‘Guardians and Wards’ : (A study of the origins, causes, and the first two years of the Mau in Western Samoa.)
CHAPTER IV — ‘A MATTER OF INTERPRETATION’
‘A MATTER OF INTERPRETATION’
And so the years passed. The fight continued. So much suffering, so many mistakes, so much misunderstanding. Betrayals. And a few real martyrs. Why did it all have to happen that way? Some still argue that it had to be; some, that Nelson was to blame for the whole mess; others, that New Zealand (and Richardson) were at fault; the more ‘scholarly’ prefer to pursue theories of historical determinism and cold-hearted inevitability. “It's all a matter of interpretation, my dear Watson,” Sherlock Holmes might have said, glibly. A matter of interpretation; just that. Examine the evidence. Look at the facts, the shattered pebbles on the beach. Facts? Dates. Names. Numbers. People. Historians. Events. Principles. Themes. Lies. Myths. Propaganda. Shadows. All these? All these add up to interpretation? Where does the truth lie? Is there such a thing? Leave that to the moralists and philosophers. History is for historians. Worry about an interpretation; that's your job. Make a name for yourself. Use the dead, the driftwood of history; they won't haunt you. Shoot down the big guns; they used the dead. Proclaim a ‘revolutionary’ interpretation. What about ‘deliberate’ distortions? Don't worry about those, everyone does it. What's a little twist here and there; the important thing is the writing of ‘original’ history. A lot of history is written as wish-fulfilment, deliberately or otherwise. We have to be compensated for the present, don't we? So why worry. What about being objective? Ha, my friend, objectivity is for astronauts and moon-flights; history is for mortals; and mortals, my friend, are not flawless and objective gods. Mortals are mortals. History is for mortals like you trying to finish page 112 a degree and get more pay to provide for the family. In a way I'm offering you immortality, however impermanent that might be. How? An original interpretation, my friend; you know how professors and intellectuals are. How? They're the historian's public; they read history, and they love ‘originality’. Look at Toynbee, and what's that other bloke's name? You know, the bloke who smoked cigars and lauded Big Ben's virtues? Hitler? No, you clot. CHURCHILL! that's it, Winston Churchill. Well, you know how the professors and ETC immortalised those blokes because they wrote highly ‘original’ and ‘profound’ history. Yes, I see your point but ……… But what? Look, friend, I'm getting tired of your conscience. If I tell you I am your conscience, will you do what I'm telling you to do? No! Damn it, fellow, I AM YOUR CONSCIENCE! And I'm telling you, you're an honest man. If you question my judgment, you question your conscience, your own integrity and honesty. Therefore, by denying me, you're denying your whole past, your mother and father (bless them!) who, so I'm told, put me inside your head. (Or is it your head?). Now you've got me all confused. And when I'm confused I get extremely annoyed; and when I'm angry you won't get any sleep tonight. Get that! NO SLEEP. You'll need Freud when I get through with you! Alright, I'm sorry, alright? You're not angry? No, I'm not angry; its just that you've been very unreasonable. Unreasonable because - well look at what happened to Faust; he was damned or something, after doing what Mephistopheles wanted. Oh, that! Look I'm not asking you to sell your ‘soul’, - whatever that is, - to the devil. I'm only asking you to be reasonable, to be ‘honest’ in the twentieth-century sense of the word; give and take a little. And in what sense is that? Why ask me? Ask the politicians and the intellectuals. Or page 113 the deodorant manufacturers and salesmen. They weild the hydrogen deterrent. They're ‘honest’. And reasonable. Well, if you look at it that way ……. That is the way. Look we studied history, we went to the past of Samoa for sympathy, for instruction. Call it flattery. Or justification, if you like. What we think about the past of Samoa (and its future) is determined by what we are. So why talk about being objective? Do you think the hundred pages or so you've written already were written with complete detachment? With great objectivity? We have recreated the past of Samoa in our own peculiar way. Admit it! Alright, but if I agree to write an interpretation, will you let me write it? I'm no Mephistopheles; just let me correct the grammar. That's all I ask. Promise? Alright, but please take care with your English. I know you're no Hemingway, but that's no excuse for bad spelling and atrocious grammar.
