Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 64

Native Governments

Native Governments.

The other islands are under the rule of their native chiefs. Three of the principal groups aim at possessing certain forms of constitutional government—the Sandwich, Navigator, and Friendly Islands. This movement has been brought about by the influence of the resident whites, principally Englishmen. Many other islands have also certain forms of monarchial government, such as Rarotonga and Huahine, together with fair codes of laws framed by the missionaries.

In 1863 the reigning chief of the Sandwich Islands, King Kamehamha V., granted his subjects a new constitution (the first constitution of 1840 was granted by Kamehamha III.), based upon the English model—King, Lords, and Commons.

I may be allowed to make a slight digression in order to explain the position of America with regard to the Sandwich Islands and Samoa. The United States, it appears, cannot protect foreign lands without altering certain clauses of the Republican Constitution which are antagonistic to the page 75 Government despotically ruling foreign possessions. The President is very anxious to protect Cuba, San Domingo, the Sandwich Islands, and perhaps Samoa; but protection means annexation, and the Senate will pause before breaking down the fundamental principles of the Constitution. Cuba may be admitted into the Union as a new State, as it very nearly approaches the standard of landed area and population required to constitute a State; but the other three places will require different treatment. Indirectly, American citizens are being encouraged to take such action as will afford the Senate an opportunity of publicly endorsing national claims over these particular spots should it at any time wish to do so. The cordial reception at Washington of any member of the reigning family of the Sandwich Group, the Samana Bay Company in San Domingo, Commodore Meade's action with respect to Pango Pango harbour, Samoa, and the appointment of an American citizen (Colonel Steinberger) to the chief administrative post in that group, are instances of this movement, all of which, I believe, receive the private support of the President, who is a very strong protectionist, or annexationist. There is very little doubt but that the Sandwich Islands will eventually fall under the American flag.

The Friendly Archipelago, or Tonga, is ruled by a native king and council of chiefs;—this group possesses the best native Government in the Pacific. King George Tabou administers the greater portion of the executive duties of the Government personally, and he administers them well. His power is almost absolute. The laws are simple and well framed, the king paying much attention to the advice of the missionaries, who, having no direct interest in commerce, can best advise him upon questions of a conflicting nature. There are many English planters upon the islands, and more flocking in. The group is becoming very valuable. One great trouble is looming before it—the succession to the crown. The king is over 70 years of age, and the heirs-expectant are beginning to talk of his successor. In the Pacific there are always many claimants for the chief authority, and they have each their supporters. The question is generally settled by war, and these wars of succession are most cruel and devastating, might usually overcoming right. A similar war is likely to happen in Tonga. The real well-wishers of Tonga hope that England will interfere and prevent the dark I cloud from bursting, for it most assuredly will devastate the island, and cost I hundreds of lives.

The Tongese are a most warlike race, and the most daring navigators in the Pacific. Their sympathies are entirely English, and their chiefs have steadily assisted the work of the Wesleyan missionaries; indeed, but for them, Fiji would still be a land of cannibals. The Tongese for more than a century have had much influence in Fijian matters, their warriors playing page 76 the part of powerful mercenaries to the quarrelling chieftains. Maafu, a Tongan, carved out for himself a chieftainship hi the Windward Islands of that group, and would have ousted Thakambou had it not been for our interference. He is the most likely man to succeed King George in Tonga, although he has no just right to the crown. Maafu is a great chief, and his friendship is worth cultivating. He rules his subjects well;—white settlers upon his islands can plant and trade in perfect safety.

The action of Sir Hercules Robinson, in inviting Thakambou to Sydney, is highly to be commended. It would be a great advantage if similar hospitality were extended to Maafu. Is it not advisable for the Australian Colonies to pay some such attention to the principal Polynesian chieftains? The practical lesson of civilization would be a great one, and the bond of friendship between the islands and the colonies much strengthened.

The Navigator Group, or Samoa, is also desirous of obtaining some representative form of government, but matters are in a very unsettled condition. Colonel Stemberger, U.S.A. (a special Commissioner sent by President Grant to investigate and report upon the petition for American protection made by the chiefs) was very lately appointed Prime Minister for life. He did not, however, long hold the appointment. It is a difficult matter for any man to endeavour to control the affairs of both natives and foreign residents in the Pacific. The interests are too diverse. The captain of a British man-of-war may view in a very different light actions which may have been prompted for the sole benefit of the native population. I believe that Colonel Steinberger—and I had many conversations with that gentleman—acted as he considered for the good of the Samoan people, but in doing so he fell under the ban of the foreign residents. On February 8, 1876, Captain Stevens, of H.M.S. "Barracouta," at the request of King Malietoa, removed Colonel Steinberger from Samoa. The native chiefs objected, however, to the interference of Captain Stevens, and I think they were quite right in doing so. An affray ensued between the natives and our men, in which a few of our sailors lost their lives. The Admiralty has consequently ordered an investigation into the whole business, and we shall shortly be placed in possession of the actual facts of the case. Steinberger's reign was a short one—landing in March, 1875, removed in February, 1876. His mode of settling the dispute between the rival claimants of the crown (Malietoa the old, and Malietoa the younger) was somewhat peculiar. It was provided that each should reign for four years alternately, while Steinberger himself should be Premier for life.

The Samoan Parliament consists of two bodies—the Tainua and Faipule. The Tainua are the sixteen nobles of Samoa, and the Faipule the elected body, one member being elected for every two thousand of the inhabitants.

page 77

The desire of these little communities to possess some form of government which can administer internal affairs, and be recognised by foreign powers, is very laudable; but it is doubtful whether any of them will long maintain the position which they have assumed. They will find themselves far better off under the rule of some great power than under their own. Representative constitution is quite unsuitable to them. Democracies cannot exist within the tropics. The great body of the natives implicitly obey the orders of their chiefs.

Previously to the cession of Fiji, the native Government passed an Act allowing manhood suffrage to both natives and Europeans. The consequence would have been that the power of nominating and returning the whole of the representatives would have fallen into the hands of about four chiefs. Our form of Government—Queen, Lords, and Commons—is not found to work well in the West Indies, neither will it in the Pacific. The people may eventually be taught to exercise the power of election, but at present they cannot be entrusted with it. Neither is the aristocratic form of government—King elected and Chiefs—suitable, as the white settlers must possess a powerful voice in the administration. In my opinion, the only form of government suitable is an absolute monarchy, the crown being assisted by a mixed council of native chiefs and influential white residents, this being analagous to one of our pure Crown colonies.

In such tropical islands as these there can only be two classes—labourers, and employers of labour; there cannot, for many generations to come, be a middle class. Employers of tropical labour must, therefore, be rulers, unless a power steps in to protect the labourer; that power, for the benefit of all concerned, must rule absolutely or not at all. Wherever coloured labour is used, the white employers look upon it as degrading. The planters require to be held in check just as much as the natives. The whites in Fiji utterly ignored the existence of the native population except as consumers of imported goods, possible labourers, and payers of a tyrannical poll-tax. In many other islands the same feeling prevails. It is to be hoped that white settlers will be more liberal in their ideas, and recognize the advantage of absolute government. It is not at all unlikely that many other groups of islands will set up certain forms of government.