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Samoa Under the Sailing Gods



At last, in proposing native representation on the Legislative Council, the bona fides of the Faipules were challenged, by the Hon. O. F. Nelson. The First Elected Member, according to the Samoa Times of November 13, 1925, said:

"In moving to make provision for Samoan Natives in the Legislative Council, I am prompted by the feeling that the Legislative Council is not complete without native representation. To say that the Natives have a Parliament and that their views are represented in the Fono of Faipules is a fallacy. The Fono of Faipules deals with matters that are purely native, and does not deal with all legislation benefiting the whole Territory. As the native community, which, we have been informed, constitutes 95 per cent, of the total population of Samoa, they should have representation in the Council by members of their own race and choice. To say that the interests of the natives are sufficiently cared for in the Council by the Administrator and the Official Members is another fallacy…. The impotency of the Elected Members is becoming clearer to us day by day, and to say that the Elected Members represent a small minority of the population of Samoa is adding insult to injury. If native members were allowed to sit in the Legislative Council, this could no longer be said of it. I now recommend the motion for the consideration of the Council."

The motion was defeated by the Official Members, who were required to vote with the Administrator on all matters of policy. They outnumbered the Elected Members by two to one. Everything submitted to the Council was a matter of policy. In this way notoriously heavy drinkers were sometimes to be found speaking in favour of Prohibition, in contradiction of their well-known opinions—much to the fulmination of the Beach.

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The Secretary of Native Affairs, Mr. Griffin, said in the course of a reply:

"I do not think the Honourable Member fully understands the position of the Faipules, or he would not think that they were working for their own benefit alone…. Take for instance the Fine Mat Ordinance. That was no benefit to the Faipules, and yet they endorsed and passed it. They went back and fought their own people with it and got quite a lot of opposition, but there is no one in Samoa who can say that the Fine Mat Ordinance was not for the benefit and uplifting of the Samoans."

The making of malangas on a wholesale scale—chiefs, orators, and taulealea (young men)—for fine-mat presentations to chiefs of other villages is a very old Samoan custom. The circulation of fine mats was said to promote goodfellowship among the chiefs, but it may on occasion have produced ill feeling. The custom has perturbed the minds of several Governments on account ostensibly of the waste of time involved and neglect of plantations. Also the entertaining, feasting, and junketing usually continued until the food supplies of the hosts were exhausted, who in due course would reciprocate.

Fine mats were also used as clothing, payment for house and boat-building and property, and were given by chiefs to their orators for services rendered. Presentations were made to parents in a weak state or about to die, at the birth of children, disinterments, and reburials. At the death of a chief there was a feast with fine-mat presentations as a tribute to his importance. The mats in short were the currency of the islands: their value being determined by their quality and fineness of texture. One might take years to make.

The "Fine Mat Ordinance" referred to by the Secretary of Native Affairs was no ordinance, but a mere resolution made in 1923—one of the first to be passed. It prohibited malangas for the purpose of presenting fine mats or goods in exchange thereof. It was probably the thin end of the wedge designed to break down the fine-mat system. In 1925, death-feasts were prohibited by Order-in-Council, New Zealand. As the Faipules were being systematically boosted up by the Administration, while the true leaders of the people were being systematically page 207degraded, they could well afford to countenance the abolition of the fine-mat system.

The "Ordinance" then, while not a law or regulation enforcible by any sanction, appeared to be arbitrarily and capriciously enforced. The following evidence, from which I have omitted passages that are irrelevant, was given before the Royal Commission of 1927:

"What is your name?—My name is Moananu, son of Malietoa.

"You have been banished and your title taken away?—Yes.

"Have you been banished more than once, or only the once?—Only once.

"And is this the order of banishment, dated the 27th April, 1925?—Yes.

"Referring to the title which has been taken away from you, what is the name of the title?—Moananu.

"What kind of a title is that?—A chief's title—title of the son of Malietoa.

"Who is Malietoa?—Malietoa is the king.

"Did you ever hold a Government position?—I was a District Faamasino—that is, a District Judge.

"You were dismissed from the position of Faamasino, were you not?—Yes.

"What is the date of that letter?—22nd September, 1923."

The interpreter then read out a translation of the letter, as follows:

"To Moananu, Mulifanua.

"With reference to the violation of the law by you, regarding fine mats, when you were on malanga to Savaii, His Excellency the Administrator has decided as follows: You are from this date dismissed from the position of Faamasino, which you have held in the Government. All Government stationery and other Government property in your possession to be returned immediately to this office.

"H. S. Griffin,

"Secretary Native Affairs."

"What was the trouble about the fine mats: what had you done?—There was a debt owing by our people, and we went with fine mats to pay this debt to Fagamalo. The mats were delivered to the chiefs and orators of Fagamalo.

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"And after that, were your people and these people at Fagamalo satisfied that the debt was paid, and the whole thing concluded?—Yes.

"Has there been any other trouble about fine mats, or is that the only occasion?—That is the only trouble about fine mats, and it is the one which caused me dismissal from my appointment.

"Why did you take the mats to Fagamalo when you knew that there was such a law in existence?—That is not an offence under the conditions of the tulafono (law). The tulafono was that there were to be no fine mats presented at the death-ceremonies; but this was a malanga for the payment of a debt, which was not covered by the Ordinance.

"What do you mean by 'debt'?—Pigs which our village got from that district for our use. Pigs from the high-chief of that district, and we paid for them in fine mats.

"Well, then, apart from that, is there anything else you wish to say to the Commissioners regarding the suppression of the finemat ceremony?—Myself and my village are not satisfied with this law, as it was passed without the Samoans being consulted; it was passed by the Administrator and the Faipules.

"Anything else?—This law should be rescinded, as the Samoans are not satisfied. They do not consider that it is a good law, because there is no difference between the fine mats and gold and silver. A European works and saves money in the bank for his children; Samoan children have fine mats. They are the coin of the Samoans, or Samoan wealth. I have quite a lot more to say on that point.

"I think we have heard it all, and I think that we understand it all. Is there anything fresh which you wish to say?—Yes, there is more. I never heard that through fine mats anybody committed adultery or that anybody committed murder."

No further evidence on the subject was desired.