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Old Samoa or Flotsam and Jetsam from the Pacific Ocean

Chapter X — Samoan Wars and Warfare

page 242

Chapter X
Samoan Wars and Warfare

Wars amongst the Samoans were for a long time frequent and bloody; indeed, it was seldom that the islands were free from actual warfare or local quarrels, which were often decided by an appeal to arms. It was so in the olden times, and a remarkable statement in an old tradition reveals very strikingly the warlike sentiment. The Samoans in the early days were great navigators and colonizers, so that many long and distant voyages were undertaken by them to various parts of the Pacific. In a very interesting account of the voyage of the Te Arawa and Tainui canoes from Hawaiki (Savaii, Samoa) to New Zealand, as given in the Polynesian Journal, we read, 'When the Tainui and Arawa canoes were ready to start from Hawaiki, from the beach of Whenua Kura, it was arranged that, on account of the infirmity of Tuamatua, his son Howmaitawiti should go to the beach and say farewell to the voyagers, and give them his own and their grandfather's blessing, which he did in the following words: "O my sons, greeting! proceed on your way. When you arrive at the land to which you are going, be steadfast. In indolence there are all kinds of death. Rather hold by war, in which is page 243glory and honourable death."' Such being the sentiments of the old Samoan, no wonder that their descendants were addicted to war and bloodshed, and that death on the battle-field should be accounted to be 'honourable and glorious.'

Speaking of the Samoans as he found them in 1830, John Williams says, 'The wars of the Samoans were frequent and destructive…. The island of Apolima was the natural fortress of the people of Manono, a small but important island. These people, although ignorant of the art of writing, kept an account of the number of battles they had fought, by depositing a stone of a peculiar form in a basket, which was very carefully fastened to the ridge of a sacred house appropriated to that purpose. This basket was let down, and the stones were counted whilst I was there, and the number was one hundred and twenty-seven, showing that they had fought that number of battles.' And this was the list for one portion of the islands only! In this record, too, a stone was not placed after every conflict or battle, but simply at the close of each struggle or campaign, the stones being larger or smaller according to the duration of the conflict

Many years after Mr. Williams's visit I was enabled to purchase this basket and take it to England, where I placed it in the museum of the London Missionary Society. It was very old, and had been cherished with great reverence and care; but some of the stones were absent, several having been placed on the graves of deceased warriors. Two stones in particular attracted my attention. They were larger than the others, and when I obtained them were worn quite smooth and page 244polished by the frequent handling of admiring visitors, who came to gaze upon these silent but well-known records of bygone days. The two stones that excited so much interest were the records of two famous wars.

Formerly the only arms used by the Samoans were clubs, axes, spears, and slings, but of late years firearms have been introduced, and generally adopted throughout the islands, whilst iron axes and knives have quite superseded the old stone axes and adzes. Clubs, spears, and slings are still used in warfare.

samoan clubs and spear.

samoan clubs and spear.

The sling was always considered a very formidable weapon, and old warriors have repeatedly assured me that a wound from a stone hurled from a sling and thrown with force was often much worse than one received from a musket-ball. If a stone struck the arm or leg, it was difficult to heal, since the bone was usually smashed to pieces, and caused much suffering.

Wars originated from various causes, sometimes the most trivial. Amongst others were bad language, irritating songs, jealousy, quarrels relating to women, murders, political rivalry, and, in addition to these, old page 245feuds, which frequently needed but the merest trifle to fan them into a flame. The pride of many chiefs was also a fruitful source of war and bloodshed, which evils were not simply occasioned by their intrigues to gain power, but also in some instances from a desire to have their name associated in the recollection of posterity with a war; it being the custom to enshrine the names of those more particularly connected with a war in the record of it.

When war was declared, messengers were dispatched in various directions to summon allies, who were requested to assemble at a given rallying-point on a certain day. If the war was between two districts, it commenced immediately, and even when more extensive operations were contemplated a small force often made a raid upon some portion of the enemy's territory without waiting for all the forces to assemble. Much effort was also made by both parties to strengthen themselves by fresh alliances, and in attempts to draw away forces from their opponents' allies. The assembled warriors were accustomed to hold a review and sham fight, at which time the various chiefs assembled to divide the battle, i.e. to appoint the post of duty to the different bands of warriors, and otherwise make arrangements for the battle.

