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An Account of Samoan History up to 1918

Samoa Today

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Samoa Today.

At birth all humans are but undifferentiated lumps of protoplasm and the degree of intelligence to which they will attain depends on their teachers and the extent to which they accommodate themselves to their environment.

The Samoans are no exception to this law and before we can evolve a system of governing them we must thoroughly understand their degree of intelligence and how they view these controlling them. As a result of this study it was discovered that the Samoan is a type that can be guided but not driven and this fact should not be lost sight of.

In 1900, the Samoans with reservations spoken and otherwise, agreed that a European Power would be their Protector, not as is generally understood, their Ruler. To them this incident was an act of pedestalizing the European Power and they did not view the pact as mere ethical (sic) advertising. They were willing to accord to a Foreigner, the control of their destiny, but they did not intend or understand that they should be deprived of the full and free exercise of their individual and collective rights as Samoans or be prohibited from indulging to the full those activities which as Samoans they believed to be conducive to the greatest happiness for them. They were inclined to view the Government over them more as an individual and the Governor was to them both Governor and Government. This viewpoint no doubt arose from their social system in which the family is controlled and guided as well as cared for by the Matai or patriarchal head and the European Governor assumed a similar position for the whole country. He was their “Tamā” or father in the sense that he was their guide and protector.

Granted that the Samoans believe that the individual in power over him, whether he be Governor, father, matai, is of good heart and wishes to guide and assist and not oppress and they accordingly put their faith in him, they will obey and grant to their controller far more authority and obedience than will be accorded by a civilised nation to its statesmen. On the contrary, should they hold the belief that their Head has not their interests at heart and wishes to rule on the order of the “big stick” it will then be made evident that the Samoan cannot be driven.

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The first aim of any Governor, Government, Official or anyone concerned in the civilising of the Samoans should be to win this confidence and without going into details it may be expressed that the best manner in which this can be brought about is for one & all to live in such a style that the Samoan is compelled to put his faith in those responsible for his welfare. Dishonest words and acts, laziness, immorality, vacillation, drunkenness, lack of interest in the natives have been and are the underlying cause of most of the native troubles with the European Governments and the Samoan believes that all Europeans are the same because he has been forced to recognise that probably 75% of the Government officials that he has had to deal with over many years are mentally, morally and physically of the class that we in our own European countries do not and would not permit to exercise control over ourselves.

As previously mentioned the Samoans conception of a Governor is that of Father, Guide, Philosopher Friend and Benefactor and when they place their confidence in such a man it is very unwise for higher authorities to restrict his authority and to hamper his actions with a maze of red tape and European conceived laws that are not understood, not wanted and invariably lead to distrust. Provided the Samoans trust their Governor, is it asking too much that the Governor should be trusted by his immediate Government? Should the Governor be irresolute, weak and easily lead, the Samoans will quickly discover it and their subsequent actions will indicate clearly when exercise of authority by the home Government is necessary.

It is of paramount importance that the habits, customs, language and other characteristics of the Samoans must be thoroughly studied and that the study must be facilitated by choosing only those men for the work who have an interest in the subject and in the Samoans and by allowing them every opportunity of thoroughly mastering the difficulties that the Samoans present. What may be termed the three “I's” should not be tolerated for a moment -Intemperance-Immorality and Incompetence.

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The opinion has often been expressed by those who should know better that it is not necessary for those officials in whom authority has been vested and who have the handling of native matters, to understand the customs and the language of the Samoans. It would be just as reasonable to state that it is not necessary for a carpenter to understand how to drive a nail or saw a length of wood. Many of our troubles have arisen through this lack of knowledge and one has only to listen to the hash that is made of instructions both to and from Government officials when dealing with the natives to readily understand the necessity for not only a knowledge of the language but a thorough one at that.

As our understanding of the Samoan character and of his aims, improves, we will find it possible by degrees to eliminate what is bad at the same time retaining all that is good for we must remember at all times that we are legislating for the Samoan and not for ourselves and what we may wish to impose or disregard may not be either to the ultimate good of the Samoan or to his liking. When we have thoroughly grasped what the Samoan regards as sacred and what profane, to what he is deeply attached, what he thinks is foolish and what wise, what he believes to be good and what bad, what he considers important and what trifling: when we understand all these things we will be in a position to answer his logic and until we can answer it we are but attempting something on the line of a fantastic rejuvenator that does not cause even a ripple of excitement to the Samoan. An unfortunate proportion of the Officials in Samoa will always be at loggerheads with the natives because they do not and apparently cannot accommodate themselves to the circle of thoughts of the Samoans. To them the natives are merely “damned niggers” and it is this class of official who should be immediately eliminated. Some little time back serious trouble threatened at Leulumoega because a common Samoan had given a turtle shell as a present to a half-caste: a fight occurred in a village because one of the baskets of food given at a Taalolo was found to be filled with stones. Two important families in a village are at loggerheads and have been for years because of their inability to decide which girl is entitled to wear the head dress at a dance. page 4 Those officials who regard these things as childish and not worth study had better stay in their native country; they will never understand the Samoan nor he them.

