Samoa Under the Sailing Gods
The Anglican chaplain of Mount Eden Jail, Auckland, when Tamasese was serving sentence there for "resisting arrest," referred to him as a "fine stalwart fellow, clear-eyed and courageous." He observed further:page 274
"The New Zealand Government is unconsciously defeating its own ends by imprisoning this Christian rebel chief. Tamasese, by the sacrifice of his liberty, is paying part of the price that God seems to exact for the advancement of a race. By persecuting a movement we help it to grow, hence Tamasese is on the winning side, and he will possibly live to see the day when the Samoans, like the Maoris in New Zealand, will be given equal privileges with their white brethren."
This prediction unfortunately was incorrect. Tamasese, still in the twenties, in response it would seem to the promptings of the Mandates Commission, was shot down on the Apia Beach on December 28, 1929.
Owing to his quarrels with the former Administrator, General Richardson, it may be remembered, Tamasese in 1924 was banished for life to the island of Savaii, but was later allowed to return to Upolu although his royal title was not restored to him. After this he remained quietly in his village at Vaimoso and took no active part at first in the move against the mal-administration. When before the Royal Commission at the end of 1927 he told the Chairman—who refused to inquire into the merits of his banishment—that the Mau wanted selfgovernment for the Samoans under the protection of Britain, and not New Zealand. The deportation of Messrs. Smyth, Nelson, and Gurr followed at Christmas, and a few weeks later, on the eve of his retirement, General Richardson had two cruisers rushed to Samoa and some four hundred Samoans were rounded up at Mulinuu.
After he had paraded his audience and personally harangued them, without the medium of a talking-man—for he could speak a little Samoan—General Richardson demanded to know what the Mau wanted from the Administration. Tamasese then came forward as spokesman and asked the retiring Administrator if he had full authority to act as well as talk. Richardson replied that he had, and the Fono was adjourned until the following day. Tamasese then intimated that the Samoans wanted General Richardson to leave, and for the Samoans to run their own affairs under British protection according to their ancient laws and customs. This proposal they were informed was seditious, and shortly after they were page 275released, the Administrator recognizing that they had been "misled by non-natives." From then on Tamasese, by unanimous election, assumed the leadership of the Mau.
At the end of 1928, for non-payment of poll-tax, he was brutally arrested by an armed force of military police (the handcuffs could scarcely be made to click on his massive wrists, and left him permanently scarred) and jailed in New Zealand for resisting arrest. His arrest had been covered by two machine-guns.
Two years had elapsed since the deportation of three members of the Citizens' Committee, and in the case of one of them, Mr. Smyth, the banishment order had expired. It was determined by the Mau to give him the greatest reception ever accorded to a European in Samoa. In this there was perhaps a certain irony, for Mr. Smyth admittedly had had but little contact with the Samoans, and possibly had been more interested in General Richardson's unwarranted interference in the copra trade: an activity condemned in due course by the New Zealand Public Service Commissioners.
However, on December 27, 1929, a member of the firm of O. F. Nelson & Co. interviewed the Chief of Police at Apia, and asked if permission would be given for Mr. Smyth and Mr. Skelton, a visiting lawyer from New Zealand, to land at the Tivoli wharf. He mentioned that a procession of the Mau was expected. The Inspector said that permission would be given, and "Tell the Mau not to send any wanted men down." Mr. Kruse—who had made the request—replied that he was not the legal representative of the Mau and it was not his place to warn them. He added, however, that if he saw any of them he would tell them. On meeting Tamasese he appears to have told him what the Inspector had said.
At 6.15 the following morning there were two processions wending their way along the Apia Beach. One came from the west and the other came from the east. They were to meet at that point of the water-front near the Court House where a road runs off to Vailima. The procession that had come from the west would then turn about and together they would march past and salute the Union Jack flying above the Government building.page 276
As the column that was coming from the west passed the Customs House, the Chief of Police, who was waiting ostensibly to put off to the steamer then entering the harbour, rang up a posse of constabulary stationed near the Court House and told them that a Samoan named Matau, who was wanted for contempt of court for non-payment of poll-tax, was at the head of the Mau procession and playing in the band. This procedure on the part of the police had been prearranged. It had been determined to make an arrest on this occasion. Matau is said to have been walking about Apia unchallenged all the previous week.
