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Samoa Under the Sailing Gods



On June 20, 1928, Sir James Parr, High Commissioner for New Zealand in London, and Major-General Sir George Richardson, former Administrator of Western Samoa, "came to the table" of the Permanent Mandates Commission at Geneva.

The Chairman, after an interchange of compliments, asked, on behalf of the Commission, how far the Government of the Mandatory Power endorsed the findings of the Royal Commission. I will quote now from the Minutes:

"Sir James Parr replied that it endorsed them entirely…. Sir James Parr wished to say one word about the composition of the Royal Commission. It was set up for two reasons. In the first place, Major-General Sir George Richardson had demanded it. He had been appalled last year at the mischievous misstatements—Sir James Parr used the words advisedly—that page break
Sir George And The Dragon Postcard Sent to Malaitai, Faipule of Safune, by Sir George Richardson After His Final Appearance Before The Mandates Commission

Sir George And The Dragon Postcard Sent to Malaitai, Faipule of Safune, by Sir George Richardson After His Final Appearance Before The Mandates Commission

page 241were being sent out to the world about the situation in Samoa…."

The two Commissioners who had formed the Commission, Sir James Parr went on at some length to say, were men of the very highest reputation in New Zealand.

"The Chairman said that, if the accredited representative thought fit to make a statement, the Commission desired it to be confined to the following points: (1) What were the first symptoms of the unrest and the progressive development of the hostile attitude of the opposition to the Government? (2) What repressive measures had been applied (a) of a military, (b) of a legislative, nature? (3) What measures had been taken to calm the agitation? (4) What was the present position?"

There followed a short discussion on procedure.

"Sir James Parr said that he would reply in full to the questions and would, at the same time, give the views of his Government regarding the Royal Commission. He continued as follows: 'I should like to point out that the Order of Reference of the Royal Commission is very wide; it covers all complaints. These complaints—and I must mention this fact in approaching the question of the causes—have been divided by the Royal Commission into two categories. First, the complaints of the white people, and secondly the complaints as regards native matters. There are different causes for each. As regards the complaints of the whites, they may be classed briefly under three headings—prohibition, the marketing of copra by the Administrator on behalf of the natives as their agent, and, thirdly, charges of extravagance in the Administration. As regards the natives, the charges may be said to be first and generally that the methods of the Administrator have been tyrannical, that he has set himself up as a dictator, that he has taken measures abrogating old native customs, and that his administration of native affairs has been oppressive. That, in a few words, is the sum total of the charges.

"'All these matters were inquired into by the Royal Commission. The views of three hundred witnesses were heard; the Royal Commission sat in four different places in Samoa, on the spot, for five weeks. They investigated the complaints of the whites, they investigated the complaints of the Samoans, and, I should say—before I pass to the question of the causes page 242of the unrest—that the Royal Commission in every instance vindicated the Administrator. There has never been a more complete vindication of an Administration than that made by this Royal Commission. May I at this stage read a striking paragraph in the findings?—page vi:

"'"We think that it is a significant circumstance that with reference to the acts of the present and the previous Administrator, both on the European and Native sides of their administrations, no act of malfeasance, misfeasance, or misconduct on their part, or on the part of their European officials, was charged by the complainants. At one time it was suggested that charges of this nature might possibly be made against the present Administration, but absolutely no evidence of such charges was tendered before us. Furthermore, except in respect of so-called orders of banishment, of orders for the deprivation of titles, and of orders requiring Natives to return from Apia to their homes made late in the year 1926, or in the year 1927 in connection with the operations of the Mau organization—which will be later dealt with—no allegation was made that the Administrator or any of his Head Office officials had acted in a high-handed or arbitrary manner. The absence of such allegations speaks highly for the spirit in which the administration has in the past been conducted."

"'Dealing now with the complaints, the first was prohibition. This is a very old complaint. The whites cannot get liquor except as medicine, and a fair of amount medicine—I hope the General will pardon me—is drunk, I am told, whether for the good of their healths I know not. But prohibition is general; it applies to both races, and the New Zealand Government is firmly resolved, notwithstanding the dissatisfaction of certain whites in a population of 40,000, to keep the prohibition of liquor still universal. It feels that no differentiation can be made between the natives and the Europeans with any degree of logic or reason. There is one difficulty, to which I should like specially to refer. It is said "An Englishman likes his beer, and why should he not have it?" Such is the attitude of some of our people. In this connection, however, there is a difficulty which to my mind is fatal. I said there were 400 Europeans of pure blood in Samoa. There are also 2,000 half-castes….