The paychology of the Samoans is even more difficult to understand than their personal habits: their standards are not ours. Even the more intelligent and those holding high positions have no scruples about telling lies and they will indulge in the apparently most childish tricks to gain something from either their own people or the Government. Forging of signatures to documents, petty larceny, perjury and bearing false witness are of every day occurrence. To swear in a Samoan in the sense that we understand taking an oath is a mere waste of time. They simply do not understand what an oath is and in matters concerning themselves and their families a lie is permissable and is accepted as a part of their social system: in many instances it becomes a duty to tell a falsehood. The Samoan also cannot understand that a European Judge would feel embarrassed were he called upon to deliver judgment in matters concerning his own family. The Samoan if acting as a Judge would feel compelled to assist his own kin even though it were contrary to his judicial convictions. They do not understand niggardliness and the excuse that times are bad and the Government must curtail its expenditure is viewed by them merely as a lie to escape ones duty. It is of little use despising the Samoan for telling lies, punishing him when found guilty of perjury, regard him as a swindler or forger when he signs another's name to a document or becoming filled with indignation when he does not measure up to our standard of morals. We should understand that the Samoan has a different way of viewing conditions and must be treated in a different manner. It is preposterous to attempt to apply our criminal and civil laws to the Samoans and it is only those whose experience of and contact with the Samoans has been very limited who will advocate doing so. The Governor of the country as their “Father” should and must have the power to administer justice that fits in with the natives' idea of things and to limit his actions by surrounding him with a maze of red tape and European laws will inevitably end in chaos, distrust, dislike and even open page 5 rebellion such as we have today. A Governor who understands the Samoans and has much tact can manage them without laws but without this tact and understanding they cannot be handled even with and by the best code of European law.

The Samoans' idea of law and justice should be studied and thoroughly understood as this understanding is of paramount importance when dealing with Land and Titles cases which comprise possibly 90 of disputes in this country.

The importance of realising that the Governor of Samoa should be both Governor and Government, Friend and Leader and one in whom the Samoans can place their whole confidence will be better understood when it is recognised that throughout the history of these Islands the Samoans have never had a King in the sense that he was a single ruler. Their system of life made it impossible for them to either give to or to trust/one individual the supreme position of being their ruler. For them to give their undivided allegiance to one man and he a European they must feel that this individual is not what their own so called Kings were usurpers of authority for as long as they could hold their position.

There is a mistaken idea current that Samoa was a Kingdom. The Samoan word for King is “Tupu” but the word was not synonymous with our understanding of it. They have never had a King ruling over them such as Tubou of Tonga. When it happened that the high titles of Tui-Atua, Tui-Aana etc were conferred on one individual chief he was then called “Tupu” but he did not have the power to make laws for the whole of the country or to meddle in the administration of the various districts. He was granted some privileges and was entitled to contributions of food and fine mats. His power to hold the titles was dependent on his personality and any control he exercised was by his own efforts as a usurper. He was also greatly dependent on the goodwill of what was known as the Tumua and Pule who were a body of Orators who had combined and formed a loose federation of Samoa with the exception of Manono and this body had the control of the high titles. The German Government abolished the title “Tupu” and substituted the title “Alii Sili” or “Highest page 6 chief.” The first “Alili Sili” under the German regime was Matasfa a venerable old chief of the Tupua line. He was a typical Samoan gentleman of the old school albeit he was not above forging signatures and telling the most patent falsehoods. His successor to the title Mataafa who is at present a “Fautua” or adviser to the Governor is not even a shadow of the former holder.

The German Government was very particular as to the character and ability of the officials sent out to Samoa and any acts that lowered the prestige of the Government in the eyes of the Samoans were invariably met by dismissal of the offender or at least his return to Germany. The Samoans were taught both by word and act that the Governor was the supreme head of the country and as such must be accorded the respect that would have been shown to one of their own class had he been in supreme control of their destiny. It was clearly impressed on them all, even their highest chiefs, that the Governor and his officials were their leaders and as such must take precedence in all matters or functions. Even Malieton and Mataafa were not allowed to sit alongside the Governor but could takeup a position immediately behind him. The Governor well knew that to even place them alongside of himself would be tantamount in their eyes to admitting that they were his equals, and this would inevitably lead to loss of prestige and undue familiarity. To those who may perhaps be apt to criticise this attitude it is suggested that a little of the calcium light of understanding would show the wisdom of the German method. The Samoans were also taught to lift their hats when meeting with a Government Official and they invariably did so.

