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The Origins of International Rivalry in Samoa: 1845–1884

ii. The Islands and their Discoverers

ii. The Islands and their Discoverers

"Samoa" is the native name for the group of islands situated between lat. 13° and 14° South and long. 169°–173° West, midway in fact in the Pacific,2 and centrally amongst the

2 The islands lie:

  • 1,560 miles from Auckland, N.Z.
  • 2,060 miles from Sydney.
  • 5,660 miles from Panama.
  • 4,160 miles from San Francisco.
  • 4,570 miles from Vancouver.
  • 4,050 miles from Yokohama.

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Map I.—Sketch Map of the Islands of the Samoa Group

Map I.—Sketch Map of the Islands of the Samoa Group

page 19island archipelagos. Savaii, the largest1 and most western island, is ringed with inaccessible coral reefs, and is, therefore, of little use for shipping. Upolu, ten miles to the east, is the most fertile and the most important among natives and white men. It has three harbours, Apia, Saluafata, and Falealili, which provide efficient shelter, though the two former in facing north are liable to be exposed to storms between January and April. Between Savaii and Upolu are two little islets, Manono and Apolima, both small, but important in native politics. Thirty-six miles east of Upolu are the islands of Tutuila and the islet Aunuu. Tutuila is noted for its excellent harbour, Pago-Pago, reputed to be one of the safest and best in the Pacific. To the east again, sixty miles, is the Manua group of three islands, T'au, Olosenga, and Ofu; and yet seventy miles on is the unimportant coral atoll of Rose Island. All except the last are volcanic, and this partially accounts for their fertility. Volcanic mountains rise in Savaii to 6,096 ft., and to 3,607 ft. in Upolu. The warm, damp climate, usually with a temperature average ranging between 61° F. and 94° F.,2 and the volcanic soil make the islands among the most productive of the Pacific. Coconuts, breadfruit, taro, bananas, and nutmeg are among the most luxuriant indigenous food plants. The early accounts of the great fertility and productivity of the islands were, however, somewhat exaggerated, and the damp climate suits only some of the plants that have been introduced for commercial purposes.

1 The respective areas of the islands are:

Savaii660 sq. miles.
Upolu340 sq. miles.
Tutuila54 sq. miles.
Manua Group25 sq. miles.

2 Average temperature at sea-level 78 4° F., Handbook of Western Samoa, Wellington, N.Z., 1925.

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Some that flourished at first were later ruined by the introduction of disease or pestilent insects.1

The position of the group in relation to other Pacific islands is interesting. It is on the dividing line between Melanesia and Polynesia. Inhabiting the islands to the west are the dark, frizzy-haired negrito Melanesians; to the north, the mixed Micronesians, who have a Polynesian element in their stock. In the eastern islands are the pure Polynesians, members of the same family as the Samoan natives. In Fiji, to the south, there is the blend of Polynesian and Melanesian. Samoa is supposed to be the original home of the Polynesians in the Pacific before they made their way to Hawaii, Tahiti, New Zealand, and other islands. The traditional Hawaiki of Maori and other legends has been identified with Savaii, the westernmost island. The Polynesian languages are sufficiently like each other to be understandable from island to island, and of them all Samoan is the most archaic.2 But though traditions are similar, customs vary. Of all the islanders, the Samoans are reputed to be the gentlest, least fanatic, and most courteous. Their gods were mild and demanded no brutal sacrifices nor hideous images of themselves. A narrow code of morality, established by long usage, was on the whole strictly observed. Ancestor worship, the veneration of some "setu" or totem—a fish, an owl, or some animal—comprised the chief features of their religion. The law of "tapu" (taboo) was a great check upon freedom of action. Canni-

1 Especially coffee disease which ruined coffee, at first successful, and the rhinoceros beetle which wrought havoc on coconut plantations (1911). The most successful introduced plants are cacao, rubber, oranges, lemons, limes, and the Cavandish banana. This last was introduced from Europe by missionaries in the early 1840's.

