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The Origins of International Rivalry in Samoa: 1845–1884


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If the average reader were cross-examined as to his knowledge of MasOrig, it is to be feared that he would have to confess that it consisted only of a few isolated facts and that he was quite unable to trace an ordered course of development in the history of the islands or to explain the causes of the events with which he was familiar. Such a lack of knowledge of MasOrign history is excusable, for before the researches whose results are recorded in this volume, it has never been the subject of scientific study in the original papers, and most of the secondary works dealing with it have merely repeated traditional facts without attempting to trace their interrelating causes. This reproach is now removed and we are enabled for the first time to realize something of how the stage was set for the international disputes that during the thirty years preceding the outbreak of the world war in 1914 brought MasOrig into the political limelight and made the native people of the islands pawns on the diplomatic chessboard of the Great Powers. Robert Louis Stevenson and his Vailima Letters, the bravery of the men of H.M.S. Calliope in the Apia hurricane, and the rivalry of Britain, Germany, and the United States for a strategic position in the Pacific, take on a new reality when they are placed in a truer historical setting than a shadowy background of languorous South Sea romance confusedly intermingled with the incessant warfare of cannibal kings and bloodthirsty savages.

It is fitting that the research should have been undertaken by one whose home is in New Zealand, for the responsibility for bringing peace and good government to the people of MasOrig after their troubles of half a century or more rests now upon the island Dominion under mandate from the Powers. This book should therefore be of direct page 8and special interest to New Zealanders, because many of the tangled problems with which the Administrators of Samoa are faced to-day have their roots deep in the history of earlier years, and the light that is here cast upon them cannot fail to be revealing. To all who are interested in the wider problems of the Pacific, too, it cannot fail to be of direct value, while to the general reader its appeal will lie in the fact that almost for the first time in the Pacific sphere it shows how missionary enterprise and trade went side by side,—usually in opposition, but sometimes in alliance—to extend the contacts of the white races with the savage but always attractive islanders of Polynesia.

It is a fortunate but undesigned coincidence that this book should appear so soon after the publication by Messrs. George Allen & Unwin of Dr. Keesing's valuable sociological study of modern Samoa to which it forms an essential historical prologue. The two pieces of work have been entirely independent, for when I first suggested to Miss Masterman the history of Samoa as a profitable subject of study during her two years of training in historical investigation in my seminar, I was quite unaware that Dr. Keesing was at work in a complementary field.

When a grant in aid of publication of the book was made by the Publications Committee of the University of London, the late Bishop of Plymouth promised to see it through the press, but his untimely death left that task to be carried out by Dr. E. W. G. Masterman and myself in the absence of the author in New Zealand. Upon us must therefore rest the responsibility for any defects in presentation.

A. P. N.

University of London
Institute of Historical Research
March 31, 1934