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An Account of Samoan History up to 1918

The Samoan Village and the subject of its control by the village members

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The Samoan Village and the subject of its control by the village members.

In the Samoan Social System each village is an entity acting for the most part independent of other villages or Individuals. Although each and every person in a given village is related more or less closely to people of other villages near and far, each village community legislates for and governs its own activities in an absolute manner without any reference to or consideration for communities beyond its confines.

Originally all villages were founded or established by some chief either as a result of natural expansion, difference of opinion or by instruction of some more powerful chief. The name given to a new village was frequently that of the chief responsible for its founding in which case the prefix “sa” meaning “family of” was added to his name. Other origins of the names were incidents connected with the new village, a peculiarity of the site, reasons for the founding of the village, to commemorate victories and revered names etc. Some examples are quoted: “Leulumoega:” (meaning King's sleeping place:) Nofoalii: (chair or resting place of the King:)Lufilufi: (to divide in proper proportions arid refers to the division of Political Authority in the Atua District. This division is likened to the proportioning of a fish, Fuataga and Tafua are the head, (they belong to Aleipata) Moenono and Iuli of Falefa are the middle portion and Taalo and Ofoia of Falefa are the tail. Moefaauo, Inu, Tusa, Mataafa, Manuo and Faasoa are those who divide the fish. Afega: means a “calling in place” from the fact that it was a village frequently visited for political reasons in past times. A study of place names will afford an important key to the political and sooial history of the Samoans; these place names are and/ important indications of the influence that certain titles and men had in the earlier history of the country.

A generally accepted record amongst the Samoans is that a chief named Piliaau married Sinaletavae the daughter of Tuiaanaletavaetele. They had four sons named Tua, Ana, Saga and Tolufale. These four sons were given the authority over the four districts of Upolu including Manono; and the districts were named Atua (Tua), Aana (Ana), Manono (Tolufale), and Tuamasaga (Tua and Saga).

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Under the overlordship of these four chiefs other chiefs were appointed and allotted lands and founded villages. As time progressed the number of chiefs and villages increased and when the localisation of the villages on the sea shore took place the increase was probably more marked.

Before a Samoan is recognised as an “Elder” or “One entitled to take part in village affairs” he must be created a “Matai” or head of a family or family circle. His elevation to this rank is an outstanding event in his life and is attended with much ceremony. (see article on “The Samoan family.) The appointment solemnised, he becomes a chief or tulafale(orator) and is entitled to take part in the government of his village; he is a village councillor with certain privileges which he is very jealous of. The body of councillors in each village is known as the “Alii and Faipule” and includes chiefs and Orators (Tulafale). The chiefs are the landed gentry and the Tulafale are the spokesmen for the chiefs but the latter class have rather more extended privileges than were originally theirs. None other than the Chiefs and Tulafale may take part in village councils or exeroise rights in the government of a village.

All matters concerning the village community generally, are subjects of discussion at the council meetings and these meetings are termed “fonos”. The fonos are convened by the Orators who notify the Alii of the date and place of the fono and the matters to be discussed. To the European mind these meetings appear to be interminable and frequently the remarks passed irrevalent but it is the Samoan method of arriving at conclusions and one cannot say that the subject or subjects for discussion are not thoroughly ventilated. The decision arrived at is authorative and disregard of the voice of the Council will call down certain and in many instances heavy punishment on the transgressor.

Disputes concerning land and titles, offences against the Samoan code of morals, the erection of a church, the building of a village boat, roads deputations, malagas, entertainments or any activity in which the whole village is concerned is decided by the Alii and Faipule in Council. Matters particularly and peculiarly the page 3 concern of a family are under the control of the matai of that family unless the matai brings a family matter before the Alii and Faipule.

All Council meetings are convened by an Orator of the village who is termed Tu'ua. It is his duty to explain to the assembled Chiefs and Orators the reason for the fono and the matters for discussion. The Tu'ua is usually the highest Orator in the Village. After listening to a fono of Samoans one is inclined to believe that each and every Samoan considers it a duty to add something to the discussion regardless of the value or relivance of his remarks.

