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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 76

The Samoan Question. — Mataafa and the Kingship

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The Samoan Question.

Mataafa and the Kingship.

In view of the recent startling events in Samoa, some fuller information respecting various phases of the situation may not be unwelcome to the public, especially as errors have been somewhat numerous in some of the articles which have lately appeared. The mistakes concerning the present de facto King of Samoa have been particularly numerous, and it is with regard to Josefa Mataafa that in this article 1 propose especially to speak.

Mataafa has for many years been a prominent man in Samoa, occupying important positions in the native Government. As far back as 1880, he was understood to be an aspirant for royal honours: but, for the purposes of this article, it is not necessary to go further back than 1887. At that time there was strife and bloodshed in the country. Tamasese, the elder (since deceased), claimed the throne in opposition to Malietoa Laupepa. Tamasese was actively supported by the Germans, one of whom, Herr Brandeis, was his Premier. Many lives had been lost, villages devasted, and property destroyed. Malietoa Laupepa had been driven from Maulinuu, and from his place of refuge he looked with a sorrowful eye on the distracted country. In September, 1887, he voluntarily surrendered himself to Brandeis and the German Consul, Becker, in the hope and trust that by this act of self-sacrifice he would save his country from further bloodshed and ruin. He was conveyed to Germany, thence to the Cameroons, and finally to Jaluit, in the Marshall Group. Torn away from his country and his people, he endured an exile of two years in foreign lands, suffering much both in body and mind. For far less meritorious acts men have been hailed as heroes, and received the adulation and worship of the world but Malietoa Laupepa has had no trumpeter to sound his fame and no poet to sing his praises. Just before delivering himself up, he summoned Mataafa, and entrusted him with the welfare of his country and his cause. Mataafa accepted the trust, and entered upon that struggle with Tamasese, from which he ultimately emerged triumphant, a result attributable to some considerable extent to the advice and enthusiastic support of English and American sympathisers. It was during this struggle, in December, 1888, that Mataafa's forces defeated a page 6 landing party of German sailors at Vailele, near Apia, and [unclear: the] alleged mutilation of dead and wounded sailors by [unclear: Mataafa] followers on this occasion was the cause of his being [unclear: subsequently] barred from the kingship. During the first year of [unclear: Malieton] Laupepa's banishment, Mataafa was the deputy of the exiled [unclear: king] but on September 9th, 1888, he was appointed King of [unclear: Samoa,] Faleula, by the chiefs of Atua, Aana, Tuamasaga, and Savaii, [unclear: and] received the name of Malietoa. Tamasese's day was then drawing [unclear: the] a close. By the end of the year the war was practically over, [unclear: an] Tamasese had become a nonentity, with but a remnant of [unclear: his] former following.

Just a year after Mataafa had been appointed [unclear: King] Faleula, that is, on September 11th, 1889, the banished [unclear: king] Malietoa Laupepa, was restored to Samoa, and, on his landing [unclear: as] Apia, a very cordial and affecting meeting took place between [unclear: him] and Mataafa. Then the future relations of the two men began [unclear: be] discussed. Who was to be king? It soon transpired [unclear: that] Malietoa, broken in spirit, and feeble in health, was unwilling [unclear: to] resume the cares and obligations of sovereignty, and on [unclear: October] 2nd a great meeting was held at Vaiala. Upwards of 2,000 [unclear: people] were present, and the principal chiefs of Atua, Aana, [unclear: Tuamasaga] Savaii, and Manono, were there. At that great meeting, [unclear: Malieta] publicly and solemnly abdicated in favour of Mataafa, who [unclear: was] then as publicly and formally appointed and confirmed as King [unclear: of] Samoa. The people most interested and concerned thought [unclear: the] question was finally settled, but they were sadly mistaken. [unclear: Some] months before this a Conference on Samoan affairs had taken [unclear: place] at Berlin. It was a unique Conference, and it has [unclear: naturally] produced unique results, results more striking than [unclear: satisfactory]. Samoa herself, the country most deeply interested, did not join [unclear: in] the Conference—she was not invited to join—there was no one there to represent her. The Conference drew up a [unclear: document,] which was dubbed its "Final Act," but Samoa was not [unclear: made] acquainted with the contents of this document for nearly a [unclear: year] after its completion. Three great Powers had kindly taken [unclear: Samoa] in hand, and her part was humbly to submit to be led [unclear: blindfold] along the way which was pointed out to her. But, though [unclear: Samoa] had not been represented at the Conference, the Conference [unclear: had] been very jealous for her freedom and independence. Its [unclear: words] were very clear and unmistakable, for the "Final Act," the [unclear: Treaty], after opening with a touching and eloquent expression of the desire of the great Powers for the welfare of Samoa, proceeds [unclear: to] declare that "the three Powers recognise the independence of the Samoan Government, and the free right of the natives to [unclear: elect] their chief or king, and choose their own form of [unclear: government], according to their own laws and customs." Could anything [unclear: be] page 7 more liberal and considerate? And the Samoans, though at the time ignorant of this beneficent provision on their behalf—for the Treaty had not yet been disclosed—had elected their king at a great gathering of leaders and chiefs. But, after expressly recognising this "free right," the Final Act immediately proceeds just as expressly to deny it, and declares that "Malietoa Laupepa, who was formerly made and appointed king on the 12th day of July, 1881, and was so recognised by the three Powers, shall again be recognised hereafter in the exercise of such authority, unless the three Powers shall by common accord otherwise declare, and his successor shall be duly elected according to the laws and customs of Samoa." So, on November 8th, 1889, six weeks after the abdication of Malietoa, and the appointment of Mataafa in his stead, the three Consuls, who really constitute a Triune Deity, presiding over the destinies of Samoa, issued a proclamation in the name of the three Powers they represented, embodying the paragraph just cited, though not quoting it as from the Treaty, which still remained a secret agreement, undisclosed to the Samoans, and "invited the people of Samoa to take without delay such measures as according to the Samoan custom were necessary to reinstate the High Chief Laupepa as King of Samoa."

