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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 76

The Dilemma of the Powers. — Mataafa's Ineligibility

The Dilemma of the Powers.

Mataafa's Ineligibility.

Of all the awkward situations which have from time to time arisen in Samoa, the Treaty Powers have never been presented with such a painful dilemma as that which confronts them now. The attempted deposition of the Chief Justice, and usurpation of his powers by Dr. Raffel, and the alleged misconduct of Herr Rose, the German Consul, though grave matters, contain in themselves no elements of difficulty preventing their being disposed of summarily and satisfactorily. These are matters which can and will be dealt with by the Powers amongst themselves. But the gravest and by far the most difficult question to be decided is, What is to be done with regard to the decision of Chief Justice Chambers declaring Mataafa ineligible for the kingship, and Malietoa Tanumafili duly-elected King of Samoa? Mataafa has page 10 trampled the decision of the Chief Justice under foot, defeated the forces of the youthful Malietoa and his ally Tamasese, seized the throne, and has been acknowledged by the representatives of the Treaty Powers as de facto King of Samoa. This somewhat hasty action of the Consuls still further complicates matters. (En passant, it may be remarked that the terms "throne," "sceptre," "crown," etc., as applied to native rulers of Samoa, are merely figures of speech. I have frequently been in the late king's palace—a two-roomed cottage—and have been present at a number of royal functions, and never saw a crown on the king's head, or a sceptre in his hand, while the nearest approach to a throne in his possession was an Austrian bentwood rocker.

At the time of the fighting on New Year's Day, Mataafa's forces appear to have outnumbered the combined Malietoa and Tamasese forces by about ten to one.* It is possible that Mataafa had practically the whole of his party in and around Apia, for lie had for some time been concentrating his warriors there, as if anticipating an adverse decision. But there seems some reason for believing that the majority of the Samoans are in favour of Mataafa; that not only in Apia, but throughout the country, his followers are largely preponderant, and his successful coup would probably have the effect of still further strengthening his cause.

The dilemma the Treaty Powers have to deal with is this: The decision of Chief Justice Chambers must either be enforced or not enforced. If it is to be enforced, there is the moral certainty, unless Mataafa once more relinquishes the kingship, which, though possible, is scarcely probable, of scenes of bloodshed and desolation in Samoa, eclipsing all previous things of the kind. Are the Powers prepared to enforce the decision of the Chief Justice at the sword's point? Would public feeling in Germany, England, or America permit this to be done? On the other hand, if the Treaty Powers tamely submit to the decision of the Chief Justice being treated with contempt, openly defied, and set at nought by force of arms, they not only expose that official to bitter humiliation, but render the Supreme Court of Samoa, so far as the natives are concerned a mere name, and a thing to be flouted with impunity by all those against whom its decisions may be given. Is there any third or middle course by which these evils can be avoided? The ingenuity of diplomatists may succeed in discovering one, but, page 11 assuming Mataafa's determination to retain the position he now holds, it seems to me impossible to find one.

The importance of the matter justifies a discussion on that fateful judgment, which has already led to startling occurrences in Samoa, and which is still big with import to that fair but distressful country. Like most judgments, mundane and otherwise, there is doubtless a good deal to be said for and against it. In my remarks, I shall not presume to contend either one way or the other, but simply draw attention to some points on both sides, with the object of presenting the whole matter for the consideration of those who feel interested in it, though, of course, not pretending to deal with the subject exhaustively.

Chief Justice Chambers has decided that Mataafa is ineligible for the kingship of Samoa, and that Malietoa Tanumafili, a youth not vet of age, son of the late Malietoa Laupepa, being the only other candidate, has been duly elected King of Samoa. This decision has been given under the provisions of Section 6 of Article III. of the Treaty, called the "Final Act of the Berlin Conference on Samoan Affairs," which runs as follows: "In case any question shall hereafter arise in Samoa respecting the rightful election or appointment of king or of any other chief claiming authority over the islands, or respecting the validity of the powers which the king or any chief may claim in the exercise of his office, such question shall not lead to war, but shall be presented to the Chief Justice of Samoa, who shall decide in writing conformably to the provisions of this Act, and to the laws and customs of Samoa, not in conflict therewith, and the signatory Governments will accept and abide by such decision."

The words, "any question" are very wide, and seem to be all embracing, but it will doubtless be contended that this question of Mataafa's eligibility is not covered by them, and that there is nothing in the laws or customs of Samoa to prevent Mataafa from being an eligible candidate for the kingship. Moreover, it will lie contended that there is no provision in the Treaty declaring Mataafa ineligible. Round this point the dispute as to the validity of the decision of the Chief Justice will be warmest and most interesting. The declaration in the Treaty that Malietoa Laupepa should again be recognised as king, operated at that time, of course, to the exclusion of everyone else. But Malietoa Laupepa has been buried with his fathers, and at the time of Mataafa's appointment (November 12th bust), there was absolutely nothing in the Treaty itself which could be made to spell out ineligibility.

It is perhaps unfortunate that the decision should have been based on this point alone. In his judgment, Chief Justice page 12 Chambers says:—"In view of the vast importance of the questions involved in this contest, and the magnitude of the issue itself, an opinion will be handed down later (which will be published), sustaining the decision which is now announced, and which, in accordance with the requirements of the Treaty, is made in writing. The opinion will discuss extensively the evidence pro and con, and, as far as it may be possible, determine what the laws and customs of Samoa are bearing upon the election of a king. It will also discuss, at greater length, the question of eligibility of one of the contestants." Mataafa, however, did not wait for the publication of this opinion, but let loose the dogs of war, and in a few hours had, for a time at least, reversed the decision of the Chief Justice, with heavy costs on the other side.