There are certain clearly defined rules governing who will speak first at the fono and in what order others will follow, and any attempt to speak out of turn will give rise to disputes and may occasion the premature ending of the fono until the dispute has been settled. Whilst the fono is in session the servants of the assembled Chiefs and Orators are in attendance at the back of the fono fale to minister to their wants.

When a decision has been arrived at the Tu'ua will announce the same to the villagers giving details and instructions where necessary. In some matters of general interest to a village the Tu'ua has the authority to issue instructions without reference to the others in Council. For instance:- if a village is expecting a visitor of importance or visitors, the Tu'ua will announce what varieties of and how much food must be supplied by each matai for the maintenance of the guests and for the various ceremonies that will be performed. The principal orators may also interfere if in their opinion too many sons and daughters of chiefs are wearing the ceremonial head dress at a function.

Should a decision of the Alii and Faipule made in fono be disobeyed, the Tu'ua calls a meeting of the councillors who discuss the matter and the verdict arrived at is announced by the Tu'ua. Before the Europeans began to interfere and interest themselves in the control of village matters it frequently happened that the matter before the fono was the conduct of a member of the village who had sinned against Samoan custom. If the offence was a page 4 serious one the punishment would probably be that the offender was ordered to leave the village and repair to the locality of a member of his aiga in another village. His house and plantation would also be destroyed. For lesser offences the punishment was in proportion and it might be that he was fined a quantity of food stuffs, or merely ordered to leave the village. Any disobedience of this order would quickly bring down on the offender serious punishment even to death and would certainly result in him being seriously manhandled. In some instances the unlucky defendant would be given an hour or so in which to make himself scarce and it was then a race against time with a few mats and some food as the prize. Possibly the most drastic form punishment took without actually and directly occasioning immediate death was for the offender or offenders to be placed in canoes and oast adrift under threat of immediate death should they return to the country. More than one island in the pacific has been peopled in this manner, the unfortunate banishees having managed to reach strange lands. (To 'elau, Gilbert Islands.)

In each district in Samoa there is a village which claims the right to take the lead in important matters which are the concern of the whole district and this right is jealously guarded. These leading villages are: Upolu: Leulumoega (Aana District): Malie and Afega (Tuamasaga District) Lufilufi (Atua District).

Savai'i: Safotulafai: (Faasaleleaga District): Saleaula (Itu-o-tane District) Palauli (Itu-o-Fafine District. (In Savai'i there have of late years been further divisions and at the present time there are three additional ruling villages (Satupaitea: Safotu: Asau.) Should a matter arise that is the concern of the whole district it will be handled by one of the above-mentioned villages or rather by the leaders in the village.

It frequently happens that two villages are interested in a project, in which case each village will hold a fono and appoint one or more of the Alii or Faipule to represent them at discussions relative to the business on foot. Each representative will have the same authority and will certainly claim it. Since the advent of Christianity it often occurs that there are two religious sections in a village and these sections are not united on some village matter. page 5 Serious and prolonged disputes arise and in many cases the projected enterprise is abandoned as unanimity cannot be reached. How similar to our own religious squabbles!

It can reasonably be claimed that under the Samoan Social system each village is a separate and complete unit and can with very little difficulty adjust its own differences and manage its own affairs. No doubt there have been isolated instances of excessively heavy punishment lout when one bears in mind the fact that the Alii and Faipule of the village as rulers, adjudge each case, and their decisions are in keeping with Samoan custom, it would appear that no great fault can be found with the system.

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Governmental interference in the control of villages-to what extent should it be practised?

The subject of European interest and inhibitions in the control of their own affairs and customs by the Samoans has been for many years a source of prolific discussions.

When discussing the control by the Samoans of their daily lives in their villages it should be borne in mind that such control includes and is inextricably bound up with all Samoan custom, for on Samoan oustom is the village life founded.

History records that the initial steps taken by all civilising agencies when they first come into contact with primitive peoples are in the line of attempting to prohibit or mitigate such customs as it is believed are contrary to Christian morality. Unfortunately this attempt also teaches that man is born a degenerate and unless purified by some hocus-pocus en rapport with hypnotic influence, he can never be saved, whatever that means.

