Old Samoa or Flotsam and Jetsam from the Pacific Ocean
Chapter I — General Description of the Samoan Group
General Description of the Samoan Group
The Navigator Archipelago, the native name of which is Samoa, is situated between 169° and 173° west longitude and 13° 30' and 14° 20' south latitude, thus occupying a position about 1,500 miles distant from Tahiti: 800 from the Hervey or Cook Islands; and 2,570 miles in a direct line from Sydney; though the actual space traversed by a vessel en route to Sydney is nearly 4,000 miles.
The group consists of ten islands, which are all inhabited, viz. reckoning from the west, Savaii, Apolima, Manono, Upolu, Tutuila, Aunu'u, Nu'utele, Ta'u, Ofu, and Olosenga: the three latter islands, however, being usually spoken of under the general term Manu'a. Some navigators include Rose Island in this group, which is seventy miles to the eastward, and uninhabited.
The three most easterly islands of the group were discovered in 1722, by Jacob Roggewein, a Dutch navigator, and by him named Baaumann Islands, after the captain of the Tienhoven, by whom they were first seen. His description of the islands, as page 22given by Captain Burney, is easily recognized by those who are familiar with them, as referring to this group. They were afterwards visited by M. de Bougainville, the French navigator, in 1768, who then discovered Tutuila, and sighted Upolu; but the whole of the islands were not visited until 1787, when La Perouse determined the position of the entire number. Captain Edwards, in the Pandora frigate, visited the islands in 1791, thus bringing down the time of contact of the Samoans with early European visitors to forty-seven years before I reached the islands, in 1838, a time when the first contact of the Samoans with Europeans would be fresh in the memories of some of the people whom I met. It was then seventy years since Bougainville's visit: fifty-one years since that of La Perouse; and forty-seven years since the visit of Captain Edwards in the Pandora frigate; the two latter visits would therefore be well remembered by many at that time.
The Samoans of that day were accustomed to describe in a vivid manner the astonishment of their ancestors at the arrival of the first European vessel. Until that time they had been accustomed to regard themselves and the inhabitants of a few other groups, as the only human beings in existence. They thought the world was flat, and supported by a pillar ascending from the regions below, or salefe'e, whilst the sky was supposed to cover them as a canopy, forming a junction at the distant horizon. If by chance the inhabitants of other islands visited them, they resembled them in person, and came to them in canoes similar to those in use among themselves, so that the arrival of a big ship with sails off their coasts might well excite astonishment and awe.page 23
It is impossible now to say whether the visit of Jacob Roggewein, in 1722, was alluded to, or whether some prior but unrecorded visit of Europeans to their shores had occurred. But whoever the visitors were, they created a profound astonishment, were looked upon with awe, and received with divine honours. The first European visitors are stated not to have landed, but to have remained sailing about at some distance from the shore; whilst many and varied opinions were formed respecting them by the wondering crowd of onlookers who lined the shore, or who, to obtain a better view, climbed the tall cocoanut-trees that grew around, and watched with intense interest the motions of the mysterious ship as she held on her silent way. What can it be? Whence does it come? What does the strange thing contain? were among the many questions asked by the wondering and amazed throng as they looked on in astonishment upon the strange Visitor before them. It was generally felt that it must be an arrival from the spirit-land, and that it would be well to propitiate the gods supposed to be on board by offerings of food. Such were speedily placed along the beach, in the shape of O le Matini, or offerings to the gods, and petitions offered; praying the supposed spiritual visitors to be satisfied with the offerings presented; but, if they had come to take away men for food or sacrifice, that they would mercifully spare them, and go further to other settlements, where the population was greater.
After a time, some more courageous than others ventured off to the vessel in their canoes, when their astonishment was even greater than before, on finding the strange object to be the abode of living men, but page 24of white colour, speaking an unknown tongue, and presenting a most extraordinary appearance. This party of visitors returned to their countrymen on shore to describe their astonishment at what they had seen and heard. The big ship, with her tall masts; her sails, her rooms, or rather caves below; but, above all, the wonderful people who dwelt there, with their white colour, their feet not divided into toes, and their skin provided with bags, into which they were accustomed to put various articles as they wished.
