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Old Samoa or Flotsam and Jetsam from the Pacific Ocean


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More than half a century ago, that is, from 1838 to 1845, for seven years, I lived among the Samoans, in what might be termed the latter period of their 'Stone Age,' and was thus enabled to look upon their habits and customs as they prevailed before the nation had had much intercourse with Europeans, and before Christianity had been able to exert much influence upon them. I thus saw them during a very interesting period of their history, 'the parting of the ways,' as it were; the significance of which fact, however, I did not sufficiently realize at the time, otherwise my researches would have embraced additional subjects, and been followed with fuller results. Yet, from the very first, I felt great interest in Samoa and the Samoans, and endeavoured on every occasion to collect data and memoranda bearing upon their past history and customs, as well as conditions of life, knowing full well that such facts might soon be difficult to obtain.

A resident missionary occupies strong vantage-ground over transitory visitors in collecting facts and data concerning a people among whom he dwells, and I always felt it my duty to avail myself of any opportunity to page 14collect such knowledge as far as I could consistently with my regular missionary duties. But, in point of fact, there was no need to go out of one's way, or to neglect other work to do this, since ordinary official journeyings and constant intercourse with the people, to say nothing of needful relaxations, afforded abundant opportunities for gathering the desired knowledge. I was passionately fond of such researches, and on my journeys and frequent communications with the people had abundant opportunities presented for getting such information; and of these I gladly availed myself. Whilst travelling, conversation would often turn upon such topics, and memorable places and spots were frequently pointed out to me, and traditional records given that opened up information of the deepest interest and value; whilst the natives themselves proved zealous and efficient helpers in what they knew was to me a work and labour of love.

The valuable information which I thus obtained was subsequently supplemented, on my return to England in 1846, by a native Samoan chief, Mamoe, and his wife, Mamoe fafine, who were domiciled in my family. They were both of high rank, and well informed, as well as fully conversant with Samoan native customs and traditional lore, so that they were able to give me much valuable new information, and also to add greater value to that which I already possessed. At that time I contemplated publishing these records, but did not then carry my purpose to execution and subsequently the requirements of a long and arduous colonial ministry have prevented my doing more than giving an occasional loving glance over these old records, as a miser at his treasures, and hoping that some day they might prove page 15of value. But now, having retired from active ministerial duty, and finding, in the light of the present interest in Samoa and Samoan affairs, that the information I possess is likely to be appreciated in many quarters, I venture to publish these records in a connected form.

I have not consulted other writers in my collection of data, feeling that it would be impossible to do so without being in some measure biassed by the views of others, thus lessening the value of my own testimony. Such a record will, I trust, prove valuable in after years, as customs change and living witnesses of those changes pass away. Even as it is, I occupy the unique position of being the sole survivor of the old Samoan missionaries who were fellow-workers with me, the lamented Martyr of Erromanga, the Reverend John Williams, or, to the Samoans, the widely known and deeply revered Viliamu.

Under these circumstances, I send forth these records of the habits and customs of the old Samoans, and thus endeavour to preserve an accurate picture of them as they were in olden days. Great changes have taken place of late years, and habits and customs have died out; so much so, that the Rev. S. Ella, an old and valued friend, himself a former Samoan missionary, says, 'I expect your account will often enlighten even the present generation of Samoans;' whilst in a more recent communication he remarks, 'The fact is, the generation of natives who could have given the required information has passed away, and, with them, the tala-fa'aanamua, the ancient records of the past.' Modern Samoans have quite new ideas to occupy their minds. Thus also missionaries of modern times. Even page 16the Samoan language is changing. I was lately speaking to a young Samoan, a Malua student too, and could hardly understand him, as he turned all the t's into k's.

In the matter of the marvellous early Samoan voyages and settlements throughout Polynesia, accomplished by the older generations of Samoans, I feel assured that such is the case, although amongst the New Zealanders, Tahiteans, Hawaiians, and other groups, careful records have been kept of the marvellous doings of he old Samoan sea kings of the Pacific, during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and even before, in Samoa itself, the knowledge of such voyages has absolutely died out amongst recent generations of Samoans, who as a rule, I think, are quite ignorant of these deeds of their ancestors, the records of which have been cherished with loving care and even veneration by the inhabitants of other and distant parts of Polynesia, which were visited and colonized by these early Samoan navigators.

I love Samoa and the Samoans, and would gladly have returned and lived amongst them, but a seven years' unbroken residence in that enervating climate so broke down my wife's health that I was compelled to return to England at the close of 1845, in the hope of being enabled to rejoin the mission later on; but, after a long residence in England, the opinions of the Society's medical advisers were so adverse to our return, that in 1849 I was compelled to sever my connexion with the London Missionary Society, to our mutual regret, but with a lively remembrance on my part of the constant care and thoughtful help I had received from the Directors and their officials, during the eleven years I had been in connexion with them.

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Our medical advisers as strongly urged our immediate return to Australia, which we did in 1849, and subsequently it was my privilege to labour in connexion with the Church of England in the Dioceses of Melbourne and Ballarat. In this service I spent over thirty-seven years, until increasing age and infirmities led me in 1893 to resign the position of Vicar of St. Arnaud, after a residence there of more than twenty-seven years. But now, with greater leisure, and at the suggestion of many friends, I venture to publish these records of the past, and dedicate them to the London Missionary Society, under whose auspices they were collected during my seven years' residence in Samoa; and also as a tribute to the well-known fundamental principle of that great Society, which was established in troublous times by both Churchmen and Nonconformists over a hundred years ago, and to which its supporters cleave with loving remembrance, notwithstanding the fact that from the force of circumstances the Society is now mainly supported by one section of the Christian Church alone.

At my request, the Rev. Samuel Ella, formerly of Samoa, but now of Sydney, who is a thoroughly competent judge of Samoan lore, has very kindly spent much time in the perusal of the bulk of my Mss., and, as the result, has given me many valuable hints and suggestions as to the preparation of the work. I also desire to express my grateful thanks to the Bishop of Ballarat; and also to the Rev. S. J. Whitmee for the aid which he has kindly rendered in reading the proofs of this book.

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Map of Samoa