Samoa Under the Sailing Gods
Chapter xv — Beautification
Lorry-Loads of rocks and coral had been dumped down all along the Beach, and each Saturday afternoon white men laboured in their shirt-sleeves before an audience of Chinese, black-boys (Melanesians), and Samoans, "beautifying the waterfront"—a department of the Administration en masse and the employees of some firm together putting in an appearance according to a schedule drawn up by the Welfare League. When then I returned to Apia again shortly before Christmas, 1923, not long after the death of Charlie Roberts, and stayed at the Central Hotel, these labours—which had commenced during the occasion of my previous visit—had now born fruit: to be seen immediately across the road. There was a solid circle of white coral, near the Clock Tower, that seared one's eyes to look at; hideously angular paths, some of which led nowhere; and a general orderly chaos, quite beyond written conception. To this spectacular end a plan had been prepared by the Survey Office; from which McDonald was retired, the department being now in the charge of a younger man from New Zealand.
The work had not been done entirely by Europeans. Samoans had assisted on at least one occasion. In the Samoa Times of November 16th, for instance, it is said:
"The Renown Sea Scouts did a good turn last Saturday by assisting in the work of beautifying Apia waterfront. Under supervision of Captain W. M. Bell1 and Scoutmaster A. B. Ross, the corps was divided into groups. One group brought big stones, one earth, one coral, one laid waterpipes, and others engaged in constructional work."page 161
But beauty, unfortunately, is not achieved without protest; and in the Samoa Times of November 23rd had appeared a letter, in which the writer remarked that in every community were to be found ill-bred persons, such as himself, whose one object in life was carping criticism. He went on to say that to his vulgar mind a stretch of smooth turf properly kept was more worthy than an angular arrangement of painfully rough paths that no one could wish to use, and a "horrid circle of glaring white coral which can have no conceivable purpose save to perpetuate the worst features of smug and stodgy suburbia." That in his eyes a tree whose strong clean trunk had been smothered in a pile of ugly rocks, and so robbed of the simple dignity of nature, was a tree outraged; and an abomination greater even than the philistinian medley in its neighbourhood…. "The present plans of Welfarers," he continued, "are for something quite out of character. They purpose to revive in Apia the horrors of the most formal school of suburban gardening; to set in the South Seas a piece of Clapham—or should I say of Remuera or of Island Bay?"
The writer—Peacock, formerly of Falealili—wound up his letter whimsically by saying that that was the sort of man he was—cowering behind a pen-name and sneering at better men than himself. "Why don't I take off my coat," he asked, "and, with spade or pick, stand about the sea-front on Saturday afternoons like a true Welfarer?" He thought it was disgraceful, he added, that he should be allowed to write to the Press to belittle the work of public-spirited men, and the sooner he and his kind were deported, the better for Samoa.
This elicited a reply from the Welfare League that the deportation of the type of person to which he professed to belong was greatly to be desired. And the Editor of the Samoa Times came out with a leading article in which he contended that the Apia foreshore in front of the Custom-house was greatly improved in appearance. "The League and its many helpers, foremost among whom has been the Administration of Western Samoa, are all deserving of congratulations upon the work that they have achieved on this irregular-shaped plot of bare and broken land."
The Welfare League had been in existence for some time. page 162I find it expressing appreciation of the services of Dr. Trail, the Chief Medical Officer, and regret at his leaving: a resolution to this effect having been forwarded to the Medical Council in New Zealand. And prior to the departure of the late Chief Judge, Mr. Orr-Walker, a highly eulogistic speech was made by the League's President, O. F.-Nelson, who remarked that, despite all that had been said concerning them, the citizens knew a good man when they saw one, and "we are satisfied that some good men come out of Nazareth.". They hoped to obtain for themselves the same measure of British justice that Mr. Orr-Walker had always dispensed in the High Court, and they would keep on nagging until they did get it. They trusted they might be equally fortunate in his successor.
This latest development—the so-called beach beautification—undoubtedly was designed as an earnest (prior to a visit of the Administrator to New Zealand) of the Beach's desire to work in on friendly terms with the New Zealand Administration; and it was perhaps to be regretted that this activity could not have been diverted into another channel. Seated on the veranda of the hotel, looking out over the—to my mind—scene of havoc, I asked idly of the tourist to whom I was talking, an elderly Englishman from the Argentine, what he thought of the beach beautification. He glanced at me. "Of course it's deplorable," he said gravely. "The very worst of bad taste! But there's nothing to be done." He pursed his lips, shook his head, and left the subject.