Both sea and land forces were employed in combat, either separately or in combination. At times a division of a fleet of canoes was employed to make a sudden descent upon some portion of the enemy's territory, and having ravaged it, speedily to decamp, such attacks being usually made about daybreak. Sea-fights were often bloody and destructive encounters. At such times a picked warrior stood upon the tau, or front part of the page 246canoe, whose place was quickly supplied by another if he fell. As the fleets were approaching each other, the attention of the various crews was principally directed to the management of their canoes, whilst the warriors on the front part of each canoe strove to spear the helmsman of the canoe they were opposing. When the fleets neared each other the canoes often became locked, and then followed a desperate hand-to-hand encounter. If the canoes were not entangled, most of the crews were at times more or less able to engage in the combat, leaving some of their number free to take charge of the canoes, and fill up the place of the helmsman in case he fell; but it was most important that the whole crew should not neglect the canoe, as if upset but few, if any, could be saved.

In the arrangement of the land forces certain districts always claimed the privilege of being the mua au, or advanced guard on the march, and they were very jealous of any attempt to supplant them. In A'ana the warriors were divided into main road and bush warriors, the army consisting of a centre, and right and left wings. The centre usually kept the main pathway with a wing on either side, but if the road skirted the beach there was only one wing, and unless a fleet acted in cooperation one side was left exposed, or rather the centre engaged the fleet of the enemy if required Ambuscades and various stratagems were used by the different parties, but severely contested battles were often fought in open situations.

Before a regular attack commenced a parley took place between the hostile parties, when formal speeches were delivered on either side, at the close of which one page 247of the speakers proposed that they should trample the greensward, after which a spear was thrown as a signal for a general onslaught. One portion of trampling the sward consisted of single combats between chosen champions selected from either side, thus reminding us of the Hebrew custom, as when Abner said to Joab, 'Let the young men now arise, and play before us1.

The onslaught was usually desperate, and the battlefield obstinately contested on both sides, much carnage being the result. In all conflicts revenge seemed to be the ruling passion; hence blood was shed without remorse, captives not being so much thought of as slaughter.

Before an engagement the women and children, with old and infirm people, were always conveyed to a place of safety, called an olo; and on either side being vanquished, the conquering party made a rush to overpower the guard left in charge of the camp, and thus wreak their vengeance on the helpless creatures who might fall into their hands. Thus, in case the enemy succeeded in surprising the camp before the inmates had time to escape, the captives were slaughtered without mercy by the conquerors, unless they were women they chose to carry off to their families, or individuals saved by their friends. Sometimes information was conveyed to the olo in time to allow the inmates to scatter themselves through the forest; but this often proved of little value, as they were soon pursued and captured, and if they did escape for a time it was but to endure protracted misery from famine and constant anxiety. The refugees, as well as the vanquished warriors, often remained for

1 2 Sam. ii. 14.

page 248weeks together roaming the forests and subsisting upon berries and wild fruit; since, although edible roots were plentiful in many places, the wanderers were unable to cook them, as lighting a fire at once betrayed their hiding-place. Unless they could find shelter in some friendly village, or were taken under the protection of relatives, the fugitives after a time surrendered themselves to the conquerors, preferring to risk their anger and falling by the club or spear of their enemies, rather than perish by the lingering death of starvation or the tortures of suspense.

Sometimes the olo was a cave in which the defeated army sought shelter from their pursuers. If the victors were able to discover the hiding-place of the refugees, they immediately collected firewood and piled it up before the cavern, to smother the wretched captives. I have more than once seen places where such dismal tragedies have been enacted.

A truce was effected between two armies by the opposing parties mutually agreeing to lay between them Nafanua, one of the national war-gods. After this agreement the outposts met and conversed with each other without fear, so sacred was this compact considered. Women of rank were also sometimes allowed to pass freely from camp to camp as mediators or messengers, although no truce had been agreed upon.

