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Samoa Under the Sailing Gods



That some native unrest already existed, the following excerpt from the story of the Savaii malanga, published on July 31st, would seem to prove:

"The Alii and Faipule (chiefs and councillors) were told very definitely that the Government would not stand for any man disturbing the peace and happiness of the people of the village. Where some agitator is causing trouble, the Alii and Faipule must settle the matter at once, and if for any reason they cannot do so, then they must report the matter forthwith to the Government, and the offender will be promptly dealt with."

Soon after that malanga, I wrote several letters to the Samoa Times on the subject of copra. The Administrator was insisting that the quality of copra must be still further improved—for this the trader was held mainly responsible—and even suggesting absurdly that it should be washed with fresh water in the process of manufacture. About this time also, against the advice of the Director of Agriculture, he increased the legal copra-weighing days from three a week to six, causing great annoyance and inconvenience to the traders. Samoa copra was page 199to be the best in the Pacific. These letters I knew were likely to be printed, a large proportion of the Samoa Times' readers being traders; and to them the subject is of primary interest. Two of the letters were under noms de plume, in others I collaborated; one was signed with my own name. The first was published on July 24th, and touched upon the undoubted hardships of the Copra Ordinance as affecting the trader. That letter which was published in my own name on August 28th, I will reproduce:

"Sir,—The problem of improving Samoan sundried copra is attracting attention, but before any considerable improvement can be made the question must be regarded from all sides; then it may be possible to frame legislation to fit the case. With this idea in mind I should like to remark upon one or two points. Days of unbroken sunshine produce good copra. Successive days of continuous rain and cloud give cause to rotten copra. It is with this latter condition that I wish to deal. Much of the inferior copra now produced is worse than need be, for the reason that it is sweated more than should be necessary. The copra gets a taste of the first sun of the day,—rain threatens, or starts to fall,—the copra is shot into baskets and stacked until the following day; when the performance may be repeated. The reason for this is that the natives have not the time to keep exposing copra to the sun whenever opportunity offers, as should be done, in broken weather. I will explain later why they have not time. There may be individuals who deliberately and wantonly make bad copra; but when the average Samoan cuts copra he needs money—the better his copra the more certain is he of being able to sell it—therefore he prefers making good copra to bad. But the price the Samoan gets for his copra is not large, so it is absurd to suppose that he is going to extraordinary pains in the preparation of the stuff. Strangely enough he seems in no way desirous to have the world roundly swearing that Samoa copra is the best in the South Seas—possibly he thinks that the Samoan climate does not lend itself that way. Perhaps too, he considers that any fraction of a cent per pound which might accrue to the buying price of Samoan copra as a result of its good name would be not worth the trouble involved in earning it. (I need not enter here into the fallacy of the doctrine that the Samoan could benefit to the full extent of the increased selling page 200value of the copra.) However, in spite of the prosaic way he regards the copra (which of course means less to him than it does to most of us—seeing that he is not entirely dependent on it for his living), the Samoan seems prepared to go to reasonable trouble in its preparation—if he is given a chance. In this district of Savaii (between Falelima and Asau) there is, at the time of writing, a shortage of native foods. One reason for the shortage being, so it seems to me, that young men and women must sit in school for four days a week instead of doing their share of work in the plantations. As the 'children' referred to could read and write their own language some years ago and are now only learning a few words of pidgin English and singing God Save the King to a tune perhaps considered an improvement upon the orthodox, it is hard to credit that their presence in school is essential to the progress of Samoa. However, they say that they would be fined if they failed to attend. It must not be inferred that the schools are other than popular—with the students; but appreciation for educational opportunities is not the only reason for this. And the fact remains that copra must now be neglected for the reason that there are few to tend it; the aged having gone to the plantations in an endeavour to take the place of the young and strong who sit in school. Samoan 'progress' and 'patriotism' are pretty terms of speech,—sound well when advertised abroad,—and doubtless bring their rewards; but the theory that Samoa is progressing does not console those held responsible for the quality of copra—for they, being in contact with the natives, do not share in the illusion.

"Yours, etc.,

"N. A. Rowe."