This gentle and polite invitation conveyed to the Samoans a meaning not exactly warranted by the derivation of the term, and not sanctioned by Webster or Johnson, but when three great Powers join in an invitation to a small and feeble State, the ordinary canons of interpretation become unreliable, and must be abandoned. The real interpretation can only be determined by ascertaining the will of the Powers. In this case the word invite actually meant command. It was simply the velvet glove of diplomatic politeness concealing the mailed hand of arbitrary dictation. This having been made clear to the Samoans, they responded to the request, if not with cheerful alacrity, at least with submissive obedience. There was no great public ceremony, as on October 2nd, but it was understood that fonos, i.e., native councils, were held in various districts, and on December 5th, 1889, the Consuls issued another proclamation in which they stated that: "Having been informed that in compliance with the invitation contained in our proclamation of November 8th, Malietoa Laupepa has been reinstated as King of Samoa by his own party, and being also aware by letters received from the chiefs at present assembled at Lufilufi, bearing the date of November 1st, and by a letter of November 12th, signed by the high chief Tamasese, that they too are willing to accept Malietoa Laupepa as King of Samoa, we, the undersigned representatives of Germany, Great Britain, and the United States of America, availing ourselves of the instructions sent to us for the purpose by our respective Governments, hereby page 8 proclaim that the Governments of Germany, Great Britain, and the United States of America from this time recognise Malietoa Laupepa as King of Samoa."

It was rather significant that there was no reference to a consent on the part of Mataafa to this arrangement, but there can be little doubt that he acquiesced in the new order of things, though probably with great reluctance, and subsequently he frequently acknowledged the Treaty to be binding on him. This episode is probably without parallel in history. We have here a king, publicly and solemnly renouncing his dignity and title in favour of another, and that other freely and spontaneously elected by the natives to the vacant throne. We have the three greatest States of modern times recognising in one breath the free right of the people to elect their own chief or king, and, in the next, declaring that their nominee must be chosen. Nay, more, when that nominee voluntarily resigns they compel the people to annul the election of his successor, command them to restore the former occupant of the position to the place he had relinquished, and force the unwilling king to resume once more the burden which but two months before he had laid down with feelings of relief and satisfaction. And all this was done under the provisions of a secret agreement, concocted thousands of miles away, without the knowledge or consent of the country and persons affected! Four months after, this document, now known as "the Final Act of the Berlin Conference on Samoan Affairs," was presented to Samoa, and she was practically forced to assent to it. Then the Power? which had thrust Mataafa from the throne, and forced Malietoa Laupepa upon it, left the unfortunate king to his fate. What happened? Mataafa, brooding over his thwarted ambition, became discontented, seditious, rebellious. Twelve years before he had deserted Malietoa Laupepa, and intrigued to supplant him, and now once more he left him, and set up a hostile camp at Malie, a few miles from Apia. For more than two years Malie was the centre and focus of discontent, sedition, and intrigue, Mataafa being supported and encouraged by a number of European sympathisers, prominent amongst whom was the late Robert Louis Stevenson. For a long time the Samoan Government seemed powerless to cope with the rebellion, and appeals to the representatives of the Powers, which had forced Malietoa to remount the throne, were not only futile, but strong objections were made to active hostilities being commenced by Malietoa in his own defence. At length, however, the rebels became so emboldened, and had approached so near Apia, that immediate action became imperative, and the Government forces advanced to the attack. On July 8th, 1893, a battle took place at Vaitele, and Mataafa was easily defeated. He fled to Savaii, but was compelled to leave page 9 immediately, and ultimately took refuge in the small island of Manono, with his discomfited followers. Here he was closely surrounded by the Malietoa forces. The extermination of his followers was practically inevitable and his own death a moral certainty, but he wisely surrendered to Captain Bickford, of H.M.S. Katoomba, which ship, together with the German warships Bussard and Sperber, were now acting in conjunction with the Samoan Government. By direction of the three Powers, not by Germany alone, as has been frequently stated lately. Mataafa and a number of his principal chiefs were deported to Jaluit, being conveyed thither in one of the German warships. After five years of exile he was returned to Samoa by direction of the Powers. When he landed in Samoa he found the throne again vacant, his old rival, Malietoa Laupepa, being dead. There seemed to be nothing to prevent him from realising his ambition and becoming King of Samoa, for the Germans, who had formerly bitterly opposed him, had now adopted him as their protege. Again he was appointed, whether regularly or not has not been determined. He was about to grasp the sceptre, but his outstretched hand was struck down by the decision of Chief Justice Chambers, that the ban laid on him by the Treaty Powers at Berlin, in 1889, at the instance of Germany, has not been removed, and that he is therefore ineligible for the kingship. How he has treated that decision we have learned within the last few days. That decision is one of the most important matters for the Powers to deal with, and a review of it in a subsequent article may not be uninteresting to those who are watching the progress of events in and concerning Samoa.