These marvellous visitors they called pāpālangi (sky-bursters), for, said they, these people have either burst through the clouds with their ship; or else, lifting them up, they have passed beneath, and come to visit us. It is possible the name pāpālangi may have been given to commemorate the noise of the ship's guns, as they first heard the dread sound1. The strange visitors were described as man-eaters, from the fact that portions of a pig had been seen hanging up in the ship, and these were supposed to be human flesh. This led them to think that the visitors had come to get fresh victims to eat; and hence they endeavoured to hasten their departure. At this distance of time it is impossible to say to what particular visit these traditions of the people of refer; whether to one of the four mentioned above, or to some earlier, but unrecorded visit. Bougainville simply sighted , and La Perouse sailed along its eastern shores, but had no direct intercourse with the natives, although the news of his conflict with the people of Tutuila, a neighbouring page 25island, would soon be known, and its effects felt in all directions. Edwards's visit was the latest, but he does not appear to have had any direct intercourse with the natives. It seems, therefore, probable that the description refers either to Roggewein's visit, or to one earlier, but unrecorded. This seems probable, since Roggewein visited Manu'a, the most easterly of the group, and does not appear to have had any intercourse with the large islands to the westward.
On many early maps and charts the names given to the islands by the French are retained, but they are often very incorrect. Thus, is called Oteewhy, and sometimes Pola; whilst is named Oatooah, or else Oyolava; the former of which names is taken from Atua, the name of the eastern division of the island, whilst the latter word, correctly written, would be O-i-ō-lava, away out yonder, an answer doubtless given by some native who misunderstood the signs made to him, and thinking he was asked,' Where do you live?' replied, O-i-ō-lava,' Away out yonder.' Tutuila, the French call Mavuna, a mispronunciation of the word Maunga, the native name for mountain; whilst Manu'a is called Too-malooah, a misapprehension of the kingly title of Tui Manu'a, Lord of Manu'a. The three islands are spoken of separately as Opoun, Fanfou, and Leone. The name given to Manu'a is a mispronounced name of the head chief of Manua, Tui Manu'a; and Leone (the sands) is the name of a settlement on Tutuila, an island fifty miles distant. Such mistakes, however amusing, are quite pardonable under the circumstances; but they afford a strong contrast to the usually correct manner in which native names are spelt by Captain Cook.page 26
As native Samoan names will frequently occur in these pages, a few observations on the sound of some of the letters used in the language may assist in their pronunciation. Every syllable has a vowel termination, and the vowels are all sounded with distinctness. ā has the sound of ā in father, or a in face; e that of a in fate; i that of i in marine, or e in me; o that of o in no; u, that of the French u, or oo, in root; g, the nasal sound ng. In conversation nouns are usually given with the prefix 'o,' as o atua, and frequently the article le, or se, as o le tupu, the king, o se manu, a bird.
Navigators have spoken in high terms of the lovely and fertile appearance of these islands, and they are still generally acknowledged to be one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful of the many lovely groups which stud the Pacific. On approaching them from the eastward the small islands of Manu'a first present themselves to view. They are Ta'u, Ofu, and Olosenga, the former of which is the largest and most fertile, but they are all more rocky and barren than the islands to the westward.
Still sailing westward some fifty miles, you reach Tutuila. It is thirty miles long, narrow and mountainous, but affords many very beautiful prospects. It is indeed difficult to forget the feelings of delight caused by the first view of its lofty mountains and its lovely valleys; the former covered to their summits with magnificent forest trees and evergreen shrubs, with here and there clumps of palms or solitary palms with their lovely foliage and appearance, rising above all, and adding beauty and variety to the scene. Along the southern page 27side of the island are tracts of level land suitable for cultivation, being covered with a rich soil; but the greater portion of the island, indeed, highlands and mountains included, is capable of cultivation, being covered with a rich soil of considerable depth, and which is continually increasing from the constant decay of vegetable matter on every hand.
The principal harbour of Tutuila is Pangopango, and it is a very fine one. The bay is nearly two miles deep, and, except at the entrance, is landlocked; but a sunken rock at the mouth of the harbour renders navigation dangerous, and necessitates great caution on entering or leaving. There are other bays affording anchorage, as at Leone, but they are not very safe.
