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‘Guardians and Wards’ : (A study of the origins, causes, and the first two years of the Mau in Western Samoa.)


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During German rule there was an almost ever-expanding overseas demand for tropical products. This stimulated the growth and development of agriculture in Samoa, especially on foreign-owned plantations. The good prices for tropical products raised the level of prosperity in the colony. Optimism was the prevailing mood. Nevertheless, just before New Zealand occupation, certain omens of critical times ahead became evident. The fall in rubber prices, the spread of pests (such as the rhinoceros beetle) and plant diseases, and the uncertainty associated with the supply of agricultural labourers indicated a trend towards economic disaster. New Zealand occupation and the First World War hastened this trend.

A Pacific ‘empire’ seemed the pet pursuit of a few well-known New Zealand idols in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. New Zealand's interest in Samoa (and a ‘few’ other islands, which included nearly all the unannexed islands in the South Seas) was a natural product of the times. What with missionaries, traders, adventurers, and the Great Powers all pursuing the colonial dream of empire.

In the eighteen forties, Governor Grey planted the ambitious seeds of the dream. During the eighteen seventies, Julius Vogel - a born goldminer-gambler - hoping to harvest the crop, crystallised the dream into a hypnotising plan for a Pacific Federation, claiming that a federation would stop foreign annexations in the Pacific. So removing all potential threats to the security of New Zealand, which, of course, should be the centre of the federation. Alas, these grandiose schemes bore no harvest. Nevertheless, page 33 the dream of Pacific annexations continued to dazzle a new crop of dreamers, and eventually found another verbose champion in Richard Seddon.

The 1899 settlement, partitioning Samoa between Germany and the U.S.A., was made without the knowledge of Seddon and his disciples who, on hearing the news, protested adamantly against the deal. As a result, Great Britain tossed New Zealand the Cook Islands. This pill, however, did not satisfy the New Zealand empire-builders. So, in 1914, when the First World War erupted and Britain asked New Zealand to occupy Western Samoa, New Zealand complied jubilantly, its Expeditionary Force swiftly occupying the territory on 30 August, 1914 (in the face of a non-existent German defence), and claiming not only the first-ever New Zealand military victory in a foreign war but the first Allied victory in the First World War. Dreams of ‘empire’ seemed to be coming true. And, like all dreamers, New Zealand did not know what it was letting itself in for.

New Zealand quickly established a Military Government in Western Samoa; this lasted until 1920.

At first, the majority of Samoans accepted the New Zealand ‘malo’ without protest; the change in guardian had little detrimental economic or political effects. However, difficulties soon appeared.

The Military Governor, Robert Logan, had been schooled in the military academies of England; had migrated to New Zealand where he had acquired the Maritanga estate in Central Otago; had become influential in the affairs of that county; had raised a squadron of mounted rifles in 1898, becoming a major in 1904, and, as a colonel, had led the New Zealand Expeditionary Force to Western Samoa.27

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A man used to the reigns of command. Would obey orders. Logan was the first in the line of New Zealand Administrators with military backgrounds.

Logan, under orders from New Zealand, pursued an almost doctrinaire economic policy. This only encouraged the drift towards the rocks of economic dislocation. German rule had ended before the drift had reached its disastrous fruition; New Zealand got the blame, Germany (or the myth about German rule) became the yardstick by which many Samoans criticised New Zealand's policy.

The Germans had planned the imposition of duties on certain exports but had not put this policy into effect. Logan, blind to economic realities and following orders, imposed the duties. The War, at this time, seriously disrupted trade; reduced shipping to a minimum. The combined effects of these factors resulted in an overnight, all-time rise in costs; copra prices dropped disastrously. D.H.P.G. and other foreign companies were forced to close down. At the same time, New Zealand insisted on repatriating the indentured labour force. Logan naively assumed that the Samoans would be only too willing to work on the plantations. The resulting scarcity of labour hastened the ruination of plantation agriculture.

Logan's policy, plus the rise in costs and the 1918 Influenza Epidemic, caused feverish unrest in Samoa. Discontent was riveted on the malo in power, New Zealand.

In an attempt to restore some degree of sanity, Logan reversed his policy of repatriation. When the War ended, there was an exodus of German residents from the territory. New Zealand assumed ownership of German Government properties (without compensation); the properties of companies and individuals were purchased. All this damaged plantation agriculture further. There was a drastic reduction in the number of skilled personnel page 35 who could manage and work the plantations.

The repatriation of labourers, the rising costs, the Influenza Epidemic and the reduction in the ranks of those vitally necessary to the development of the economy, caused considerable unrest among all levels of Samoan society. The economic boom just after the War, however, cooled the discontent. To encourage Samoan confidence in New Zealand, Logan had brought back the Lauati exiles. He also extended public works and health facilities. The 1918 Epidemic destroyed whatever degree of confidence he may have won. The lengthy period of indecision in deciding the future status of the territory, and Samoa's final assignment to New Zealand (and not to Britain or the U.S.A.) served to deepen the discontent.