1 The Aide-de-Camp.
On November 19th the Administrator, General Richardson, left for New Zealand for a conference with the Minister of External Affairs, Sir Francis Bell, whom he met, I believe, in Auckland. It was generally understood that he hoped to win an alteration in the New Zealand Government's policy of Prohibition for the Europeans of Western Samoa, and also a free hand to make substantial changes in the running of the Crown Estates.
Soon after his return to Apia, on December 24th, the Administrator made a speech on policy to the members of the page 163Chamber of Commerce and of the Welfare League. He intimated that it was proposed to lease the smaller of the Crown Estates, and to place the remaining properties under a Board of Control: which consisted—so it proved—of himself, the Secretary to the Administration, and Mr. McDonald. Also that it was intended to dispose of such Government enterprises as the Butchery, Dairy, Ice-works, Laundry, Resthouse, etc., set up by the first New Zealand and extremely bureaucratic civil administration. His speech was long and optimistic.
Nelson, in the course of a reply, thanked the Administrator for the confidence he had reposed in them, and said:
"Before you left on your trip a vote of confidence in your Excellency was carried by acclamation in a general meeting of the citizens. It is a pleasure for me to again confirm the same. The problems confronting Samoa are weighty, but being assured of your keen interest in the welfare of the Territory and the advancement of its people, I wish to repeat that in your strenuous efforts to further them you may reply on our support and co-operation at all times in the future, as you have kindly admitted having received in the past. Though we may not all be as optimistic of the future as you are, our hearts and interests are centred right here in Samoa and we shall work hand in hand with you in all matters tending to the progress of the Territory. The near future may not seem so bright to us, but we are just as determined to bring about happy and prosperous conditions again and will pull together with you towards that end."
I had taken with me on this trip to Apia my interpreter—or "talking-man"—a young Samoan chief of some standing. On our return to Savaii he told me quite naturally and in no spirit of bravado that the natives of the house where he had been staying at the back of the town were drunk for three days over Christmas. This was the first I had heard of drinking among the Samoans; but undoubtedly around the town it was now becoming not uncommon.
In Savaii—as at Apia—home-brewing among the Europeans was generally the rule. Practically every trader was making page 164beer—some from paw-paw, some from "All-in-One"—and very potent it usually was. A few were distilling.
This state of affairs was most extreme in the Faasaleleanga district, on the east coast. Here, at fairly frequent intervals along the sandy palm-fringed shore, were trading-stations run by whites and half-castes who met for periodic parties. From both directions they would come driving their buggies and bringing their quota of the booze—brewed from different recipes, of different materials, in varying stages of fermentation—some even being brought in the actual four-gallon kerosene-tin in which it was being made: all to be mixed in the stomachs of the company in the course of the evening. It was not always possible when in the vicinity, during the absence on furlough of the other Inspector, to avoid these parties—so I speak from first-hand knowledge.
When again I went to Apia, on the occasion of my annual leave, the Central Hotel had been closed and the Casino was now run as an hotel by Mrs. Roberts for the Government. There lived here an Englishman whom I knew. In his bedroom was a large wardrobe completely fitted as a miniature brewery; at the sight of which, I was told, some officers of his acquaintance from a visiting British warship had been mightily diverted. Every midday, and again before dinner, he set a gramophone going, and his friends residing in the hotel all trooped in and the bar for half an hour or so was declared open. The drinks, I need hardly say, were free.
But in the Apia British Club—a place frequented by senior members of the Judicial Department—the most virulent beer was actually sold across the bar; to my own knowledge as late as 1926. And the main qualification required of the steward employed by that establishment was that he should be able to brew.
By the Samoa Amendment Act of 1923, the New Zealand Parliament had laid down that the Administrator might appoint, from time to time, Faipules, or a Fono, in the persons of Samoans, who could constitute a council of advisers to him, and over whom he was to preside. It was stipulated that no native should be appointed as a Faipule who was not qua page 165in accordance with existing Samoan usage and custom to occupy the position. These Faipules might consider matters of welfare of their own initiative or as submitted to them by the Administrator, express opinions, and make recommendations. Decisions of the Fono of Faipules could be given legislative effect to either by submission to and adoption by the Legislative Council at Apia, in the form of an Ordinance; or, if affecting only native interests, by being submitted to the Minister of External Affairs in New Zealand, for embodying, if approved, in an Order-in-Council.