The evils of war were many, revenge, jealousy, hatred, and mistrust were fostered, families broken up, and continual insults offered to the conquered party. Their plantations were destroyed, their settlements burnt, and even if permitted to return to their lands they were never safe from insult, their houses being entered with-page 249out notice and plundered at the will of their oppressors. Their wives and daughters were insulted and degraded, and on the occasion of travelling parties visiting the conquered settlement, the inhabitants were made to submit to humiliating insults, persons of rank being compelled to perform the most degrading and menial duties, which they dared not resist. Mere boys from the dominant party were accustomed to affect the airs of their elders, and order old greyheaded men to cook food for them, and in case of refusal an armed party quickly followed, to devastate the settlement and plunder its inhabitants. Sometimes the vanquished were directed to climb cocoanut-trees, gather nuts, and then descend the tree head foremost, holding the nuts—two at a time tied together—between the teeth. On other occasions they were compelled to dive for poisonous fish, and having found them, to throw them into the air and catch them in their hands, which were pierced with their sharp poisonous spines, and great agony occasioned. They were also compelled to bite poisonous roots that produced intense pain, causing the mouth to swell greatly. It was useless to refuse to submit to these indignities, a severe beating or cudgelling being certain to follow a refusal, or even any expressed reluctance to submit to this tyranny.

The slain on the battle-field were treated with much indignity. The heads of the vanquished were cut off and carried in triumph, and these, as well as the bodies of the slain, were taken to the settlements in proof of their prowess by either party, unless one party were crushed. These heads and headless bodies were afterwards given over to the children for further insult, who page 250were accustomed to drag them about the settlements in triumph, and then to spear, stone, or mutilate them still further, as they might choose.

A few remarks respecting the great A'ana war of 1830 may be interesting. It Was brought about by the attempts of the A'ana people to rid themselves of the tyrant Tamafainga, who had usurped the regal authority of the islands, and was also worshipped as a god. I have elsewhere mentioned that for a long, series of years, perhaps ages, the kingly title of O le Tupu was successively held by various members of the Muangututi'a family, and for many generations A'ana had been the royal residence; but after the close of the reign of Safe-o-fafine, the last of the kings belonging to this family, as the result of several reverses in battle A'ana was conquered, and Manono, which had hitherto been simply an ally of A'ana, and known by the name of Tulafale, as a consequence of these victories, rose to power in connexion with Savaii and a portion of Upolu.

It was at this time, I think, that the great war, usually termed O le peinga o-le-Malo, the crushing of the Malo, or ruling party, was fought, and in which I imagine Safe-o-fafine was killed; but of this I am not certain. After the death of this king, however, the title remained unbestowed for a long time, but was eventually obtained by Le Tamafainga, a priest of one of the war-gods of Manono, who after a time presumed to unite the attributes of a god with the kingly office, and became an unscrupulous tyrant. The father of this man had been successful in certain prognostications of victory, and on his death his son succeeded to his office and popularity, which was increased by the after success of Manono in page 251war, until at length the threats and intrigues of himself and party succeeded in obtaining the ao, or titles of the various districts necessary to constitute him a king. Once fairly installed in new power, however, his tyranny increased until nothing Was safe from his grasp. His oppressions became so intolerable that at length a conspiracy was formed for his destruction by the people of Fasito'outa, a district of A'ana, aided by a party of visitors from Tonga who were staying there at the time, the leader of the conspiracy being Tuiumi, a chief of the plotting district. Before this plan could be effectually arranged, however, it became known to the tyrant, who at once prepared for revenge.

After waiting for some little time and having carefully matured his plans, he started with a fleet of canoes and a body of warriors for the purpose of chastising Fasi-to'outa. Proceeding up the south coast of Upolu, and halting as is customary at many places, he circumnavigated the island, so as to approach A'ana from the north side. On reaching the neighbourhood of the devoted district, the party halted for the night at Sale'imoa, intending to make the attack the next day. On that day, however, about midday, Tui-o-le-mounga, the chief of Fasito'otai, the adjoining settlement, came with his warriors and proffered their services to the attacking party; but they, suspecting treachery, declined the assistance. Tamafainga and his warriors then hastened to Faleasi'u, the first settlement on that side of A'ana, but quite unconnected with Fasito'outa, where they killed twenty people, and then proceeded on to Fasito'outa, which they burnt to the ground and destroyed the plantations. After having inflicted this chastisement page 252the attacking party proceeded to Manono, exulting in their success, whilst the people of A'ana sullenly brooded over revenge and 'bided their time.' Meanwhile Fasi-to'outa was rebuilt and its plantations restored.

