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The Revolt of the Samoans

The Memory of a Tragedy that Lingers

The Memory of a Tragedy that Lingers

Added to the natural resentment which arises because of the tyranny of our present-day methods is the memory of the tragedy of the influenza epidemic of 1918 (recalled with intense bitterness by Sir Maui Pomare in his speech of protest on the third reading of the Samoa Amendment Bill in the House on July 26). If the Samoans had no other reason than this for their hostility to us, that hostility would be well founded. Sir Maui Pomare charged that the people of New Zealand were responsible for more than a fourth of the population of Western Samoa being wiped out in that epidemic. The "Talune," berthed at Auckland alongside the "Niagara" (which brought pneumonic influenza to New Zealand), was given a clean bill of health when she sailed for Samoa, and no mention was made of the fact that she had had influenza on board at Auckland or of the outbreak of Influenza in the Dominion. No radiograph had gone from the authorities here to the Administration at Samoa to intimate that influenza was now a notifiable disease in New Zealand. On her way to Samoa the "Talune" was quarantined at both Suva and Levuka, and at least six of the passengers and a number of the crew, as well as some of the Fijian labourers (carried because their labour was cheaper than that of the Samoans), were ill with influenza. When the vessel arrived at Apia no mention was made of the quarantining, and there was no entry in the official log of the "Talune" on her voyage to Apia of any sickness on board, as required by law. Moreover, no temperatures were taken at Apia. If this had been done, the vessel must have been refused pratique, and possibly there would have been no epidemic in Samoa and thousands of lives would have been saved.

Even more criminal was the history which followed. Within a week's time the epidemic was raging in Western Samoa, and death was cutting a wide swathe in the ranks of the Samoans. On November page 3 20 the United States Governor of Eastern Samoa radiographed from Pago offering help. Pago is only ten hours' steam from Apia, and there is a nationalised (naval) medical service there with up-to-date equipment. Ten hours would have brought highly-qualified medical officers and many trained nurses and orderlies to the work of life-saving in Western Samoa; and yet the offer was not accepted by the New Zealand Administration. Not only was this so, but the Administrator closed down all wireless communication with Pago, and allowed no call subsequently to go out to that station for assistance. And consequently there died thousands of Samoans whose lives might have been saved but for this display of administrative criminality and ineptitude.

Eastern Samoa remained immune from the epidemic, while the population of Western Samoa was decimated; and it is possible that New Zealand will never succeed in living down the memory of that crime against Western Samoa, committed in 1918.