"'One extraordinary thing, one extraordinary anomaly, in this most extraordinary agitation, to my mind, is that Mr. Nelson and his half-dozen white agitating friends have page 243succeeded in inducing the Samoans to petition you, or at any rate the New Zealand Parliament, to give liquor to their poor friends, the whites, who are without it. The Samoan petitioners do not ask for it for themselves, but they think the poor injured white man ought to have it, and they have put this in a petition—so easy is it to get a Samoan to sign anything that these few influential gentlemen on the Beach desire.

"'Now, as regards prohibition as the cause of the unrest. I think it is obvious that there will never be satisfaction among the whites. We cannot hope for it. But you, Sir, or the League of Nations, have given us a mandate under which we are to study the interests of the natives above everything else, and the Parliament of New Zealand is resolved to keep prohibition universal in the interests of the natives.

"'I do not think I need say any more with regard to that. The Royal Commission found as follows: "It appears clear that the legislation has proved effective to prevent, so far as could reasonably be expected, the consumption of intoxicating liquor by Samoans." It has been reasonably effective. I think you will be satisfied to note that that is the opinion of the Royal Commission. The Samoan does not, as a rule, get liquor. His end would be soon in sight if he did so.'"

There followed a discussion here as to whether Prohibition could really be considered as one of the fundamental causes of the unrest. Sir James Parr replied in the affirmative.

"The Chairman said that, if prohibition was a fundamental cause, why was it a matter which had not constantly arisen? How had it come about that, in the reports for the previous years, no trace of the dissatisfaction caused by prohibition was to be found? Prohibition had not been introduced recently, but had been in force for some years. It would therefore appear that the discontent must have been prevalent for some years also.

"Sir James Parr thought that perhaps he was hardly at one with the Commission. Did the Commission desire him to deal with the dissatisfaction of the natives or of the white men? He was trying, step by step, to show the reasons and causes of the discontent felt by the different parts of the population.

"The Chairman said that what the Commission desired was not what he might describe as a second edition of the various documents already before it. It wished to receive a reply on the three points he had already mentioned.

page 244

"Sir James Parr asked about whose feeling of discontent the Commission desired information. Was it the white man's or the Samoan's?

"The Chairman replied that it was for the accredited representative to tell the Commission this. Perhaps both or neither were discontented.

"M. Rappard recognized that the distinction was difficult to draw. In order to make the meaning of the Commission quite clear, he would take the following case. The Commission did not wish it, but supposing for the sake of argument that the mandatory Power authorized the consumption of liquor, would the whites really be more contented?

"Sir James Parr replied that undoubtedly they would be.

"M. Rappard inquired why they had not shown their discontent during the time that prohibition had been in force?

"Sir James Parr replied that they were always showing their discontent.

"M. Rappard remarked that this had not been mentioned in the reports."

Apparently neither the Chairman, Sir James Parr, nor M. Rappard had read the reports.

"Sir James Parr explained that the whites had not made an agitation or organized public meetings on the subject, or petitioned the Commission. Prohibition, however, had been a cause working all the time against the Administration and this had been so very apparent that it could almost be taken for granted. It had inclined many of the whites very strongly against the Administration all the time, and had made them more prone to agitation.

"M. Rappard pointed out that for several years there had been no agitation although this cause was already in existence. That showed that there must have been some fresh cause to determine the agitation.

"Sir James Parr replied that there was no particular cause; the causes were cumulative. He had been taking them in order and was now coming to the next one, namely, the marketing of copra, which was a very important question for the white traders.

"M. Van Rees asked whether the complaints against prohibition had come only from private persons, or had the white officials associated themselves with those complaints.

page 245

"Sir George Richardson replied that the officials had not complained."

This, on the part of the ex-Administrator, was sheer prevarication. In the Appendix to the Reportof the Royal Commission, and referred to in its evidence, was a document dated May 16, 1927, drawn up by the heads of departments of the Samoan Administration and addressed to General Richardson, setting forth the ill effects of Prohibition on the Samoan population. (This, of course, was a sop to the white people, after the native unrest arose.) I reproduce it in the Appendix1of this book. Yet although that document lay on the table before them, not a single member of the Mandates Commission remarked upon it! That ended the discussion on Prohibition.

Later in the proceedings the Chairman stated that they had all read the Report of the Royal Commission: "they had studied it thoroughly and were well acquainted with everything in it. They had discussed it and had even appointed a Sub-Committee which had examined the whole documentation!"

The foregoing will serve as an illustration of the way that the Mandates Commission revealed its laziness and incompetence and suffered itself to be put off with evasive answers, many of them demonstrably false.

1 Appendix vii.