and obligations of the three Powers in Samoa were crystallized into treaty form. Equality of rights1 may have been possible while each nation was concerned with the good behaviour and protection of its nationals and the maintenance of peace amongst natives, but in the face of more extensive ambitions it was impossible. The later story of affairs after 1884, whether of the island disturbances or of the diplomatic negotiations, is outside the field of this inquiry.
1 Each treaty had a "most favoured nation" clause.
ii. The Islands and their Discoverers
2 The islands lie:
1 The respective areas of the islands are:
|Savaii||660 sq. miles.|
|Upolu||340 sq. miles.|
|Tutuila||54 sq. miles.|
|Manua Group||25 sq. miles.|
Some that flourished at first were later ruined by the introduction of disease or pestilent insects.1
1 Especially coffee disease which ruined coffee, at first successful, and the rhinoceros beetle which wrought havoc on coconut plantations (1911). The most successful introduced plants are cacao, rubber, oranges, lemons, limes, and the Cavandish banana. This last was introduced from Europe by missionaries in the early 1840's.
2 It retains the sibilant "s" which in most other forms has been changed to "h." Savaii is now depopulated and comparatively barren on account of recent volcanic eruptions. There is reason to suppose that it was at one time very fertile and thickly populated.
1 Murray, The Bible in the Pacific, p. 38. Pritchard, W. (Polynesian Reminiscences, p. 126), says it was occasionally practised in revenge, bravado, but not "lust of appetite."
2 Samoan Reporter, 1845.
4 Literally "cloudburster," the Samoan name given to white men.
3 Pritchard, p. 62.
The social organization was tribal and land was held communally by the whole family. Each "clan" or group of families had a chief chosen always from the same line though he was not necessarily the eldest son. He and his family were treated with punctilious respect, and "hedged about with strict etiquette."1 There was indeed, and still is, one vocabulary of words for the chief and his family, and another for the same things applied to a common man. All his important business was done through his advisor or talking man—"talafale"—an important man in the clan. A number of these clans made up a district. Each district had the power of conferring a name upon one high chief of the two most important families in Samoa, the Tupua and the Malietoa families. If it should happen that all five districts conferred their honour upon the same man, then he would, theoretically at least, be sole ruler of Samoa. Actually this did not occur. If it had, he would still not have been, in any sense, autocratic king. This weakness in the native political organization, of which there is more mention in a later chapter,2 was at the root of the native disorders.
2 Chapter iv, infra.
Consequently the credit of the discovery of Samoa for many years fell to Bougainville, the French navigator. He touched at Manua and sighted Tutuila. From the numerous sea-craft that surrounded his vessel, and from the skilful manner in which they were handled by the natives, he named the islands the Navigator Islands. This is the name solely used by missionaries until about 1840, and official dispatches were directed to the Navigator Islands until about 1875, when the native name gradually usurped the foreign.
1 After the captain of his ship, the Tienhoven.
2 Mulert, De Reis van Mr. Jacob Roggewein, 1911.
The only other visits to the islands down to the time of missionary endeavour were those of H.M.S. Pandora in search of the missing Bounty, and the expedition of Kotzebue in 1824. Neither added any points of importance to the knowledge then existing of the islands.
It was the scientific exploration of Captain Cook and his contemporaries that opened up the Pacific. The accurate charting of islands, reefs, harbours, and so on prepared the way for less expert navigators, and the search for wealth that characterized the explorers of the mercantilist age gave place to the desire to know the unknown parts of the world. The worthy endeavours of the great scientific discoverers of the Pacific were followed up by an influx of whalers and traders. These often scattered over the Pacific islands a thin splashing of renegade sailors and escaped convicts, whose influence was almost invariably harmful. It became customary in Samoa and some other islands (e.g. New Zealand) for a chief to have a "papalangi," or white man, to live in the tribe, to teach the use of firearms and metals.1 These isolated whites, by their superior knowledge and disregard of the supposed dangers of the native "tapus," became sometimes chiefs or more commonly "priests"—promulgating laws to satisfy their wants, and conducting mock services interspersed with ribald sailor songs instesd of hymns. The part played by these adventurers was small. The advent of the missionary, and the increased familiarity of Polynesian with white men, ultimately caused the disappearance of this class of white from positions of influence among the natives.
1 Accounts of these in Williams, John, A Narrative of Missionary Enterprise in the South Sea Islands, chap. xxiv; Pritchard, Polynesian Reminiscences; Turner, G., Nineteen Years in Polynesia, p. 103.
So it is with the missionaries, their ideals and the effects of their teaching, that the civilized contact with the islands begins.
1 "Ava," or "kava," the chief native drink for festal occasions. It was customary to spill a little as an offering to the gods before drinking.
2 Turner, Nineteen Years in Polynesia, p. 200.
3 Very many natives died of influenza brought by the missionaries. Measles, whooping cough, and chickenpox proved a serious menace.
4 Missionary Magazine, 1837, November, p. 291.
Map II.—Sketch Map Showing Mission Stations of the London Missionary Society, 1797–circa 1845