An Introduction to Samoan Custom
CHAPTER I — Introduction
The Territory of Western Samoa, defined in Imperial Orders in Council as the area situated between the 13th and 15th degrees of south latitude and the 171st and 173rd degrees of west longitude, comprises the two principal adjacent islands of Upolu and Savai'i, the small but politically important islands of Manono and Apolima in the straits between Upolu and Savai'i, and the smaller uninhabited islands of Fanuatapu, Namua, Nu'utele, Nu'ulua and Nu'usafe'e. New Zealand lies approximately 1,600 miles away slightly west of south on the other side of the International Date Line, so that a day is lost or gained on trips between the two countries; Samoan Zone Time is 23 hours behind New Zealand Time. Upolu and Savai'i, about 45 and 46 miles long respectively*, lie in an axis with Eastern Samoa running approximately north-west and south-east; Upolu is over 400 square miles in area and Savai'i 700 square miles, while Manono and Apolima total less than two square miles together. The principal town and seat of administration, Apia, located on a bay opposite a break in the reef which can scarcely be dignified by the name of harbour, and nestling under Mount Vaea, the burial place of Robert Louis Stevenson, lies about half way along the northern coast of Upolu. The wreck resting on the inner reef of the harbour is all that remains of the German gunboat “Adler”, driven ashore during the famous hurricane of March 15th to 16th, 1889, when the British “Calliope” was the only warship of seven then in the roadstead to make her escape to the open sea.
* The distances are variously stated as anything from 45 to 47 miles for each island. Existing lithographs, issued in 1922, are inaccurate and out of date, and cannot be corrected until coastal traverses are completed.
All the islands except Nu'usafe'e and the Rose Atoll are rocky and volcanic. Upolu, Savai'i and Tutuila have high ridge areas inland rising in Savai'i to peaks of 6,094 feet, in Upolu to 3,608 feet, and in Tutuila to 2,141 feet. Population is confined mostly to the coastal areas, there being only 11 inland villages out of a total of 192 in Western Samoa. Plantations extend in most cases for only a few miles inland. The interior is heavily forested and many parts have not been properly explored although many crater-lakes and waterfalls of particular beauty are known. Tutuila is stated to be the oldest formation geologically, Upolu being next in geological age and Savai'i comparatively recent. A serious eruption of the volcano Matavanu took place on the north coast of Savai'i between 1905 and 1911, covering several villages and ruining many square miles of rich and productive land. The people rendered homeless by this disaster are now located in two areas on the north and south coasts of Upolu at Leauva'a and Salamumu.
The climate is tropical, the atmosphere humid, the rainfall heavy and the range in temperature, especially at sea-level, small. The latter fact, together with the high humidity, although tempered to some degree by the south-east trade-wind that blows during the drier season roughly from April to September, is undoubtedly the most trying feature of a climate that, while described as mild and equable, is not ideal for people, especially women, born in more temperate regions. The entire Group, although considered by modern meteorologists to be within the hurricane belt, has fortunately experienced very few hurricanes of the degree of severity termed “destructive”.
The Apia Observatory, founded in 1902 by the Society of Natural Sciences of Göttingen for the purpose of taking observations simultaneously with those of an Antarctic Expedition, is located at the end of the Mulinu'u peninsula, a low sandy spit only a few feet above sea-level. The climate there is thus more of the maritime or oceanic type page 3 than that on the true mainland or in the foothills only a short distance away. This fact has a practical and personal significance for residents on the peninsula, but should also be borne in mind by the reader in any critical consideration of the figures quoted in the following paragraphs.
Observatory records over many years show that the average temperature was 79.29 degrees, the mean daily maximum 84.7 degrees, and the mean daily minimum 73.8 degrees. The record maximum shade thermometer reading is 93 degrees and the minimum 63 degrees. All figures quoted are on the Fahrenheit scale. Residents of long standing in the Territory find temperatures approaching the minimum stated above decidedly cool.*
Temperature figures quoted are computed from observations taken in standard meteorological screens. These wooden structures with double-louvred sides and ventilated bases are not designed to reproduce all the features of European living conditions, which are frequently more trying than meteorological records would suggest. Temperatures taken in the open at grass level show a greater range.