It should also be remembered that the Government Administration following the German method of thoroughness had and did plan for fifty years ahead and in this planning the slow evolution of the Samoan was taken heed of. Their first aim was to teach the Samoan that before he could govern himself or lift himself out of the primitive state of his development, he must learn to be disciplined and the surest method of bringing this about was to teach him respect for Government authority. page 7 with this object in view the Berlin authorities were careful to send none but capable and reliable men and they were not hedged in with a lot of red tape nor did they have to refer to Germany before they dared buy a lead pencil or put a new lock on a door. Difficulties were met on the spot as they arose.

It is not desired to hold up the German methods of administration as a model at the expense of any other country but merely to emphasise that it is utterly hopeless to expect sound government of the Samoans whilst we have a complete lack of policy, an absolute absence of men who understand either the language or the customs of the people, a staff who have no interest in their work because they are only here for two years and are chosen without regard to their suitability for the work and whilst the Governor of the territory is shorn of all authority and merely carries out instructions received from people in Wellington who know no more of Native administration than an Eskimo knows of Einstein's Relativity Theory. At the present time this farce is being enacted on the Samoan stage daily, and there is not a smile where guffaws should be the only logical sequence. After turning, twisting and contorting and being kept awake by the clock of history whose erstwhile silvery notes have changed into anvil choruses played by the Devil himself, the authorities have finally lost consciousness in a fitful sleep of despair and frenzy which lasts for a short time only to be broken by further insistent choruses of unrest. To those who believe that Samoa is not worth while one can but refer them to Ruskin who declared “Greatness of mind is not shown by admitting small things, but by making small things great under its influence. He who can take no interest in what is small will take false interest in what is great.”

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Is it that our authorities have been merely playing, dreaming and building castles in the air and living in a state of self-hypnotism until their faculties are all dulled? The foregoing query is raised on recognising that conditions in Samoa today are probably worse from every aspect that they have been since the first taking over by Gemany in 1900. Morally, socially and financially the people both European and native have retrogressed and as there can be no effect without a cause it is interesting to endeavour to find the cause. When understanding is cultivated it stimulates inquiry and investigation and these are followed by imagination and meditation which are two qualities necessary for mental growth either in the individual or the community.

When New Zealand took over the control of Samoa in 1914 they found a well ordered Government controlled by men of tact, learning and experience, particularly experience in the ways of the aboriginals of Samoa. These men were relieved of their positions and were replaced by New Zealand military men who probably had not heard of Samoa before they landed in the country. War brings unnatural conditions and restraint is slack and one has no argument about the many apparently foolish things that were doing during the military occupation. Similar conditions arose in many other countries during the war and were accepted as necessary evils.

As soon as it became evident that Samoa would not be handed back to Germany but to that/New Zealand would be passed the control of the Islands, one would have thought that those in authority in New Zealand would have immediately begun to cast about for the best men to to replace those German officials who were so efficient. Those officials from New Zealand who had acted in civil capacities during the war were undeniably of the worst possible class and their removal should have been immediately brought about. Some of them returned to their native country but a number remained on and their ultimate dismissal or removal was usually because of some outstanding foolishness. The first act after the signing of the Peace Treaty was for the New Zealand Government to commence drafting “An Act” or constitution for Samoa. Very little, if any, effort was made to page 9 ascertain beforehand the necessity for such a constitution or the vital requirements of such an “Act” if decided upon. Those who were responsible for the work had practically no knowledge of the country or of the Natives thereof and although one or two of them had resided for a short time in the territory they had no more understanding of the effects of the laws they were drafting than if they had never been been in the country. Much of the “Samoa Act” is merely a repetition of the laws governing the Cook Islands and the drafters of the Samoa Act seem to have believed that the same laws could be made to govern very dissimilar people. Even a casual perusal of the Samoa Act backed by a slight understanding of the Samoans will quickly show that half of it could have been left out and there would have then been fifty per cent too much in it. An effort was apparently made to cover every crime and civil breach that could be committed in a European country with little regard for local conditions and a primitive people. The obvious or at least one obvious result was the glaring failure of the “AcT to be sufficient to cover conditions that applied in Samoa and the inevitable result was that endless Ordiances and Orders in Council were and are being passed making a bewildering array of contradictions, inoperative measures and repeals that only serve to incite and render more stubborn both the Europeans and the natives. It may be asked why should such a position arise, and the answer is that so long as incapable officials, untrained and unappreciative of local requirements are sent to Samoa or have authority vested in them in New Zealand, so long will Samoa be but a hobby horse to be ridden by every mentally underweight jockey who can manage to grasp the reins of authority if even for a brief spell.