So onto an interpretation. Like the man said, we are the product of our times. Whether the quality of the product is top-grade or not, is not my fault. Well, almost not all my fault.
The origins of the Mau lay in the story of European contact. The Mau, according to Felix Keesing, was ‘essentially’ a manifestation of a culturalpathological condition in Samoan life, product of a long period of conflict, repression, psychological stress, lack of interest and excitement, social disintegration, baulking, and general unbalance and malaise, aggravated after 1924 by sudden official pressure.98 But had Samoan culture disintegrated socially? Had the process of Europeanisation spread beyond Apia and its immediate environs? Had this dynamic force for change undermined or radically changed the power structure of Tumua and Pule and the socio- page 114 political system based on and surrounding this structure? Had it effected major changes in the attitudes and values of the Samoans? Was the yearning for ‘things past’ adequate proof that social disintegration had taken place? Or was this yearning motivated by fear, a concern for what the Samoans imagined they had lost but, in actual fact, had not lost?
The matai system, with its roots entrenched in antiquity, had not decayed by 1926. The authority of Pule and Tumua, in the Samoan world beyond Apia, was still powerful; dominated the loyalty, the thinking and attitudes of most of the population. Old Samoa was very much alive; the chiefly elite, whether part of the Administration or not, were still the real power in Western Samoa. A fact which Richardson failed to realise. Consequently, when most of the chiefly elite rebelled, Richardson's Administration ceased to function.
Christianity had been successfully absorbed into the Samoan system. For instance, the pastor was accorded a social and political position in accordance with custom and tradition. Even methods of collecting and distributing church funds were adapted to the fa'a-Samoa. Instead of praying to ‘gods’, prayers were now to one God. But here ended the difference between the old and the new. The Old Testament was favoured because it was more in harmony with the Samoan past than the New Testament. Christian concepts of political and social equlity were either conveniently forgotten or ignored. By the nineteen-twenties, therefore, Christianity - much to the horror of the missionaries - had been ‘samoanised’ successfully. And Christianity had become a positive force in strengthening traditional Samoan conservatism.
The money economy, while finding favour with younger Samoans in or around Apia, had not deeply affected the attitudes and basic values of the page 115 majority of Samoans. Even Richardson was not markedly successfully in promoting and encouraging the growth of the money economy. If the Samoans laboured on commercial plantations, it was in order to procure money for special things and special occassions, such as paying the medical tax, buying clothes for Children's Sunday and Christmas. Plantation work was not a permanent (or sought after) occupation among the Samoans. Traders geared their trading methods to the Samoan system. Managers of individual trading stations were, like the pastors, accorded positions in accordance with tradition.
No, it would not do to interpret the Mau as a product of ‘social disintegration, baulking, and general unbalance and malaise’.
The Mau, when it came under the control of the Samoan chiefly elite, was a movement very similar to the Mau of Pule, in the methods it employed to enhance the support of the population and in it's objectives. Like the Mau of Pule, it was organised from above by the chiefly elite. Samoan techniques of intrigue and verbal persuasion were revived very effectively. Family (title) connections were used to harness the support of matai connected to the leaders of the Mau. The power of rumour was utilised to its limit. When the Administration threatened the use of force, the Mau melted into the bush; this was an age-old opposition technique. But unlike the Mau of Pule, it was an alliance between the Samoans and the European residents; it was also a ‘national’ movement. The Europeans fashioned the Mau into a semi-modern and unified political movement, showed the Mau legal and constitutional ways of expressing its desire for self-government, page 116 translated and interpreted Samoans grievances into modern legal language.