Time rolled on, and Tamafainga started with a large company to visit the neighbourhood of Laulii, for the purpose of procuring pebbles wherewith to cover fanua-tanu, or paved terrace, built in honour of his newly married wife. The party passed by Fasito'outa and proceeded to Faleasi'u, at which place the twenty people had been killed during an earlier attack, where they halted for the night. Tuiumi and other chiefs of Fasito'outa were on the alert, and suspecting that their wives and daughters would prove too strong an attraction for the tyrant and his company, they began to compass his destruction.

Having carefully matured their plans and armed themselves, Tuiumi and his party proceeded stealthily to the house where the tyrant was, and immediately attacked him. He was wounded by a spear in the side, and rushed out of the house with his company, hoping to make his escape, but he was pursued and speedily dispatched by the clubs of his assailants, his body afterwards being savagely mutilated by his foes. Two of his companions were slain with him, but the bulk of his party were spared, owing to the intercession of Tangatu-o-le-ao, a chief of Falefā, who was halting at the village. The survivors of the Manono party hastened to their canoes, and proceeded at once to Manono, which place they reached at daybreak, and spread consternation amongst the people of the island by the tidings of the massacre.

page 253

The death of this tyrant is stated to have caused nearly universal satisfaction throughout the whole group; but many of the A'ana people, fearful of the consequences which they knew would certainly follow, blamed the act as unwise, whilst the Manono people felt themselves humbled, and with their allies considered themselves bound to avenge the death, although numbers of them secretly rejoiced at his destruction. Within a few hours after the receipt of the intelligence at Manono, a fleet of canoes started with an armed force to fetch the dead body of their priest and chief, who on reaching A'ana, and on beholding the mutilated condition of the corpse, gave way to passionate outbursts of grief. Whilst they were thus occupied Malietoa, a Manono chief, but who usually resided at Sangana, arrived, and upbraided them for their weakness for thus mourning for one who, after all, was only a common man, and who rightly deserved his fate in consequence of his detestable tyranny. This reproof was designedly given within hearing of a large number of A'ana people, who were quiet spectators of the scene. It is, however, easy to see the motive that prompted this politic address. Malietoa himself not long afterwards headed the war against A'ana that arose out of the death of Tamafainga, and there is little doubt that this speech was designedly made by him to soften the anger of A'ana towards himself. He also evidently had his eye on the vacant kingly office, to which he succeeded some years after, so that the motive that prompted the address is not far to seek. It was indeed a bitter pill for the A'ana people to swallow, when later on they were asked to bestow their titles upon the man who had been foremost in their chastisement; but pru-page 254dential motives prevailed, and after a time they bestowed their ao upon him.

No attack was made by either side at this time, but the Manono fleet returned with the mutilated body, and prompt arrangements were made for war. A'ana also was roused to take measures for defence, and great need indeed was there for much effort and courage on her part, since she would soon have to contend with fearful odds - the whole force of Manono, two-thirds of Upolu, as well as large numbers from Savaii being arrayed against her. Worse than all, the people were divided amongst themselves, some from fear of after consequences, others from family connexion, giving either lukewarm support or else, in many cases, joining with Manono. To compensate in some manner for this defection several parties from districts on Savaii and Upolu, where the Manono influence was strong, joined their forces with A'ana, but the number was not large. Fortunately for A'ana a second offer of assistance made to Manono by Tui'olemaunga, the chief of the important district of Fasito'otai, was again rejected by Manono, and thus prevented A'ana from being further weakened.