There had for long been a Fono of Faipules; indeed its beginning is lost. But there was one under Steinberger in 1874, when European domination was first established in Samoa. There was one under the German regime. To them Dr. Solf is remembered to have said that he wished them to attend their Fonos attired in their tappa cloths and hung with their ulas of scented flowers, for so he could admire them; while dressed in imitation of white men they looked like apes; and with this dictum they are said to have been much pleased. All but four of that Faipule Fono, which numbered nearly thirty, died in the influenza epidemic of 1918. In 1919 and 1920 had been appointed a great number of Faipules by the Administrator on the advice of the Secretary of Native Affairs. But this business, in 1923, of giving them statutory recognition was, so far as I can see, mere eyewash, and affected their position hardly at all. Their functions, as Colonel Tate the retired Administrator said, in an interview with an Auckland newspaper, had been purely formal; and so—as he did not say—their legitimate functions, to all practical purposes, remained.
Under the Samoa Amendment Act, provisions also were made for the Europeans; and it was decreed that the Legislative Council—of which the Administrator was President—should consist of not more than six "official" members of the public service; and "unofficial" members, not more in number than the official ones, who might either be elected or nominated. Three unofficial members subsequently were elected. They were George Westbrook, O. F. Nelson, and Williams the tinsmith, who henceforth were known as the "The Hon." The nominated official members, however, numbered six.page 166
When this Bill was introduced to the New Zealand Parliament the Hon. J. Parr,1 Minister for Education in the New Zealand Cabinet—who stated elsewhere that the measure provided for Samoa the beginning of autonomy—said:
"For the first time the principle of election to the Council is recognized…. The point I wish to stress is that we are trying the experiment of giving Samoa a partial local government. I should think that this is the first time in the history of any colony where, within three years after being taken over, elective powers such as these are given to the people; but the Administration is satisfied that the experiment is worth while."
Parr also held out a promise that two Samoans should later be elected to the Legislative Council. This, however, did not eventuate.
In the Samoa Report of 1922 it is stated that among a certain section of the Samoans "there is a desire for complete self-government"; and the 1923 Report records that "the citizens are most anxious to be granted direct representation on the Legislative Council"; so these amendments to the Act, it will be seen, did not come about without some measure of pressure from the people.
1 Afterwards Sir James Parr.
The meetings of the Faipules were held half-yearly. At that of January 1924, presided over by General Richardson—his second Fono—it was agreed that "Native Regulations be drawn up and published in book form for the information of all natives so that they may know the Native Laws and penalties." A number of other matters were put forward by the Administrator and discussed, including, strange to say, the division of native lands. And it was announced also in the summary of the proceedings:
"The Fono views with anxiety the increase in consumption of 'Fa'a mafu' manufactured from the American article called 'All-in-One.' Prohibition of liquor to natives is vital to their welfare…. The Faipules consider that the Government page 167would be well advised to issue permits for liquor to Europeans, provided that they can be assured that a system of permits would stop the manufacture of the American drink (Fa'a mafu) called 'All-In-One,' or the making of alcoholic drink from any other source."
This apparently was General Richardson's final effort to secure an alteration in respect of Prohibition: his previous endeavour—if such there was—having been attended with no success in his interview with the Minister of External Affairs.
In 1922, during the administration of Colonel Tate, had been passed an Ordinance "to control certain Samoan customs"—which revived and went beyond a German Proclamation of 1901—and gave the Administrator power to banish from his village and district, without trial, any Samoan whose presence was "likely to be a danger to the peace, order, and good government thereof," and also the power, again without trial, to deprive any Samoan of the title by which he was known to his people. The purpose of the German Proclamation would appear to have been to take the former of these powers from the Samoans as inconsistent with a judicial system. I append the wording of the German Proclamation:
"Whereas many reports have reached me saying that some of the Samoan people have been banished and forced away from their own homes and villages. It is also said that such is the Samoan custom.
"I hereby make known to you all that such custom is a very bad one, and I have now decided that I cannot uphold such a bad custom. I do therefore declare that if anyone, whether he may be a chief or tulafale or a common person, whether he be a Government official or not, again take the law into his own hands and remove a person away from his own house and family he will be severely punished with imprisonment not less than six months.
"That is my word; everyone must obey it.
Colonel Logan in 1916 issued a proclamation with rather similar wording, and also stated that if a Matai considered and believed that the peace of his family might be broken or ruined by the wickedness of one of its members, he might make application to the Government for the removal or punishment of the wrongdoer, when the case would be tried before the Native Court either at Savaii or Apia.