The recorded hours of sunshine average approximately 2,500 annually.
The mean relative humidity during the day is about 79 per cent, rising to higher than 90 per cent nearly every night. Some observations have been recorded showing a humidity of 99 per cent.
* One is here reminded of the fact that even temperature has a relative value. In the course of a Government expedition in 1929 through the interior of Savai'i, a temperature of 53 degrees F. was recorded one rainy night at a level of approximately 5,000 feet. A member of the party, born in Samoa, was heard to exclaim, “It can't possibly be as cold as this in New Zealand!” There are natives in Africa who sleep on the top of clay bank furnaces when the temperature falls below 70 degrees F.
§ It is interesting to note that in this month in the following year only 3.3 inches were recorded. The normal for the particular month in question is 17.74 inches.
* This is, of course, too short a period on which to base sound scientific conclusions.
The lower rainfall and cooler conditions between approximately April and September, and particularly in June and July, make that period the more pleasant part of the year. Summer in the southern hemisphere brings to Samoa a higher rainfall and more cloudy weather with a lower and more irregular range in temperature; it is the winter season, with a more regular and higher daily temperature range, bright sunny days tempered by the trade winds, and clear, cool nights with land breezes, that visitors from temperate countries find attractive. As Buxton has pointed out, under Samoan conditions a difference of a few degrees in temperature minima may make all the difference between a good and a bad night's sleep.
The Mulinu'u peninsula referred to above, the site of the Apia Observatory and the Department of Native Affairs, has been the scene of many stirring events in Samoan history during the last hundred years. It has been both an armed fortress and the seat of a Samoan Government. It is the burial place of some of the leading Samoan figures in the recent history of the country, and also of British, American and German sailors who lost their lives in action in 1888 and 1899.
There is no malaria in Samoa, but filaria, which is the early stage of elephantiasis, may be contracted from the attentions of a particular species of mosquito.† There are very few venomous creatures: no venomous snakes, of which there are two harmless§ and far from common varieties, large and small centipedes, scorpions, hornets and bees. The stings are painful and unpleasant, but except possibly in the case of young children, not dangerous.
† It rejoices in the name of Aedes Scutellaris var. Pseudo-Scutellaris.
§ Both Stair and Williams relate that Samoan girls used to twine live snakes about their necks as adornments while dancing.
The principal exports are copra (the dried meat of the coconut), desiccated coconut, cocoa of very fine quality used a good deal for blending, rubber, and dried and fresh bananas. Coffee and native tobacco are produced for local consumption.
A census of the Territory of Western Samoa was taken on the 25th September, 1945, and showed a total number of Polynesian residents of 62,422* divided as to 43,768 in the islands of Upolu, Manono and Apolima, and 18,654 in the island of Savai'i. Of this total 61,867 were Samoans, with Niue, Tonga, Fiji, the Tokelau Islands, Wallis Island, Rotuma, Futuna and the Gilbert and Ellice Islands and certain others represented in the remainder.
All Samoans profess some form of Christianity, and the census referred to above disclosed denominations as follows:
|London Missionary Society||36,661|
|Latter Day Saints (Mormons)||2,337|
|Seventh Day Adventists||505|
|Church of England||4|
|Congregational Church of Jesus||548|
Subsequent registrations of births and deaths and immigration and emigration figures give a total Polynesian population as at 31st March, 1947, of 65,695.
The total of Europeans of Samoan blood as disclosed by the census in 1945 was 5,040, and of Europeans 359.
* The total population of Eastern or American Samoa is approximately 17,000.