It is a truism that we must go to “Experience” for our education or to those who have proved things and have held fast to the truth. The New Zealand Government would seem to have gone to ignorance and conceit as its tutors and as effect follows cause we need express no surprise that the effect has been disastrous. page 10 Since New Zealand took over the reins of Government in Samoa there have been employed approximately 500 Civil Servants and their service has varied from one month to seventeen years. Is it not a startling admission of failure that not one solitary official can speak the language of the country, not one understands the customs of the people or has any more interest in his occupation than that it is a “job.” Possibly three or four have tried to make themselves conversant with their work and are making headway but their efforts are not appreciated and nothing is done to assist them. Any study they do is done in their own time and at their own expense. When new officials from New Zealand are appointed they are sadly misinformed as to conditions in Samoa and on arrival invariably have many heartburns and arguments with the local authorities. They are usually advised that accommodation will be provided for them and that a furnished house awaits occupation by married men and their wives. On arrival they are fortunate if there is a house of any description available and if so it is usually not fit for habitation and frequently is devoid of furniture for some time after arrival. The rent charged, too, is invariably more than was advised them and altogether a false impression was given these officials by Headquarters in New Zealand. The first impression gained by new arrivals is not calculated to make them enamoured of their new position but more is to come. Before long it is found that all sorts of petty restrictions are placed on them and privileges curtailed. If they remain sufficiently long in the Service to be entitled to furlough they discover at the last minute that they must travel on a particular vessel to a particular port in New Zealand at a particular time or they will not be granted a free passage. Anyone wishing to go to Australia or further afield must forfeit the amount of his passage to New Zealand and also his return passage to Samoa unless he returns via New Zealand. This is just one instance of the pin pricks that are continually being invented to render dissatisfied the officials in Samoa. There are endless others and the Service is being filled with a class of men who should never have been allowed to come to the country. The right page 11 class will not come. Another factor rendering impossible the improvement of the Service is that appointees are sent to Samoa for two years only, and they then return to New Zealand where anything they have learned is of no value. The majority of those coming to Samoa at the present time are mere youths to whom the idea of a short sojourn in the Tropics at the Government's expense is is an appealing one. For the first year they are of little service to the Government or the country and the second year of their residence is passed having a good time and looking forward to their return, and so it goes on. Quite a large proportion of them develop questionable habits, discipline is practically nonexistent, and I do not know of one who has endeavoured to study either the language or the customs of the Samoans. It is also strikingly evident that the capacity to work of the young lads sent to Samoa alarmingly small and each one seems to be imbued with the idea that he has been specially chosen for the work and must accordingly do as little as possible in the longest possible time. Such conduct as punctuality, sobriety, exactness in work, making oneself an example for the natives, seems to be hardly worth mentioning as such characteristics are very nearly non visible. Dancing parties, card parties and picnics at which undue amounts of liquor are consumed are apparently in order and a mild rebuke that such activities are not calculated to impress the Samoans with out superiority brand one as a kill joy. So much for the younger members of the Service. Unfortunately those holding higher positions have not and do not set either the younger members of the Service or the Samoana a desirable example. An observant educated Englishman who was in Samoa some while back remarked that apparently New Zealand had gathered up all the incompetents and sexpperverts that she could and sent them to Samoa as Civil Servants. The remark was possibly exaggerated but has a large foundation of truth. It is difficult to imagine an official holding a high position in the Government of a British country taking of his boots and dancing with half clad native women in a native house near a public road or playing poker with a convicted thief who was a Samoan: or dancing Maori Haaka's on the deck of a steamer in the harbour. page 12 What other administration would tolerate one of the highest of its officials conducting a gambling school attended by mahy of the executive of the service? Is there any excuse for allowing frequent drunkenness amongst the officials with its attendant foolish acts even in working hours. One has only to remember the number of sexual perverts who have been Government officials to realise that due care has not been exercised in the choice of men to fill official positions. Laws to restrain outlaws are only made to be broken and laws of temperance are ineffectual: they only palliate. It is necessary to select men who have learned to discipline themselves and then we will hear no more of complaints against the Government officials insofar as theirmorals are concerned. Behaviour unbecoming a white man in a tropical country will not and cannot be outlawed by regulations and the only thing that will save the service is intrinsic service. Because custom and convention in the tropics does not always find fault a number assume that their conduct must be quite correct but the thought that Tropical convention, as far as Samoa is concerned, is of a low standard has never occurred to them.

In conclusion: if the New Zealand Government desires to regain the confidence of both the Samoans and the Europeans an immediate step must be taken to force the respect of the peoples of these Islands by employing none but the best men available. These men must be employed under strict conditions and have fully explained to them what is required of them. The Government must for their part treat them reasonably with regard to salary and living conditions and not make agreements that they break before the ink is dry. Offenders against a rigid code of behavicur must be immediately relieved of their positions. Should the above be done it will only be necessary to employ half the staff as at present to the advantage both of the country and the officials concerned. It is not too late to repair the damage that has been done but nothing short of a revolution in the methods employed will bring it about.

E.R. 10-6-32.