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Government of Western Samoa Report of the Commission to Inquire into and Report upon the Organization of District and Village Government in Western Samoa

II. Historical Survey

II. Historical Survey

13. The modern problem of government in Western Samoa is over a century old. From the time when regular contact with the outside world was first established, there was a need to develop new forms of political organization. A Central Government was needed to conduct relations with the representatives of foreign countries, such as Consuls and the Captains of men-of-war, and to protect the interests of Samoans in the face of the desire of foreign residents to acquire land and wealth. New methods of enforcing law and order had to be worked out when the present Town of Apia, with its large European population, began to grow up in the district of Vaimauga. More slowly, there arose the need to create links between the Central Government and the traditional authority of the ali‘i and faipule and to help the traditional authorities to meet changing conditions.

14. There has been a remarkable continuity in the essential characteristics of the political issues facing Samoa, and some degree of consistency in the methods that have been adopted to meet them. This is not the place however, in which to survey Samoan political history as a whole. Certain of the issues only are relevant to the present inquiry. We are concerned with the creation of an effective bridge between the Central Government and the authorities controlling district and village affairs page 8 and with the evolution of local authorities to enable them to stand up to new conditions. In these matters, past experience is of direct importance. It explains the origin of many existing practices and, at the same time, helps to light the way forward to the future.

15. The first systematic attempt to develop effective links between the ali‘i and faipule, on the one hand, and the Central Government, on the other, was made in 1873 by the Ta‘imua and Faipule, with the advice of an American visitor, Colonel A. B. Steinberger. Ta‘ita‘i itu were appointed to administer districts, and fa‘amasino to impose punishment on those who broke the laws. From that time onwards many attempts were made by Samoan Governments to achieve the same ends. They reached their highest point of organization after the grant of joint British, American, and German protection to the Government of Malietoa Laupepa in 1889. In 1891 Malietoa's Government passed a number of laws defining the powers of ta‘ita‘i itu, district councils, and district and village Courts, and laying down rules for the conduct of district and village affairs.

16. These steps were important for two reasons. Firstly, the Samoan Government at Mulinu‘u needed the support of the ali‘i and faipule to give it strength to deal with the many troubles with which it was beset. In dealing with the representatives of Western Governments and with European settlers in Samoa it had to have firm backing from the leaders of Samoa. Secondly, new problems were already beginning to arise in the districts which required the adoption of new methods to deal with them. Trade had established itself even in parts of the country far distant from Apia; European planters were settled in many districts; and the number of foreign claimants to Samoan lands was constantly increasing. But, despite the need, little real success attended any of the efforts that were made to bring district and village affairs into a proper relationship with the Central Government. For this failure there were, of course, a number of reasons. Lacking both the desire and the ability to impose its policy by force, the Samoan Government had to rely on the full understanding and support of the ali‘i and faipule. This it was not able to obtain. The reforms themselves owed too much to papalagi advisers. The position of ta‘ita‘i itu, in particular, could not be made to fit in easily with Samoan custom. And the laws that were made by the Malietoa Government in 1891 are phrased so curiously in Samoan that it is obvious that they represent a somewhat imperfect translation from an English original. On the other hand, the ali‘i and faipule were themselves not ready to attempt to make administrative changes work. Office-holders valued their positions so far as they enhanced their status fa‘a-Samoa. They made little effort, generally, to perform the duties which attached to them. The reforms remained more impressive on paper than in practical effect.

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17. When German rule was established in 1900, there was not the same need for the Central Government to seek the backing of Samoan custom. Ultimately it owed its strength to the resources of the German Empire. It was still necessary, however, to create proper links with the district and village authorities in order to maintain law and order. At first the German Governor, Dr. Solf, tried to achieve this end by taking over the whole administrative system of the former Samoan Government. But this, as we have seen, had already proved itself very defective as a means of producing mutual sympathy and understanding. As a result, relations between the Governor and the Samoan leaders gradually worsened. In 1905, after there had been open defiance of the Government, Dr. Solf announced a series of changes. His speech announcing the changes was, he said, “like a knife which cuts away the rotten part of the breadfruit and leaves only the healthy part.” The Ta‘imua and Faipule and the office of ta‘ita‘i itu were abolished. In their place a Fono of Faipule was created, with twenty-seven members nominated by the Governor, to hold office for as long as they retained his confidence. The new Faipule were to represent the Government in their own districts, as well as representing their districts at Mulinu‘u. In addition to the Faipule, fa‘amasino itumalo were appointed to administer the law, and pulenu‘u to deal with Government matters in every village. Another office, that of pulefa‘ato‘aga, which had already been created by Richard Williams in Savai‘i, was extended to Upolu. There were to be two pulefa‘ato‘aga in Upolu and one in Savai‘i. The Land and Titles Commission with a komisi for each district, was continued, but with changed membership. This new system did not work without friction— in both 1908 and 1909 opposition reached a point which the Government considered dangerous to its authority—but it continued in force without basic change till German rule came to an end with the New Zealand occupation of 1914.