Of all the Polynesian peoples the Samoans were possibly the least inclined to cruelty and degenerate practices and the few customs they had that were possibly in need of remodelling were no worse that many European customs that survive down to the present day. It appears that one of the failings of our European civilisation is that we are prone to attempt to force our brand of morality, our ideas of progress, our interpretation of the laws of nature, and our conceptions of life, on primitive peoples without having due regard to the ideas and wishes of our victims. Possibly it may be argued that the European races have been constituted the protectors of these native races and it is with the idea of fulfilling these obligations that they attempt to revise and remodel their system of living. There is in all communities the potentiality for developing along the lines that will bring the greatest happiness, and that potentiality is in conformity with past experiences. The potentiality may not be developed or be developed very slowly but [gap — reason: unclear] in what manner and at what time it will be is closely allied to heredity. Have we as a more advanced race taken into consideration the factors that underlie progress from the native standpoint or have we adopted convention's close fitting mental carapace and unthinkingly decided to page 7 force our ideas and our systems on an unappreciative people? Speculation never ceases and there is no telling to what ends or with what disconcerting regularity the apparently sound theories of the past will be replaced by ideas that now seem ridiculous and it behoves us to move warily when we undertake to root up and out the customs and social system of a people who through many generations have found that their methods are conducive to more happiness than ours as far an they are concerned. To enable us to understand the native viewpoint we must have an “Understanding” of them; a mere knowledge will not suffice. The difference between knowledge and understanding may be likened to the difference between food in the stomach and the same food after digestion and assimilation. The mind is fed knowledge true and false. But unless the knowledge is digested and assimilated it causes mental indigestion and is regurgitated in the form of mental junk, bunk, and all kinds of fallacious teachings. Mental indigestion on the civilisation of the Samoans has filled pages of newspapers, reports and books, but the one vital requirement when dealing with the subject “Poise” has been left out. Poise has been supplanted by egomania, which has become a torch that has and is converting every idea and rumour into a frenzy. An egomaniac enthusiast on the subject of the government of the Samoans becomes a pronounced menace particularly when his mania is in the line of doing in five minutes what mother Nature amused herself with for a thousand years. The egomaniac has a one track mind and when he gets hold of an outstanding, generally accepted, popular belief, he grapples with it and binds it with mental hoops of steel and refuses to entertain any new idea.

Possibly the first organised effort to introduce new ideas and to break down and through the Samoan customs was made by the early Missionaries who introduced European clothing to cover the bodies of the heathen Samoans. They taught that the human body was a disgusting sight and that God had made a mistake when he overlooked clothing their bodies in plus fours at birth. The Trader was waiting cloth in hand behind the Missionary to fulfill the demand he knew would arise. The act of insisting that all natives who had professed Christianity must wear clothing of a fashion set by the Missionaries immediately necessitated the giving up or at least of modifying more than one custom that page 8 did not tend towards race degeneracy. The Samoan was also presented with a new God which materially upset his calculations and on his acceptance of Christianity he found himself in the position of having to conform to a number of regulations that inhibited or rendered difficult the carrying out of his old customs. The Trader too, with an eye open for number one, unconsciously aided and abetted the Missionary in weaning the Samoan away from his age old line of thought and action by presenting to him a new and quicker method of obtaining food, clothing, drink etc. And all these new things again caused the Samoan to attempt to adjust his outlook, his customs, his body and his mind to a foreign method. It will be agreed that where the European methods and customs have tended to ameliorate or remove those native habits that undeniably were detrimental to his progress, some good has been occasioned, but in doing this it is possible that customs that were all in his favour have also been wiped out. It is unfortunate that in dealing with the Polynesian peoples we must recognise that Law and Order or European Governmental control was the third force in the field and much harm had been done to the Natives before Governments were established. Again, before Governments can be operative in the interests of the aboriginals, it is necessary to have a number of trained men to advise and assist. Irreparable harm has been done in many directions through the lack of capable advisers and there has been a hectic chase in the endeavour to find a cure for the multitudinous symptomatology that is manifesting itself in more than one Polynesian Island. The law of increasing toleration would seem to be operating but saturation point will one day be reached and then what? From the year 1822 onward we find that there has been a consistent and persistent effort made to dabble in and interfere with many Samoan customs that had much better have been left alone. Official and non official parties all have tried their hand at it and it was not until Dr Solf took over the reins of Government in 1900 that any serious attention was paid to this question. He has left it on record that he gave the question of endeavouring to change the Samoan customs in order to bring them more into line with European page 9 ideals, serious and long consideration. The result of his thought and investigations was that he became fully convinced that as a race they had nothing to gain by introducing any marked changes and he decided to leave them severely alone except in a few instances where it was not possible for their own welfare to allow a continuation of some of their activities. Sanitation, crimes of violence against the individual or State and similar serious matters were the business of the Government. It was also clearly recognised that the Samoans must first of all indicate a desire to adopt and put into practice the customs of their European overlords, and antecedent to this desire must be advice and example. If having been advised and shown by example, the Samoan still prefers to adhere to his long accustomed and thoroughly understood customs, it would seem that it is a mere waste of time to attempt to graft on to his method of living an unwanted European culture, obviously he will rebel and should he be forced by law to accept the new order it is inevitable that trouble will ensue. It should also be borne in mind when attempting to uproot the firmly established Samoan customs, that the people of these Islands are not entirely to be classified with the aboriginals of other Pacific lands. Such factors as heredity, climate, food supplies and the natural inclinations of the people must obviously rank as important factors in coming to conclusions, and it is quite definite that these factors as applicable to Samoa differ from the conditions obtaining in other Polynesian lands. If it is so destined that evolution in the form of education, example, trade, will cause a change in the desires and lives of the Samoans and ultimately fashion their lives on the European pattern, this should be recognised as a fact and the change left to time to bring about in her own peculiar manner. The old truism about the horse and the water would seem to apply with particular force to the Samoans at the present time.