The procession continued on their way, marching in column of four, unsuspecting of what was to come. They were going into a machine-gun trap. In the procession were four high chiefs: Vele, Tamasese, Faumuina, and Tuimalealiifano. The chiefs wore white lava-lavas and dark coats. The Mau followers all wore the Mau uniform blue lava-lavas with the white stripe about six inches above the border.
On each side of the procession marched members of the Mau police with purple lava-lavas and white stripe and purple turbans on the head and the same baton fastened to the wrist such as any police carry. "I could not help," said a lady visitor from Fiji, "but feel thrilled, it was such an imposing sight.
"The Mau procession wended their stately way past me; some carried umbrellas furled and used as a walking-stick; others had walking-sticks and all more or less were smoking as they quietly marched past. I remarked what a splendid body of men and how orderly when I was horrified to hear a sharp volley of revolver-shots followed a little later by bursts of machine-gun fire. There was no mistaking that rat-a-tat-tat."
Fearing that they would have no opportunity to reload their revolvers, the police retreated down a side-alley to the Police Station for rifles and bayonets. One of their party was left behind and killed, in the act, it is believed, of attempting to reload. The news was broadcast to the world that he was beaten to death with an axe. This apparently was incorrect. Medical evidence disclosed that he was killed by a fracture at the base of the skull and there was no open wound.
At the corner of the Court House at the top of Ifi Ifi Street, about seventy yards from the Police Station, the High Chief Tamasese took his stand, facing the sea. Both arms were raised above his head. He turned from side to side and called continuously "Samoa, please keep the peace." His behest was being obeyed. A single shot rang out from a concealed sniper and Tamasese fell. Samoans ran to his assistance and there immediately came, from the balcony of the Police Station, at the hands of one of the men who had provoked the riot, the first burst of machine-gun fire. All the Samoans went down. A kinsman of Tamasese—a boy—who protected with his own body the wounded chief was riddled with bullets. There were thirteen holes in his lava-lava alone. Six bullets entered one leg. He was also shot in the groin, left side, through the foot, and between the shoulders. It was announced to the world that a Lewis-gun had been fired over the heads of a mob which attacked the Police Station! After the ground around Tamasese had been well sprayed, bursts of fire were loosed in other directions. There were several casualties in Apia village. Rifle-fire was maintained in the meanwhile. Within five minutes all was over. A machine-gun had also been mounted at the old British Club.
"Approaching the scene of carnage," said the lady from Fiji, "it was hardly possible to avoid stepping in pools of blood, even though keeping to the side of the road.
"When we came abreast of the Court House where the High Chief Tamasese and his men had been shot, the asphalt was like a shambles, police with hoses were attempting to page 278wash away the stains, but no hose will ever wash away the stain of the blood of unarmed men from the memory of all who happened to be there and saw and heard for themselves."
The High Chief Tuimalealiifano—who like Tamasese had been distinctively dressed—was shot through the arm. His eighty-odd years had not availed him. Vele was killed. The High Chief Faumuina was grazed across the loins by a bullet. Due to his calm control the Mau ranks were re-formed and the procession moved off quietly to the wharf to await the arrival of Mr. Smyth and Mr. Skelton. Following the procession at a distance of a few hundred yards was a party of twenty-five fully armed European police, with bayonets fixed. One member of the party carried a Lewis-gun.
At the special request of Tamasese the festivities at Vaimoso were proceeded with according to plan. During the time the function was in progress pathetic sights are said to have been witnessed as wounded men were brought into the village: the lamentations of the women relatives being found heartrending. In the early afternoon, however, the proceedings terminated abruptly owing to the announcement of further deaths.
That evening Tamasese, in hospital, issued a manifesto to all Samoa: "My blood has been spilt for Samoa. I am proud to give it. Do not dream of avenging it, as it was spilt in maintaining peace. If I die, peace must be maintained at any price." Towards the early hours of the following morning all hope of his recovery was past. He was removed to his village of Vaimoso where he died shortly after 8 a.m.
The Samoan casualties were eleven killed, including two high-chiefs, and sixteen wounded, many of them seriously. The European casualties were one killed and superficial injuries.