18. The New Zealand military administration which took over from the Germans continued the existing policy in relation to district and village affairs. When it was replaced by a civil administration in 1920, there was still no immediate change. A memorandum sent to all Faipule declared: “The Constitution Order [of 1920] does not affect the Government of the Samoan people in Samoan matters, and it is silent on this subject. It is silent because the New Zealand Government feared that, if the details of the Government of the Samoan people were put into print, the system which now exists might be spoilt. The New Zealand Government does not desire to spoil the present system; it desires to carry on the present systen; and the arrangements whereby the Fautua, and the Faipule, and the Fa‘amasino, and the Komisi, and the Pulenu‘u and any other Samoan officials take a part under the Administrator in the Government of the Samoan people is considered a good arrangement and is to be carried on.”

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19. The first important changes were made in 1925. A year earlier the Administrator, General Richardson, had informed the Minister of External Affairs that, in his opinion, a code of laws was needed “to regulate the customs and social life” of the Samoan people in matters such as succession of titles, village sanitation, the duties of district and village officials, and the care and development of plantations. He suggested that he should be given the power of making such regulations “with the advice and consent” of the Fono of Faipule. His proposal was not acted on in this form, but, after considerable discussion, the Native Regulations (Samoa) Order 1925 was passed in New Zealand. This order gave the force of law to certain resolutions which had previously been passed by the Fono of Faipule and also provided for the setting-up of district councils and village committees. The Territory was divided into twenty districts. These were based on the traditional political districts, but those with a large population were subdivided. In each district there was to be a council, presided over by the Faipule and composed of representatives of the village committees and of the local Samoan officials (the pulefa‘ato‘aga, komisi, and pulenu‘u). The councils were to have the power of making regulations, which would become effective after confirmation by the Administrator. The constitution of village committees was not defined in the order. Their powers and membership were to be decided by the Administrator after consultation with the people. The District Councils began to function during the two years following the passing of the order. In some places they appear to have begun to do good work; but, taken all in all, they represented too sudden a break with tradition. They seemed to many Samoans to be merely another instrument by which the Administrator could impose his policy on the country. With the growth of the Mau in 1927 and the following years, they ceased to function, and the Order in Council which had brought them into existence was finally repealed.

20. The next attempt to bring local authorities into a closer association with the Central Government was made in 1938. In that year the Acting-Administrator, Mr. A. C. Turnbull, consulted the Native Affairs Department and the Chief Judge in regard to this subject. A scheme was drawn up providing for the granting to the ali‘i and faipule of legal power to make regulations and to try offenders. Although the work was done without consultation of Samoan opinion, there seems to have been a genuine desire to base Government policy on Samoan custom. However, the scheme had a number of faults in matters of detail, and no action was taken in regard to it.

21. In 1947, when the details of the present Samoan Constitution were being worked out, the subject was again discussed in official circles, both here and in New Zealand. Several memoranda were prepared for the page 11 Minister of Island Territories, the Right Hon. Peter Fraser, by the Chairman of the present Commission, Dr. Davidson; but it was concluded that action should be delayed till there was opportunity for full discussion with the ali‘i and faipule and other sections of the Samoan people. The establishment of the Commission of Inquiry early this year arose directly out of that decision.

22. This survey of actions that have been taken in the past reveals several general principles that are still important at the present time. First of all, the history of events before the German annexation of Western Samoa shows that a Samoan Government, in which real responsibility resides in Samoan hands, must be firmly based on Samoan tradition and on Samoan ideas of right and wrong if it is to be strong and stable. The Central Government must be responsive to Samoan opinion, and it must be firmly linked with the authorities in the districts and villages, which are in everyday contact with the great majority of the people. Failure in these matters contributed greatly to the breakdown of Samoan government in the nineteenth century. If we can now succeed where our predecessors failed, we shall be laying the firmest possible foundation for the development of Samoan self-government.

23. A second principle which stands out clearly is the need for full Samoan participation in the working-out of policy. From the establishment of the German Government in 1900 till very recently, European officers tended to treat the Samoan people almost as children who needed looking after by their wise and benevolent rulers. This attitude stands out clearly in the memorandum to the Faipule in 1920, which has already been quoted. It can be found in countless official speeches in later years. In 1927, for example, Sir George Richardson declared to the Royal Commission on the Mau: “[The Samoans] have a Native Office … The Secretary for Native Affairs is practically their father.” One result of this attitude was the treatment of Samoan affairs as being outside the ordinary range of Government activities. They became the playground of a small group of specialists, who tended to lose touch both with other aspects of the Government's work and, far more seriously, with Samoan opinion itself. For years Samoans were excluded from the Legislative Council, as the Secretary of Native Affairs was declared to be the right person to speak there on their behalf. This situation made it impossible for the Secretary to have an entirely normal relationship with the Samoan people, for no one can feel entirely at ease in the presence of a person whose profession requires him to claim greater knowledge of oneself and one's needs than one possesses oneself.

24. This attitude towards Samoan affairs was always more pleasing to European officials than to the Samoan people. Many times, over the last thirty years, there have been requests for the right of fuller participation in political life. In 1920, for example, the Fono of Faipule page 12 asked that two Samoan members should be allowed to sit in the New Zealand Parliament. Shortly afterwards the Faipule made it clear that they were not content to have the position of all Samoan officials resting on the good will of the Administrator alone, as had been provided for in 1920. As a result, the Fono of Faipule was given statutory recognition in 1923. Later again, Samoan members were admitted to the Legislative Council. Since 1947, of course, paternalism in Samoan affairs has become wholly unsuited to the political position of the country. One of the most important signs that this has been fully recognized was Your Excellency's action in entrusting the study of district and village government to the present Commission of Inquiry.