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The attitude of the German Administration was in keeping with Dr Solf's summing up of the position and this attitude continued until the outbreak of War in 1914. Colonel Logan on taking over the Administration of Samoa on behalf of New Zealand adopted the attitude that his control was a military one and under war conditions; and as far as the natives were concerned he interfered with them even less than Dr Solf had done. During the period of the war and until such time as it was finally settled who should control these Islands, the Samoans were wise enough to remain reasonably quiet. When it was definitely decided that New Zealand would have the governing of Samoa they began to make representations to the authorities in Wellington asking for a greater say in the management in their own affairs. These appeals apparently were understood to embrane control from a European viewpoint but nothing could be further from the truth. They certainly indicated that the Samoans wished to have representation in the government of their country, but they were more concerned that this rightto have a say would include the right to decide whether they would be governed according to Samoan custom or not; in other words they did not desire that their customs should be substituted by European methods of native control without their consent. As a result of their frequent appeals they were given certain and limited powers through their alleged representatives but unfortunately these powers were so inextricably mixed up with non Samoan methods that they were actually an abrogation of Samoan custom. The natives quickly discovered that not only were they not getting back their cherished customs and methods of procedure, but that they were actually much worse off than before they had asked for representation. New Zealand had commendably evinced willingness to assist but her efforts were founded on a lack of understanding of the wishes of the natives, and some of her Orders in Council were actually incensory to the Samoans. Unfortunately some of the laws passed have not been impotent of great harm and their effects have been on the cumulative principal and have proved very obdurate of rectification. Every difficult subject seems to have a language all its own and this appears to be an unfortunate necessity because it obscures the page 12 problem to minds unacquainted with the branch of knowledge in question. On the question of Samoan customs and the administration of these people we have had superior brilliance marked or sandwiched with inexcusable lapses with the Samoan acting as as the material between the sandwiches.

It is believed that the time has now arrived for a careful study of the whole question by the best minds that are available and that all issues excepting the ones of most interest and importance to the Samoans should be excluded. Petty ideas, unfounded beliefs, pipe dreams, maudlin sentimentality: there should be no place for these things in and when deciding on the methods of government best suited to and acceptable by the natives of Samoa. They at least have the moral claim to be allowed to have a voice in formulating laws and making regulations to govern their own lives, particularly where such laws touch upon and are bound up with their natural customs. So long as heterogeneity reigns and definite policies based on consideration of the wishes of these people are lacking, so long will chaos reign.