Tutuila was rendered memorable, nineteen years after its discovery by M. de Bougainville, from a catastrophe on the occasion of a visit paid by La Perouse. M. de Langle, his second in command, with twelve of his companions, were killed by the natives during a fierce encounter with some boats' crews who had landed at a place now called Massacre Cove. I was intimately acquainted with the facts, having had frequent conversation respecting the occurrence with Lavasi'i, a chief of Falelatai, who knew some of the parties who were present at the attack, and joined in the massacre. In fact, it was a travelling party of visitors from Falelatai, a settlement on the south coast of , who happened to be staying at the place of the massacre, who actually planned the attack, and killed the foreigners. The people of Tutuila were averse to the attack, and did all they could to prevent it. The natives state that the quarrel arose from the French punishing some petty theft. A page 28member of the large party of natives from Falelatai, having stolen something, was hoisted to the top of the mainmast of the long-boat by his thumb or hand. This led to the attack. After the conflict had ceased the Tutuila natives buried the bodies of the French left in their hands, treating them with every respect; whilst the party from Falelatai left the same night for Upolu, taking with them the boat captured from the French.
On leaving Tutuila, and still pursuing a westerly course, a sail of 80 miles, often very tedious and unpleasant, brings you to Apia, at present the most frequented harbour of Upolu, the island following next to the west, and by far the most important island of the group, whether as respects its population, harbours, or extent of soil available for cultivation; and certainly it will yield to none in beauty of appearance and loveliness. Scenery the most varied and charming is presented to the view of the delighted voyager as he sails along the shores of this beautiful island. A chain of mountains runs through its centre from east to west, whose slopes are interspersed with rich valleys, gradually trending towards the shore, which form belts of level land several miles in width and many in length. Nearly the whole of these mountains, valleys, and flat lands are covered with forests of evergreen trees; the scenery being frequently enlivened by cascades leaping and bounding down the mountain sides, where they stand out plainly page 32to view, amidst the verdure by which they are surrounded.
Where the soil reaches to the coast it is covered with vegetation to the water's edge; and even the mould formed in the crevices of the rocks does its share towards the general adornment. Sometimes even the roots of the trees may be seen washed by the surf; and in many places clumps of mangrove-trees spread themselves out in the lagoons, where they thrive in the muddy or sandy soil, whether left dry by the receding tide, or remaining covered by the sea. On some parts of the island the scenery is of a grand and romantic character; whilst other districts combine almost every variety of prospect. All, however, is a scene of wild and rank luxuriance, but, at the same time, one of never-fading interest.
The highest mountain of is at the east end, in the district of Atua, and is named Fao. The views in the neighbourhood of Saluafata, especially, are very beautiful and varied. In addition to the constant interchange of hill and dale, of rocks and valleys, the scene is at times varied by large patches of a small plant some what resembling heath, of a light green colour, which the voyager often mistakes for green sward, but which adds greatly to the prospect.
is 120 miles in circumference. Its northern and southern sides are well watered, and it has five harbours, viz. Apia, Saluafata, Fangaloa, Falealili, and Loto Fanga. Saluafata is the best and safest, and is expected eventually to become the principal resort for vessels.
Manono is a small but important island, situated page 33about three miles from the south-west end of , and is enclosed on one side by the same reef which skirts that island. It is covered with extensive groves of breadfruit trees, but is badly watered, and from this circumstance is ill adapted for the cultivation of many vegetables which thrive well on the other islands. Still, yams, which require a dry soil, grow well, and are highly esteemed.
The island is less than five miles in circumference, and is of nearly triangular shape. It has a mountain rising from the centre of the island some 800 feet in height, from the summit of which a fine view can be obtained. Looking in an easterly direction, the western end and part of the southern coast of with its reefs, stand forth to view with fine effect. To the west is seen Apolima and ; whilst to the north and south a wide expanse of ocean is visible.
The chiefs and leading men of Manono have long exercised great political influence over the group; but since the usurpation by Le Tamafainga of the regal title of O le Tupu, this power has largely increased, and extends greatly through the entire group. Near to its south-west end is a small but picturesque islet called Nu'u Lopa, which belongs to the family of the late Matatau, and is used as a burying-place for the family; the remains of many of his ancestors and family being interred there.