Before proceeding to discuss the decision of the Chief Justice, it is proper in this place to review the facts upon which that decision, as to the ineligibility of Mataafa, is based.

Reference has already been made to the engagement at Vailele between the Samoans under Mataafa and the German sailors, when a score of the latter were slain and a considerable number wounded.

One of the customs of Samoan warfare is to decapitate dead or wounded combatants, and exhibit the severed and gory heads as trophies of valour and triumph. I have heard Samoans justify this practice by citing the case of David and Goliath, and, if Mataafa's Roman Catholic followers are familiar with the Douay version of the Bible, they would probably also cite the case of the beautiful widow Judith, and the amorous general, Holofernes. There seems no reason to doubt that three of the dead or wounded German sailors were, in accordance with this custom, beheaded. In one case there is some reason to believe that the ears were also cut off. But there also seems to be no reason to doubt that these barbarities were not sanctioned by Mataafa himself, and that when he and his principal chiefs became aware of it, they strictly forbade any further acts of the kind, giving as one reason the fact that Europeans did not themselves commit these atrocities on helpless foes, and, therefore, it was unfair that they should be treated in this manner. So far as I know, however, there has never been a careful or impartial investigation into the matter, and it is consequently impossible to say to what extent Mataafa was personally responsible.

Six months later, that remarkable Conference on Samoan affairs was being held at Berlin, and Lord Salisbury, in a letter of instructions to the British representatives, had said, "The selection of a native ruler will be a matter of difficulty, and page 13 probably will give rise to serious discussion. Her Majesty's Government has no other wish but that the Samoans should be governed by the ruler they themselves prefer, and any arrangement for securing the free election of a sovereign will have their hearty support. But the liberty of choice may possibly be restricted in view of some of the Powers by considerations arising out of past events." Lord Salisbury's surmise proved to be correct, and when the matter came up for final discussion, Count Herbert Bismarck said: "The Conference had already agreed that it was desirable to interfere as little as possible with the internal affairs of Samoa, and the German Government had no objection to recognise any form of Government which the natives might choose for themselves. The principle of the election of a king was therefore acceptable, but he was bound to make one exception, in the person of Mataafa, on account of the outrages committed by his people, and under his authority, upon dead and wounded German sailors lying on the field of action." Sir E. Malet, the British Ambassador, "considered the exception made by Count Bismarck as fair and reasonable. His Government would have probably entertained a similar objection, had the like outrages been committed on British sailors." The American representatives appear to have remained silent on the matter at that time, though, ultimately, it was not allowed by them to pass without comment. Mataafa's German supporters probably feel the irony of fate pretty keenly, for they are in the position of the "engineer hoist with his own petard." The ban laid on Mataafa, at the instance of Germany, is held by the Chief Justice to be still in full force, and so Mataafa's erstwhile bitter enemies, but at present his ardent friends, find their new protege declared ineligible for the position they wished him to occupy. The matter had been freely discussed in Samoa; Mataafa's candidature was known to the German Government, and as that Government had made no protest, it was naturally concluded by Mataafa's friends that there was no objection to his candidature. The objection to his eligibility was not taken at the outset; in fact, not until the proceedings had nearly terminated. During his five years exile at Jaluit, Mataafa had been in constant intercourse with German officials, and, apparently, intimate friendly relations had been established. Herr Brandeis was the last man to address him before the exile left Jaluit, in a German warship, on his return to Samoa. A German political agent was the first person to meet him on the ship, when she arrived at Apia, although the three Consuls had arranged that no one was to see him until after they had interviewed him collectively, not individually. After he had landed at Apia it was soon evident that the German ægis was over him. Naturally, it was concluded that the past was forgiven, or that Germany "was satisfied that Mataafa had not been personally responsible for the page 14 outrages Committed on her unfortunate seamen ten years before. Before lie left Jaluit he had been required to sign a document, containing certain promises relating to his future conduct in Samoa, and he confirmed these promises immediately after his arrival. These promises have an important bearing on what has recently taken place, and reference will be made to them hereafter. For the present I conclude by pointing out that the decision as to Mataafa's ineligibility it based not on the treaty itself, but on what is contained in the protocols, and communications connected therewith. Chief Justice Chambers has held that the protocols form part of, and are to be read with the Treaty, and that, "as long as the condition remains in the protocol, and until it is stricken out or altered by the same Powers that placed it there, a judicial officer, whose right to exercise the functions of his office depends upon the same Treaty and protocols, cannot give any interpretation to Article I. than that so manifestly and mandatorily stated in the protocol of the fifth session of the conference." (The utterances of Count Bismarck and Sir E. Malet quoted above.)

While it is easy to understand how the Treaty can be amended by provisions being struck out, or altered, and new provisions inserted, it is not quite clear how the report of Count Bismarck's utterances can be expunged from the protocols, which are a record of what was said and done.

* Later information seems to indicate that this rather overestimates [unclear: Mataafa's] force, while it is also contended that his supporters throughout the islands are not [unclear: so] numerous as they were at first. The appointment of a king in Samoa, however, is [unclear: not] effected by anything in the nature of a plebiscite or popular vote, and therefore [unclear: the] numerical strength of a party is important only so far as it may affect the stability of [unclear: the] government and the permanence of peace. There seems to be no reason to doubt [unclear: that] Mataafa's supporters even at the present time are numerically larger than those of [unclear: Malietoa] Tanu, and his armed forces are unquestionably much stronger, and more [unclear: efficiently] equipped.