In the first regular combat that occurred Manono and her allies were defeated, and a party of A'ana warriors stationed at Mulivai, near Fasito'otai, captured the famous war symbol, Limulimu-ta, the emblem of one of the Manono war-gods. After this first encounter A'ana retired inland to their fortress, whilst Manono and her allies, assembling in great force, possessed themselves of the coast, and made their head-quarters at Fasito'otai.

From this time onward the war continued with various successes on either side, but with great slaughter, until, page 255having bravely withstood the forces brought against them for twelve months, the A'ana warriors were at last overcome by numbers and compelled to surrender. During the war they had wisely spared the captives they had taken from any of the Atua forces, and thus a retreat was secured for many who took refuge there and were safe. Others sought the protection of friends and relatives in other districts, but great numbers of the vanquished were compelled to make submission after long suffering the hardships of famine and exile. Prodigies of valour had been achieved by many of the A'ana warriors, which in some measure made up for the smallness of their numbers; but this only exasperated the conquerors, and caused them to act with unwonted brutality towards the unfortunate captives who fell into their hands. The scene of many a bloody conflict was afterwards pointed out to me in connexion with this war, and many a sad tale of woe was described to me by parties who were engaged in it.

After this conflict A'ana was not able to make another stand, and the survivors fled in all directions, as did also the women and children and infirm people, who had hitherto remained in security within the encampment, but now having no protectors they were compelled to betake themselves to the recesses of the forest, or seek shelter in caverns or other hiding-places. But in vain were their efforts to escape, since the bloodhounds who pursued them caught men, women, and children, and having taken them down to the seashore, prepared to close the horrible struggle by burning their captives.

On the evening of the day on which the final battle was fought an immense pit was dug at Maota, a suburb page 256of Fasito'otai, in which a large quantity of timber and firewood was heaped, thus forming a huge funeral pile, into which many scores of helpless children, women, and aged persons were thrown successively and burnt to death. This dreadful butchery was continued during one or two days and nights, fresh timber being heaped on from time to time, as it was with difficulty that the fire could be kept burning from the number of victims who were ruthlessly sacrificed there. The Rev. S. Ella assures me that he was told in after years that four hundred victims were burnt there in that fearful sacrifice to revenge.

The captives from Fasito'otai were selected for the first offerings, and after them followed others in quick succession, night and day, early and late, until the last wretched victim had been consumed. Most heartrending were the descriptions I received from persons who had actually looked on the fearful scenes enacted there. Innocent children skipped joyfully along the pathway by the side of their conductors and murderers, deceived with the cruel lie that they were to be spared, and were then on their way to bathe; when suddenly the blazing pile, with the horrid sight of their companions and friends being thrown alive into its midst, told them the dreadful truth; whilst their terror was increased by the yells of savage triumph of the murderers, or fearful cries of the tortured victims which reached their ears.

For many years the remembrance of those fatal days were fresh in the hearts of those who dwelt near the spot, whilst, the Tito, or place itself, was reverently marked and cared for. Some ten or twelve years after I resided near the spot, and often visited it and spoke of page 257its horrors with many who had been familiar with them. The place itself is dear to many, and lovingly cared for by those who dwell near. No stone monument or pillar of remembrance marks the spot; still, it has its
messenger of peace.

messenger of peace.

plain but significant reminder in the shape of a large black circle of charcoal, its interior, covered with white sand, being carefully kept and replenished as often as needed by those whose hearts still sorrowed over the page 258sufferings of the Tito, and could rejoice that they had passed away.

The late Rev. John Williams arrived at Savaii in the Messenger of Peace in August, 1830, and anchored there in full view of these dreadful fires and burnings on the shores of A'ana, on the opposite side of the straits, some thirty miles across. Speaking of the terrible scenes he then witnessed, he says: 'While we were engaged in lading the canoes to land the teachers, our attention was arrested by observing the mountains on the opposite side of the straits enveloped in flames and smoke; and when we inquired the cause of it, we were informed that a great battle had been fought that morning, and that the flames which we saw were consuming the houses, the plantations, and the bodies of women and children and infirm people who had fallen into the hands of the conquerors. Thus, whilst we were landing the messengers of the gospel of peace on the one shore, the flames of a devastating war were blazing on the opposite shore; and under such circumstances was this mission commenced1.'