The Samoan Offenders Ordinance of 1922 went beyond either of these proclamations, in that the power of banishment and also the right to take away a title was vested in the Administrator, in the event of his being "satisfied" that it was desirable. The second of these powers had never been claimed by any previous Administrator, and had been the exclusive privilege of those who had conferred the title or agreed to its accession. This Ordinance, incidentally, was given birth to with Mr. Griffin in the position of Secretary of Native Affairs.
Early in 1924, Tamasese, a grandson of the former king, came into collision with the Administration. His offence was that of planting a hedge near his house on what he protested was his own land. The objection to the hedge, according to current report, lay in that it obstructed the view—into Tamasese's house—of a native pastor of the London Mission.
"Department of Native Affairs,"Samoa, "15th March, 1924.
"His Excellency yesterday learned of your disobedience of his order with reference to the removal of the hedge. I am instructed to give you to 5 p.m. on this date within which to remove this nuisance. You are therefore hereby notified.
Tamasese having failed to obey the peremptory order to remove the hedge, he was, under the Samoan Offenders Ordinance of 1922, banished by the Administrator from his own village of Vaimoso, near Apia, to Leulumoega, about twenty miles away.
On his breaking the banishment order and returning to Vaimoso he was brought before the High Court, imprisoned page 169as a result of breaking the order for a week, deprived by the Administrator of his kingly title, and banished for life to the village of Asau on the Island of Savaii. All this is on record in the Report of the Royal Commission on the Administration of Western Samoa, 1927. In this matter the statute-book was not even followed, for no period was specified on the final banishment order. This, said the Chief Justice of New Zealand, who presided over the Royal Commission, in common law "would be read as banishment for life." Tamasese's chiefly or kingly title, the reader may be interested to know, was never given back to him. That, explained the counsel for the Administration before the Royal Commission, was beyond the Administrator's power.
One day, April 10th, proceeding along the coast of Savaii on a commercial motor-boat—one of those craft which ply between Apia and the trading-stations carrying copra and goods—our engine was stopped and I saw a whale-boat putting off from the shore to intercept us. I was on my way from Falealupo in the extreme west of the island, to Fagamalo on the north, where I had been ordered to attend a Court case on behalf of the Administration. Our half-caste captain, his head tied up, from toothache, in a towel, now approached me in a state of great excitement and said that Tamasese might be aboard the whale-boat, for it was believed that he wished to break his banishment order and return to Apia, and that he—the captain—was afraid of getting into trouble if he carried him. Would I forbid Tamasese to come aboard?
I knew little of Tamasese, although I knew he had been banished, but seeing no alternative under the circumstances I said that I would.
On his way down the coast to Falealupo the captain of the motor-boat had been asked by Tamasese to call in at the village of Asau on his return, to pick up a box. But suspecting that there was more than a box to convey to Apia, the half-caste had determined to avoid Asau. Tamasese, anticipating this, had laid in wait and intercepted him at Sataua.page 170
By this time, although ordered by the captain, at my instruction, to stand off, the whale-boat had run alongside. I had gone amidships, and my interpreter informing me that Tamasese was in the boat—our captain and the whole crew had discreetly dived down the engine-room hatch, where they remained—I addressed him and told him that he would be unable to come aboard. In the meantime, all the rowers of the other craft, a large number of Asau men, had swarmed onto our deck and ranged themselves around us, and the situation was by no means to my liking. Tamasese, standing up—a young, strongly built man with a round face—grasping one of our stanchions and stepping onto the low bulwark, pleaded that he did not know why he had been sent to Asau, that he had no food plantations there, and that he wished to go to Apia to interview the Administrator. I told him that I could not take cognizance of complaints, which I advised him to refer to the Resident Commissioner, nor could I allow him to travel by the motor-boat. Shortly after, he and his men re-embarked, and they pulled slowly and silently back towards the shore.
The sequel to this episode was that Tamasese crossed on foot the lava-field which lies between Asau and the northern coast of Savaii, and after lying hid in a village there for a few days—a fact which I reported at the time to the Administration—paddled over to Upolu with another man in a canoe. For this he was imprisoned for three months, and banished, this time to the north of Savaii.
On April 2nd all the chiefs of Asau had come to Sataua and tried to persuade the Sataua people to join with them in taking Tamasese back to Apia. The Fono lasted two days. Had this attempt, on the 10th, to travel by the motor-boat been successful, the history of Samoa almost certainly would have been different from what it is. I have often regretted that I was aboard. When I got to Fagamalo I found that the Court case had been cancelled. Owing to the slackness of the official responsible, I had not been notified. On such things fate chooses to hinge.page break