Four miles further westward is Apolima, a small but interesting island belonging to Manono, and which is of great importance to it, as it forms a very strong natural fortress, that is almost impregnable in native warfare. It is about a mile in length, and from half to three-quarters of a mile in width. With the exception of one page 34side, the only one on which a landing can be effected, it is surrounded by a precipitous wall of basaltic rock, probably 1,000 feet in height. A very correct idea of its shape may be got by placing the hands together as though about to catch some article to be thrown into them; its singular shape having evidently suggested its name, Apolima, 'to catch in the hands.' It is of difficult access in fine weather, but in bad weather is quite isolated.
The last island of the group to be noticed is , the largest and most westerly of the number. It is fifteen or twenty miles distant from , according to the point at which the straits separating the two islands are crossed. It is 130 miles in circumference; but, although a very fine island, is not equal in importance to , the amount of land available for cultivation being much less than on that island. It has only two harbours of any extent and importance, viz. Matautu, on the north side of the island, and Salelalonga, on the south side. Large districts of are covered with lava, and in many parts the coasts are bluff and iron-bound. Extinct volcanoes are met with on most of the islands, but on they are numerous, one, in particular, the Mu, or the burning, forming a conspicuous and striking object as viewed from the sea, being at least 4,000 feet in height.
has extensive forests of the harder and more durable timber, which is much sought after for keels and other parts of canoes, and which causes this island to hold a decided superiority in canoe building. The island possesses only a few streams of fresh water, but most parts are well supplied with springs.page 35
The climate of Samoa differs greatly from that of the Tahitian or Cook's group, being much more moist and trying to Europeans; caused, no doubt, from its position being nearer the equator, and from the great rankness and variety of vegetation, much of which is of a pulpy, watery nature, speedily decaying under the influences of the great tropical heat, and also from the constant heavy night dews, prevalent at all seasons. This, naturally, causes a large amount of exhalation, and the atmosphere becomes loaded with miasma, most injurious to health. At the time I left the islands, in 1845, the amount of cultivated land was small; but a great change has taken place since then, and the large accession of European population has given a great impulse to the cultivation of the soil.
As to climatic changes, there is much difference throughout the group, many places affording great variation of climate. The heat, although at times very oppressive and exhausting, is much modified by sea breezes, which are beneficial and refreshing; but a lengthened residence on the islands tends very much to debilitate the European constitution. Some idea of the conditions of life in Samoa in 1845 may be gathered from the fact that during the whole seven years of our residence there we never once had a fire in our dwelling; in fact, we had no fireplace, and the whole of the cooking being done outside, such a thing as an indoor fire was unknown; although during the wet and cold season a fire would often have been acceptable. For the first two or three years of our residence there we had no glazed windows, nothing but Venetian blinds, and hence at times we page 36suffered greatly from the excessive night dews, which were often so heavy that I have known our under-clothing, that had been incautiously left hanging at night near the window, to be quite wet in the morning.
I give a short Meteorological Register from observations made by the Rev. W. Mills, at Apia harbour, on the north side of the island. The climate on the south side would often differ considerably from this, especially as to the rainfall of the district.
|Months.||Average Height at 6 a.m.||Average Height, at 2 p.m.||Average Height at 10 p.m.||Maximum.||Minimum.||Mean.||Maximum Range.||Minimum Range.||Mean Range.||Trades. Days.||South. Days.||W. & S.W. Days.||N.& N.W. Days.||Variable. Days.||Fine Days.||Rainy Days.||Showery Days.|
Mr. Mills says, 'The last six months, though including a great part of the windy season, have been unusually dry and mild. With the exception of a day or two about the middle of December, and the last page 37week in February, which was very stormy, we have had almost uninterrupted fine weather.' He further adds, 'I have remarked, that from about the middle of July to the end of September, the trades are much inclined to the south, and blow very strongly, not allaying, but rather increasing in strength during the night, being contrary to the regular trades, which completely lull near the land after sunset.'
The prevailing winds are the trades, but during the months of January, February, and March, westerly winds prevail for many days together. Still, although frequent during these months, they are by no means confined to them. Seasons of severe drought sometimes occur, and occasion great scarcity of food. One of such was experienced towards the close of 1843, after the appearance of the great comet of that year, when the weather became intolerably hot, and the ensuing drought was long remembered.