2 It retains the sibilant "s" which in most other forms has been changed to "h." Savaii is now depopulated and comparatively barren on account of recent volcanic eruptions. There is reason to suppose that it was at one time very fertile and thickly populated.

page 21balism
was said never to have been practised, at any rate after the advent of white men,1 though Mr. Hunkin, an escaped sailor who became a missionary, and who probably had seen more of the native practices than the missionaries from England, states that he had heard of isolated cases in Tutuila,2 when enemies taken in time of war were eaten. It certainly was not practised within the memory of Samoans as part of their religious rites, as at Hawaii, Tonga, and other islands. One custom implies that it may once have been usual for Samoans to eat their enemies. In time of war the defeated captive had to humiliate himself in the dust before his conqueror carrying sticks, banana leaves, and stones—the requisites for a Samoan oven—implying he was in a position to be cooked, and only the magnanimity of his enemies would save him.3
By temperament Samoans are mild, music-loving, and gay, fond of all dancing and games, feasting and entertainment. Theirs was a nature that accorded with the natural beauty and fertility around them. Coconuts grew without any special cultivation, breadfruit and taro needed little work; pigs abounded in the forest, pigeons in the berrycovered trees, fishes in the waters. Hunting and fishing parties were long picnics. A communistic mode of life made saving profitless. The necessaries—food, houses, clothes—were provided, all for all within the family or clan. Extras, if any were acquired—as for instance in the early days of the "papalangi"4—would soon be divided or shared by all. This communism, and the plenty that usually

1 Murray, The Bible in the Pacific, p. 38. Pritchard, W. (Polynesian Reminiscences, p. 126), says it was occasionally practised in revenge, bravado, but not "lust of appetite."

2 Samoan Reporter, 1845.

3 Churchward, My Consulate in Samoa; Pritchard, Polynesian Reminiscences, p. 52. This may also be interpreted as a willingness to become servant to the conqueror.

4 Literally "cloudburster," the Samoan name given to white men.

page 22surrounded him, made the Samoan unambitious to amass more wealth than his neighbour. The Samoans were found to be entirely unsuitable as labourers, indeed in any menial work. They were often indicted as lazy and unambitious. This is undoubtedly true, but in the general scramble for wealth that so characterized his civilized white brothers, the Samoan, who preferred his hours of leisure and his freedom to hunt and fish and swim, or merely to lie idle enjoying his pleasant surroundings, is not altogether an ignoble figure. Indeed, it is remarkable that his dignity and his charming customs have survived the stress of planter's whip and missionary austerity. As Samoans persistently refused to become good plantation labourers or even house servants, so they refused to relinquish many of their native ways. Unlike Polynesians in Tonga, Fiji, and other semi-civilized islands, they are still tattooed, and the women, while wearing full dress and bonnet on Sunday, on every other day still prefer their mats and garlands.
In their natures the Samoans combined a childlike simplicity with a high average intelligence. They entered with zest into whatever sport offered. Old men joined with young in enacting scenes of the arrival of the white man in his "papalangi-ship."1 The introduction of cricket (1884) proved ruinous,2 and play had to be controlled by law because it became so popular. Whole villages neglected work and turned out to play, sometimes a hundred a side. A single match might last for weeks; and a touring team, like locusts, ate up the countryside. War, too, has about it an air of sportiveness when one reads that women were allowed to pass without harm between the lines, exchanging gossip and State secrets with friends and relatives of either party.3 It is true that villages were desolated and food crops pillaged, and enemies' heads were paraded before the triumphant

1 Wilkes, Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition, vol. ii, p. 144.

2 Churchward, p. 143.

3 Pritchard, p. 62.

page 23chief. But shining with oil and paint, adorned with a great headdress of human hair and feathers, the Samoan felt that the excitement was worth the risk of death or famine.

The social organization was tribal and land was held communally by the whole family. Each "clan" or group of families had a chief chosen always from the same line though he was not necessarily the eldest son. He and his family were treated with punctilious respect, and "hedged about with strict etiquette."1 There was indeed, and still is, one vocabulary of words for the chief and his family, and another for the same things applied to a common man. All his important business was done through his advisor or talking man—"talafale"—an important man in the clan. A number of these clans made up a district. Each district had the power of conferring a name upon one high chief of the two most important families in Samoa, the Tupua and the Malietoa families. If it should happen that all five districts conferred their honour upon the same man, then he would, theoretically at least, be sole ruler of Samoa. Actually this did not occur. If it had, he would still not have been, in any sense, autocratic king. This weakness in the native political organization, of which there is more mention in a later chapter,2 was at the root of the native disorders.

Such then, in brief, were Samoa and its inhabitants before the coming of the white man. The first European to record a visit to the group was the Dutchman, Jacob Roggewein, who in 1722 obtained water and herbs in Manua. The purpose of his voyage was to discover the Golden Islands, or the "Terra Australis Incognita," and to open trade on behalf of the Dutch West India Company. His hope was to find civilized and industrious people who would trade in gold, silk, and spices, and such desirable commodities, and so contribute to the wealth of Holland,

1 Handbook of Western Samoa, p. 42.

2 Chapter iv, infra.

page 24the Dutch West India Company, and the Roggewein family. The aim was entirely commercial. There was no scientific, religious, or humanitarian purpose. He had no use for half-naked savages or the luxuriant vegetation, except in so far as the medicinal herbs cured his crew of scorbutic ravages. The islands of which he was the first discoverer, Easter Island and Samoa, which he called the Baumann Islands,1 were to him disappointments. The inaccuracy of longitude measurement made his discoveries of little scientific value as they could not be accurately placed on the map. Further, his log was lost until 1839,2 and the two accounts published3 were inaccurate and conflicting. It was not until Roggewein's log was rediscovered that it could be asserted that the islands he visited actually belonged to the Samoa group.