The history of Samoa is complex and fascinating, and is principally a story of one internal struggle after another. This is not the place for a discussion of this interesting subject, but successive modern political stages may be conveniently and briefly indicated under five principal headings:
The indigenous Samoan social and political organisation that obtained prior and for some time subsequent to the coming of Europeans.
The Constitution and system of Samoan Government established in 1873 and 1875 with unofficial European assistance.
The withdrawal of Britain in consideration of rights acquired in Tonga, the Solomons and elsewhere from Germany, and the partition of the Group between Germany and America in 1899. The German flag was hoisted in Western Samoa at Mulinu'u on 1st March, 1900.
The occupation of German Samoa by New Zealand troops on August 29th, 1914, and the Mandate conferred in 1919 upon His Britannic Majesty, to be exercised on his behalf by the Government of the Dominion of New Zealand, under Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations.
The precise derivation of New Zealand's authority in Western Samoa appears not always to be fully understood. The legal sequence was as follows:
By Article 119 of the Treaty of Peace with Germany, signed at Versailles on 28th June, 1919, Germany renounced in favour of the Principal Allied and Associated Powers all her rights over German Samoa.page 8
In accordance with Article 22, Part I (Covenant of the League of Nations) of the above treaty, the Principal Allied and Associated Powers agreed that a mandate should be conferred upon His Britannic Majesty, to be exercised on his behalf by the Government of the Dominion of New Zealand; and His Britannic Majesty, for and on behalf of the Government of New Zealand, agreed to accept the mandate, and undertook to exercise it on behalf of the League of Nations in accordance with certain provisions.
Authority to govern the Territory of Western Samoa was conferred on New Zealand by the (Imperial) Western Samoa Order in Council made on 11th March, 1920, by virtue of powers in the Foreign Jurisdiction Act, 1890. The same Order, as amended by a further Imperial Order in Council dated 9th November, 1920, defined the limits of the Territory.
Paragraph (8), Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, provided that the degree of authority, control or administration to be exercised by the Mandatory Power, not having been previously agreed upon by the members of the League, should be explieitly defined by the Council of the League of Nations, whereupon the latter body, confirming the mandate, defined its terms in seven articles dated 17th December, 1920.
Certain New Zealand Orders in Council making temporary provision for the peace, order and good government of the Territory were made prior to the date of the definition of the terms of the mandate under the authority of the Treaties of Peace Act, 1919, or of the Imperial Order in Council cited above dated 11th March, 1920. The Samoa Constitution Order, 1920, which came into operation on 1st May, 1920, formulated a constitution and a legal code for Western Samoa, and was later superseded by the Samoa Act, enacted by the New Zealand Legislature on 7th December, 1921, which came into force on 1st April, 1922.
New Zealand continues to be responsible for the administration of Western Samoa, subject to the supervision page 9 of the Trusteeship Council set up by the United Nations Organisation in New York in December, 1946. By the provisions of the Trusteeship Agreement for Western Samoa which now takes the place of the Mandate in terms of which the country was previously administered, New Zealand has undertaken to promote the progressive development of the inhabitants of Western Samoa towards self-government.
The Samoan people will be found courteous and hospitable in their dealings with strangers. They will not expect visitors to have at the best more than a superficial knowledge of Samoan custom, and they will be willing to forgive breaches of their own etiquette or custom where it is plain that there is no intention to give offence. Nevertheless, it is not difficult to understand that some knowledge of what constitutes good manners in Samoan society, especially on the part of Government officials or visitors of standing, will add a great deal to the interest and pleasure of initial contacts. Mutual respect for persons and institutions fosters mutual esteem. The Samoans will appreciate a courteous display of interest in their culture, and will be prompt to reciprocate a goodwil that is evidenced by European recognition of the type of conduct that is proper in their own society. It is true, of course, that there are certain differences between what constitutes chiefly or gentlemanly conduct in Samoan and European society, and social ideals are directed towards widely differing goals in the two cultures, but a quiet and dignified bearing is acknowledged and appreciated in both.