Samoans reckon two seasons, the former, the fine season, extending from April until the close of September; the latter, the stormy season, commencing in October, and continuing until the end of March. During the fine season the appearance of the cloudless blue sky is most lovely, and day after day follow with charming weather: but during the rainy season the weather is often cold and miserable. Much rain falls in some localities, even during the fine season, whilst during the stormy season it is frequent, and in some places falls in torrents.
An approaching shower of rain may be heard for some time before it reaches the spot where you may be standing; if a very heavy one, at times, for a minute page 38or two previously. As it passes over the dense forest the noise occasioned by the rain falling upon the large foliage is like the rushing of a body of water, and this timely warning often causes much stir in a village, putting to flight the idlers, sending the females of the different households running in all directions, to gather up the native cloth that may have been spread to dry in the sun; and causing the passing traveller to quicken his steps, and seek some place of shelter.
During the stormy season, severe hurricanes now and then occur, at times causing great injury to the crops and dwellings of the natives. On December 29, 1839, one occurred, which was the first we had experienced on shore, and our fears were constant lest our dwelling should be blown to the ground by the furious gusts of wind which swept past us. On December 17, 1840, another occurred more severe and devastating than the former, and during its continuance the church, a large plastered building some 112 feet in length, was destroyed. The roof was lifted up bodily on one side, turned completely over, and, together with the many large centre posts or trees that had supported it, was levelled to the ground.
Bad, however, as this tempest was, it was far exceeded in strength and destructiveness by one which visited the islands on December 15, 1842. It had been blowing hard all the day and night before, from nearly every point of the compass, when between six and seven in the morning of the fifteenth it began to blow in right earnest from the north and north-west. This was the much dreaded signal for the natives of what they might expect, and a warning to at once carry their canoes inland, so as page 39to secure them from danger, as the sea has often been known to rise considerably on such occasions. Indeed, the increasing strength of the wind warned us all to prepare for danger. I had my boat firmly lashed down on an open space in the front of the house, and then, with many willing helpers, hurried off to secure the roof of our printing office and unfinished dwelling-house, so as to protect them as well as we could. Many neighbours came to assist us, and by spreading heavy branches of trees and cocoanut leaves upon the roofs, and lashing them down with the few ropes at our command, we made all tolerably secure, the roofs looking more like huge heaps of brushwood than roofs of houses. Later on we endeavoured to secure the thatch of the roofs with a large coarsely knitted net of cinet, which answered admirably. On such occasions the insides of some of the native dwellings often presented a strange appearance, from the large number of rough poles hastily cut from the forest, and placed as props, inside, against the rafters, to prevent the roof yielding to the great pressure from without. The sides of the little native house we occupied at that time were very frail, so that we had to pile up heavy boxes to windward, to prevent the sides from being blown in altogether. A perfect deluge of rain was falling, and the wind appearing to gain strength instead of decreasing, it was feared that every dwelling in the settlement would be destroyed. As the tempest increased a young chief came, and very kindly begged that he might be allowed to turn our boat over, and lash it down, keel uppermost, under which my family might take shelter, in case our dwelling should collapse.page 40
The cyclone spent itself about noon; and shortly after I walked through the settlement, to see what damage had been done. On every hand traces of the desolation occasioned by the fury of the tempest abounded. A fine crop of breadfruit was blown down, trees were uprooted on every hand, and houses were levelled, whose occupants were either crouching and crowding together in some neighbour's dwelling, or else creeping for shelter under the shattered remnants of their own. It was a sad and disheartening scene, and told a terrible tale of the fury of the storm.
The afā, or 'circle of the cyclone,' as it may be styled, is an object of dread and terror to every one who encounters it. The origin of the name itself is singular, but very significant. The tempest begins with the wind blowing steadily for some time from one point of the compass, mostly from the north, and then shifts round from point to point, until the full circuit of the compass has been made; when, having regained the starting point, the havoc begins, and continues until it seems as though everything must be swept away. The natives watch this circling of the wind with intense interest and anxiety, and as it is seen that the entire circuit will be completed, the cry arises, O le a fā ('it will be the four'), i.e. all four points of the compass will have been blown from; and this having been realized, they rush in all directions to endeavour to secure their houses and property from destruction. Sometimes their efforts are successful, at other times futile, as all is swept away and the terrified natives see the results of months of toil, and at times the growth of years, laid waste in an hour. Thus it has come to pass, that the cry, O le a fā, page 41'it will be the four,' has become a cry fraught with terror and alarm.