Consequently the credit of the discovery of Samoa for many years fell to Bougainville, the French navigator. He touched at Manua and sighted Tutuila. From the numerous sea-craft that surrounded his vessel, and from the skilful manner in which they were handled by the natives, he named the islands the Navigator Islands. This is the name solely used by missionaries until about 1840, and official dispatches were directed to the Navigator Islands until about 1875, when the native name gradually usurped the foreign.

The visit of La Pérouse in 1787 left a blot upon the name of the Navigator Islands. During his visit to the island of Tutuila some eleven of his men, including the scientist, M. de Langle, were killed in an affray with the natives. Later accounts obtained from natives seem to show that the French sailors were partly to blame, but neverthe-

1 After the captain of his ship, the Tienhoven.

2 Mulert, De Reis van Mr. Jacob Roggewein, 1911.

3 1728 in Dutch, 1738 by a German, Behring. Translated and quoted by Dalrymple, The World Displayed, 1774, vol. ix; Schwabe, J., Allzemeine historie der Reisen, Leipzig, 1775.

page 25less
this incident gave the natives an undeserved reputation for ferocity.

The only other visits to the islands down to the time of missionary endeavour were those of H.M.S. Pandora in search of the missing Bounty, and the expedition of Kotzebue in 1824. Neither added any points of importance to the knowledge then existing of the islands.

It was the scientific exploration of Captain Cook and his contemporaries that opened up the Pacific. The accurate charting of islands, reefs, harbours, and so on prepared the way for less expert navigators, and the search for wealth that characterized the explorers of the mercantilist age gave place to the desire to know the unknown parts of the world. The worthy endeavours of the great scientific discoverers of the Pacific were followed up by an influx of whalers and traders. These often scattered over the Pacific islands a thin splashing of renegade sailors and escaped convicts, whose influence was almost invariably harmful. It became customary in Samoa and some other islands (e.g. New Zealand) for a chief to have a "papalangi," or white man, to live in the tribe, to teach the use of firearms and metals.1 These isolated whites, by their superior knowledge and disregard of the supposed dangers of the native "tapus," became sometimes chiefs or more commonly "priests"—promulgating laws to satisfy their wants, and conducting mock services interspersed with ribald sailor songs instesd of hymns. The part played by these adventurers was small. The advent of the missionary, and the increased familiarity of Polynesian with white men, ultimately caused the disappearance of this class of white from positions of influence among the natives.

Until the coming of missionaries the contact of native with white was invariably unfortunate for the native. An

1 Accounts of these in Williams, John, A Narrative of Missionary Enterprise in the South Sea Islands, chap. xxiv; Pritchard, Polynesian Reminiscences; Turner, G., Nineteen Years in Polynesia, p. 103.

page 26old Samoan prayer reads: "Keep away from us Sailing Gods; lest they come and cause disease and death." Again, "Here is ava1 for you Sailing Gods; do not come on shore at this place; but be pleased to depart along the ocean to some other land."2 These may, of course, refer to Tongan invaders, but they may well be references to the first Europeans. Even the best intentioned brought new diseases,3 and few except missionaries failed to use their firearms against natives. The missionaries alone came as servants, not tyrants. Consequently it was they, with their message of peace and good will, that opened the breach in the defensive attitude customarily assumed by natives towards traders. "Wherever your missionaries go," said Williams, the Apostle to Samoa, "new channels are cut for British commerce to flow in."4 And indeed, where the commerce flowed there followed official protection and commercial rivalry.

So it is with the missionaries, their ideals and the effects of their teaching, that the civilized contact with the islands begins.

1 "Ava," or "kava," the chief native drink for festal occasions. It was customary to spill a little as an offering to the gods before drinking.

2 Turner, Nineteen Years in Polynesia, p. 200.

3 Very many natives died of influenza brought by the missionaries. Measles, whooping cough, and chickenpox proved a serious menace.

4 Missionary Magazine, 1837, November, p. 291.

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Map II.—Sketch Map Showing Mission Stations of the London Missionary Society, 1797–circa 1845

Map II.—Sketch Map Showing Mission Stations of the London Missionary Society, 1797–circa 1845

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