The Mau was proclaimed a seditious organization, and having received what must have seemed tantamount to a declaration of war upon them by the whole world, the members of the Mau deserted the coast villages of Western Samoa and took to the bush. Marines from the warship Dunedin and police, in the words of the London Times, "went after them." Nine long whale-boats belonging to the natives were seized and taken to Apia where they were left to warp in the sun. And a sign bearing the words "Samoa for the Samoans" was torn from Tamasese's office—a converted bandstand at Vaimoso—and removed. The New Zealand Minister of Defence arrived to direct these operations. A supplementary military police force—numbering 250—was recruited from among the unemployed in New Zealand. Chief Justice Luxford, who conducted the inquest into the deaths of the victims of the "riot" on December 28th, found that the precautionary measures taken by the police were reasonable and proper, and that there was serious active resistance to lawful arrest which endangered the lives of the police. He said, further, that the police use of fire-arms, including a Lewis-gun, for moral effect was justified, but that no evidence was disclosed showing the necessity for rifle-fire. Commenting on this report, Sir Joseph Ward, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, expressed the opinion that page 280the report would effectively refute the allegations made against police action in this case.
Now began what amounted to war upon the Mau. It was attempted to cut off food supplies, villages were raided, small parties of Samoans were dragged in as captives. One boy was shot in the stomach, it is alleged as he sat on the ground, being exhausted. He died in hospital. But it was found impossible to get in touch with the main body of the Mau, numbering several thousands. Tuimalealiifano, after a week in the bush, returned, on account of his age and the rainy weather, to his village, and for wearing the Mau lava-lava was seized and cast into jail. A charge of libelling the Administrator was brought against Mr. Slipper, the Mau solicitor—one of the few Europeans of recent years to show any sympathetic appreciation of the Samoans—and he was sentenced to a term of imprisonment, heavily fined, and had his licence cancelled.
A statement made by Commodore Blake, the officer commanding the cruiser Dunedin, at Apia, reviewing the operations in Samoa, was published in the London Times of February 19th. Commodore Blake stated that peaceful persuasion would not induce the Samoans to submit, and there was no alternative but to use force. He was of the opinion that the present policy was the only possible one at the moment. When the Administrator's demands had been fulfilled, he continued, harsh treatment or retaliation would be unnecessary, but until then force alone would appeal to the Samoans. A larger force was required to bring sufficient pressure to bear upon the Mau (members of the League of Samoans) in the bush and sheltering in the villages. Sailors and Marines had worked ashore magnificently, often under difficult conditions. The present force was insufficient to round up the large number of Samoans in the bush, but indirect pressure was being exerted by cutting off food supplies, raiding the villages, and preventing the Mau from coming into the villages for food and shelter. The stronger force which was now being provided would permit the effective patrolling of the coast and the isolation of the Mau. Commodore Blake concluded by saying that the matter must be settled now; there was no alternative. When the affair was settled the page 281authorities could get back to investigating the causes of the trouble and endeavouring to meet them in a spirit of good will, while yet upholding law and order.
This plain if surprising statement of the Government's case resulted in a frenzied denial from the Prime Minister of New Zealand, who said that Commodore Blake was speaking for himself. He implied that it was not proposed to use force. The Executive of the New Zealand Seamen's Union, however, passed a resolution protesting against the sending to Samoa of "Black and Tans" to "terrorize the Samoans by force of arms." The Executive declared further that its members would refuse to man any ships conveying the new military police to the islands.
The Administrator of Samoa—following the faux pas of Commodore Blake—convoked a conference with the Mau at Vaimoso by proclamation, the conditions being that the Samoans attending would be free from arrest (it is significant that he refused a safe conduct to Samoan witnesses who wished to attend the Tamasese inquest), that neither the naval forces and police on the one hand, nor the Mau on the other, take action during the conference, and that villages be exempt from search for the same period.
The Samoans attended the conference and, it was remarked naïvely, were found quiet and respectful. They raised no objection to the arrest of the twenty Samoans wanted on alleged criminal charges, and since the Chief of Police at Apia once testified in court that the Mau had often assisted the police in effecting such arrests, this was scarcely surprising. The natives, however, refused—as now demanded of them by the Administrator—to dissolve the Mau organization. But the twenty wanted men surrendered and in due course were savagely sentenced. The cruiser Dunedin returned to New Zealand. The special force of military police, which the seamen had refused to carry, remained where it was. The Samoans returned to their villages. This extensive fiasco was hailed as a triumph on the part of the Administration. And so it might well be termed. Tamasese has been "bumped off." Something has been done. The Administration has discovered and concealed its impotence. It would have been impossible to starve out the Samoans living page 282in the bush—rich in natural food. But a gesture had been made. The Mandates Commission will be satisfied.