The Mau was a revolt of Old Samoa against foreign domination, and, therefore, originated in the nineteenth century. It was because of the very fact that Old Samoa was still very much alive, that the Mau proved so powerful and so successful in claiming the allegiance of most of the Samoans. The New Zealanders, through their actions and policies, forced Tumua and Pule to bury their differences and unite.
Some writers have suggested that the Mau was a movement backed and led primarily by the Satupua Family. But in fact, most of the Samalietoa Family were active participants in the Mau.99 Malietoa Tanumafili firmly believed that Nelson started the Mau for personal reasons, but Malietoa did not stop or discourage his Family connections from supporting the Mau; also he did not try to turn them against the Mau.
Nelson did not start the Mau; and he did not lead it because of selfish reasons. Similarly, Richardson did not cause the Mau; he triggered it off. The Mau took place in the minds of the Samoans long before Richardson forced it into the open. The Mau struggle was not a battle between ‘good’ and ‘evil’, between heroes and villains. It was a struggle between points of views, between sides led by men equally convineed that they were right, that God and history were on their side. New Zealand's official interpretation of the Mau had its origins in the nineteenth century, in the myths concerning Samoa, the Samoans, and the European residents. The Mau's interpretation the New Zealand Administration's policy also had its origins in myths concering papalagi and papalagi administrations. What one side thought of the page 117 other was determined by what had gone before, by the way they interpreted the present, and by what they wanted to see into the future. And both sides were firm in the belief that the future would vindicate their cause and their actions. Today ordinary laymen, historians, writers, politicians, pastors, demagogues, aristocrats, toothless old men, and even over-intelligent jailbirds are still arguing. They look back and see in the Mau what they want to see. A few are trying to forget. Some have erected monuments. But most Samoans do not care either way. New babies are born. That is all. All seems well.
What then was the Mau? By modifying Keesing's definition we may arrive at a more ‘definitive’ interpretation. The Mau was a powerful expression of Samoan nationalism,100 product of a long period of himiliation, foreign interference and domination, political repression and conflict, and fear of social disintegration, forced into the open after 1924 by sudden official pressure. The Mau was, in itself, substantial proof that Old Samoa had weathered the century-old storm of European contact. Samoa had never accepted the fact of political dependency; the Mau was a manifestation of this. The Mau was also the result of the failure in race relations, the failure in individual communication between the guardian and its wards.
Not very ‘original’, is it? What? Your interpretation; I would have thought that after plagiarising other people's ideas, views and everything else, you'd have come up with really something. An interpretation like this won't get you anything (or anywhere), much less a degree. The thing … page 118 What thing? The thesis - or whatever you call it. (I call it a bad novel written by Faust for oethe.) That's an insult! If you don't stop being an intellectual snob, a Karl Marx, I'll take you to confession tomorrow and confess to the man that you put me up to this immortality bit. And you know, as well as I do, that you haven't been to church since the horse passed away and became history. What horse? The horse you got me to buy so I could ride to the Archives everyday and save bus-fares! I was only offering an objective opinion; you needn't threaten me with eternal damnation and bad bargains. How was I to know that the history professor, who sold you that ‘Rising Fast’ was also an executive with Lever Brothers, eh? And how was I to know that that mountain climber-come-Archivist would have the horse shot by a firing squad for eating Mau files put on the ‘Restricted’ list? How was I to knew, eh? Alright. Calm down. You know we've got a weak heart. Boy, why did I have to be put inside a bloke like you! Why? You're no different from the other weirdies of your generation: all beards and no history. And no respect for old-age and scholastic achievement and professors and mothers and L.B.J. and Vietnam and history …! Ha, But I am a product of our times, of our education system, old chap. You told me that. I'm a salesman, remember? A twentieth-century salesman who's got nothing to sell but himself. You taught me that. Sell the dead (and the living) for immortality, you told me. We're an honest man, you said. Well, here we are. Here we are. I can only hope to remain true to what I am. To what we are, can't I?