It was this terrible afā, or 'circle of the cyclone,' that commuted such havoc amongst the war-ships of America and Germany on March 16, 1889, when the wrecks of six vessels of those nations, and a number of merchantmen lay scattered on the reefs and shores of Apia harbour. At the same time, the incident exhibited in a wonderful manner the marvellous skill and courage, as well as trust and confidence of the British sailor, when the commander of the Calliopè forced his vessel out into the open sea in the very face of such a hurricane, where he safely braved the tempest, and, as the result of his wise forethought, and the wonderful courage and seamanship of himself and crew, saved his vessel, after having braved what seemed to be certain destruction.
Waterspouts and whirlwinds sometimes occur outside of the reef; and thunderstorms are frequent. During the earlier years of my residence on the islands, at Falelatai, thunderstorms were frequent and severe. Cocoa-nut palms were often struck by the lightning, leaving nothing but a blackened pole to mark the site of the once beautiful palm.
Earthquakes were frequent, and sometimes severe; becoming more violent and frequent during the last two or three years of my residence in Samoa. Two shocks were usually experienced; the second always the most severe. On one occasion, July 1, 1845, two severe shocks were felt; one in the morning, the other later in the day; the last shock being accompanied and preceded for some hours by loud subterranean noises at the back of Faleata and Apia, on . The natives of the former place page 42were greatly alarmed at these noises, and feared some dreadful catastrophe was about to happen. Similar noises had not been heard for more than fifteen years; prior to which time they are said to have been frequent.
Sept. 13. Earthquake at 10.45 p.m. Slight. Sept. 34. Earthquake at 2 p.m. Slight. Oct. 4. Earthquake at 3 p.m. Moderate. Oct. 20. Earthquake at 4 a.m. Slight. Feb. 8. Earthquake at 4.15 p.m. Very sharp. Feb. 12. Earthquake early in the morning. Slight.
The last six months (though including a great part of the windy season) have been unusually dry and mild. With the exception of a day or two about the middle of December, and the last week in February, which was very stormy, we have had almost uninterrupted fine weather.
The above table gives the dates of earthquakes which occurred during the years of 1845 and 1846. They were common in every year, but varied in intensity. At times very slight; at other times alarming.
Whilst residing on the north-west of , I frequently heard a very singular submarine noise, that in its stifled sound resembled distant thunder, but which always seemed to come up from under the reef. It was repeated at intervals of a few minutes, and continued at times for hours together. There was something most uncanny and ominous in the sound, that seemed to warn one of impending danger, and tell of restless working of hidden submarine forces, so that it was impossible to hear the noises without feeling a certain sense of insecurity and alarm. It always occurred on hot, sultry days, and ever seemed a most uncanny monitor. It was called by the natives, O le-ta-tu-a-lalo, 'the striking below,' and always seemed to be regarded by them with a certain sense of awe and wonderment.page 43
A paragraph in the Melbourne Argus, of November 19, 1862, announced that three reefs had been discovered amongst the Friendly Islands of the Pacific. Two were discovered by Her Majesty's sloop of war, Pelorus, and the other by a whaler. The sea, it was said, is quite warm in the neighbourhood of the reefs, and is sometimes like a boiling cauldron, which proves subterranean fires are near.
Again, in 1867, the late J. C. Williams, Esq., then British Consul at Apia, Samoa, reported to the British Foreign Office that, on September 5 of that year, a submarine volcano had broken out in the ocean, about two miles from Olosenga, one of the most easterly of the Samoan group, which occasioned great submarine disturbance.
On April 5, 1874, Captain McKenzie observed what he thought was a submarine volcano, in a state of activity, when about midway between Habai and Tonga, still telling of submarine unrest in those regions: whilst on December 18, 1894, the captain of the Meg Merrilees, on reaching Tonga, reported having passed Falcon Island, thrown up by a volcano a few years before, and states, 'that it is not so high as when first thrown up, but that volcanic force is still active in the seas around.'