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Samoa Under the Sailing Gods



It is necessary, before proceeding further, to indicate the line of development of the missions. The London Mission states that, having given the Samoans a written language and a "literature," the educational problem which confronted their early missionaries was how most effectually to reach the great body of the Samoan people, scattered as they are in many small villages along the coast-line, with the means of inter-communication poor and limited. They decided that the only effectual means would be to train a native ministry, to lead the page 88village life, and to give these men an education fitted to make them not only evangelists, but also teachers in the schools. They therefore founded the training institute of Malua. Thus every village was given its trained native pastor; and it was claimed in 1920—the other missions having followed suit—that not one per cent. of the Samoans were unable to read or write; while the whole population had for long professed Christianity.

"A syllabus for the year [we are told by the London Mission, in continuation of its thesis] is printed and circulated through-out Samoa; the Pastors' schools are examined at the end of the school year, and it is expected that every child shall secure a minimum of 50 per cent. of marks in each subject in which it is taught. The examination is held by the English Missionary in charge of each particular district, and the results are carefully tabulated, and announced at a public meeting of villagers in each examination centre. There is keen rivalry between the villages, and the Pastor who fails to maintain the standard of the school is a marked man."

This village—and also individual and district—rivalry is a thing carefully fostered by the two Protestant missions. The main point of competition cultivated is to see who will give most to their periodic cash collections. Individual is played off against individual. Village against village. District against district. And finally, to a lesser degree, island against island.

That being so, the time prior to the collections is an anxious one for the traders; for it is then that the natives strip their trees of the immature coco-nuts for the purpose of making all the copra they can, with the object of obtaining additional money to give to the missions. The product of the immature nuts is known as niu-sami; and, for buying it, the trader is liable these days to a heavy fine; but he has little alternative in the matter, for trade competition is keen. Someone else would take the risk of buying it, and he himself would offend a customer. So he purchases the stuff, mixes it up well among the good copra in his shed, and trusts to luck. Up to 1927, when a trader wrote to a local newspaper calling attention to the attitude of the missions in this matter, nothing had been done by them to alleviate the situation. So far as I know, nothing page 89has been done since; nor is it likely; the missions apparently being anything but dissatisfied with the position.

The trader's troubles do not end here. He is pestered also from morning to night at this period with requests for cash loans, for the purpose of giving still further to the missions. These the natives promise to repay so soon as they have copra available. And again it is difficult to refuse. I have known a small village—that of Sagone, in Savaii—to borrow collectively sums running into hundreds of pounds to give to the Wesleyan Mission. And there were two villages in the east of Palauli, not far away, which had debts of this nature dragging on for years.

Whatever its truth, it is a byword in Apia, and of interest for that single reason, that the only time one may see native women plying for prostitution on the street is immediately prior to the Protestant mission collections.

The collections are taken up somewhat in this manner. There arrive in the village first some native pastors to put in the tala-gota, or "talk of the lips." Then later appear on the scene the white missionaries, who in due course take their seats at the top of the church, facing the congregation. Then an individual and likely member of the congregation is called upon by name. He comes up the church and ostentatiously "throws" (missionary term) his contribution into the peleke (plate)—which in this case is a tray. The amount—invariably in silver—is counted and its magnitude announced. This is the signal for vociferous applause—led by the white missionaries, who cry "Malia!" ("Well done!")—with varying degrees of enthusiasm. The excitement is said to be terrific, and the howls of the congregation, as is apparent to anyone in the village, at times are deafening. Such is the spirit of emulation created that it is by no means uncommon for a native to burst from the church and rush to the trader with some treasured fine mat to sell or pawn, in a last-moment endeavour to surpass a rival who has given more than was anticipated. And, when living among the Samoans, I have more than once had girls beg me to make them a gratuitous present of money on the ground that they might not be humiliated before the others when it came to making their presentation in the church.

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The total sum given by the village is announced there, and also in the next village, where the performance is then repeated. It is said that sometimes a flag is hoisted which the natives are invited to qualify to pull down. As stated, there is keen rivalry between the villages. District is then played off similarly against district; and a point of ultimate interest is that of the Island of Savaii versus Upolu.

At the conclusion of the Wesleyan collections (it may be so also with the London Mission) a feast of enormous magnitude lasting for days is held at some particular village, at which the church members congregate. Pigs are killed by the hundred, and kegs of beef and tins of biscuit are provided to the same extent. (I instance Salailua, about the end of 1925.) At the conclusion of this orgy the place smells like a cess-pit; and the village which has done the entertaining has accumulated a mass of debts which will be a mill-stone round its neck for a very long time to come. The finale shows that the missionaries will conform fast enough to native custom where they consider it in their interest to do so: this being the sugar that sweetens what might otherwise be regarded as a pill, and affording an opportunity for still further ostentation to those who have given freely to the mission.

A large proportion of the money that was collected by the London Mission was sent away from Samoa over a long period of years. My friend, Captain Pundt, now deceased, who was Harbour Master of Apia during the greater part of the German regime, has told me of his being required to pilot the London Mission steamer John Williams from Apia to Malua, on the occasions of her periodic visits to Samoa. Having arrived off Malua they would anchor and wait for night-fall. The missionaries, he said, would then try to get him out of the way. "Why don't you go down to cabin, Captain? There's a bottle of whisky on the table." To this Captain Pundt, who was a humorist in a cross-grained fashion, would reply gruffly—"No thank you! I'm a teetotaller!" (This was notoriously untrue.) "I'm Pilot, and my place is on deck!" In due course, he said, would come off a whale-boat from the shore bringing canvas bags that furnished each a fair burden for two lusty natives. As they passed him, having struggled up the gangway, the captain—in page 91appearance much like Bismarck in Tenniel's cartoon Dropping The Pilot—with the intention of causing annoyance, would prod the bags of coin with his thumb and remark upon the excellence of the haul. (There are no coppers in Samoa.) Dr. Solf, the Harbour Master told me, was not too well pleased at this, duly reported, financial drain upon the country; and it is believed that shortly before the outbreak of war the Germans were contemplating legislation to check the process.

The Wesleyan Mission makes the assertion that it sends no money out of Samoa; but it is salting down the cash into real estate—acquiring plantations and so forth. It is somewhat difficult to understand the presence of the Wesleyan Mission in Samoa, since they once vacated the group on condition that the London Mission abandoned in their favour certain other fertile fields. The Wesleyans, however—having established themselves in the pastures new—returned; and so appear to have performed the supposedly impossible operation known as "eating one's cake and having it." The point is rather a sore one with the London Mission.