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Samoa Under the Sailing Gods



A warship having visited Apia, some of the officers were invited to a dance given by the Seiaute Club—an organization of half-caste women that specialized in raising money for charitable objects and in entertaining. A report of a quarrel rising out of this reached Savaii, and passed round among the page break page 209Europeans. One of the officers, so it was said, having rung up on the phone the Aide-de-Camp, to know what time the dance was to begin, received a reply from the young gentleman, the former clerk from the Beach, somewhat to this effect: "Oh, don't get there until half an hour after it starts. We official set will not be there until then. Only the half-castes and riff-raff will be there before that time."

The naval man, for a reason unknown, broadcast this reply; which resulted in an angry scene, half an hour after the commencement of the dance, when Mr. O. F. Nelson demanded an explanation. of a somewhat pallid junior administrative official. I make this explanation to elucidate a point in a letter which I now wrote to Mr. Nelson, and which I here reproduce:

"The Hon. O. F. Nelson,

Falelima, 23rd November, 1925.

"Dear Sir,

"I am unknown to you personally, but I write to you as a member of the European community in Samoa, of whom you are representative at the Legislative Council, so I think that I am in order and I trust that you will not think me guilty of a liberty.

"I am prompted to write to you by having read in the Samoa Times the report of your speech at the meeting of the Legislative Council on the 31st October.

"It is very pleasant to hear some plain speaking in Samoa and I am convinced that your speech will cause very general satisfaction among the majority of the European community.

"As you imply—what we had long suspected is now obvious, that the giving of electoral representation to the Europeans was a sop designed to pacify the 'malcontents' and it was offered in the spirit with which one might give a rattle to a crying child.

"It is surprising to see the way the little group of people in power here underestimate every other section of the community. The Europeans apart from those they designate as 'we official set' they term 'riff-raff,' and seem to think the 'riff-raff' can be flouted with impunity indefinitely as long as they are bamboozled with copious lip-service.

"In a similar way they underestimate, or pretend to underestimate, the natives. A fine race who have a history of which they may well be proud are treated as if they were a mob of page 210slavering half-witted Sunday-school children. It is indeed insulting to suggest that there are not individuals among the Samoans capable of grasping the meaning of questions raised in the Legislative Council. That anyone could read such a book as A Footnote To History and then have the temerity to make such a suggestion is astounding.

"The Fono of Faipules is of course farcical. It is a matter of common knowledge that if the Faipules wish to keep their jobs they must do as they are required to do and express the opinions they are required to express. (This of course also applies to the official members of the Legislative Council.) Some at least of the Faipules have been chosen for their lack of moral principle and backbone.

"I consider that Samoa as at present governed is a blot on the British Empire. In no other part of the Empire would the incompetents and petty tyrants in power here be tolerated, and their absurd pretensions and self-idolatory and advertisement would not avail them.

"Unless drastic changes are made, the outlook for the next two years at least is very black.

"You perhaps have a wider sphere of influence than any other man in Samoa and it is a matter for satisfaction that you have given such a sane and fearless expression of opinion. Incidentally I think the time is particularly opportune.

"Yours faithfully,

"N. A. Rowe."

I received the following reply from Mr. Nelson:

"Apia, "30th November, 1925.

"Dear Sir,

"I am very pleased to learn in your letter of the 23rd instant that you agree with my views on the question of Native Representation in the Legislative Council, as expressed at the last meeting of that body.

"As one of the constituents who elect the European representatives to the Council, you are quite in order in addressing me. Any suggestions which may be made by the European Community to the Elected Members will be given full consideration, at least by myself, and I feel sure they will always be very helpful. The pity of it all is, the official members take full advantage of their majority and the efforts of the people's page 211representatives thus become practically vain and futile. On the other hand a certain amount of plain speaking, as you say, must do some good in time.

"It is most satisfactory to note the proceedings of the last meeting are so far being published in full, and I trust you will appreciate the other contributions as they appear in the Samoa Times.

"Yours truly,

"O. F. Nelson."

I wrote to Mr. Nelson again—apparently on December 4th—and made various definite suggestions. I said that I thought it by no means to the credit of the Samoans that while obviously fed-up they took things so quietly. I urged it upon him as his duty to give a lead, and proposed, if I remember rightly (I have been unable to find a copy of my letter, although I have what appears to be its acknowledgment), a course that subsequently was adopted: the calling of a meeting mixing Native and European politics, and the launching of a campaign of worldwide propaganda.