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‘Guardians and Wards’ : (A study of the origins, causes, and the first two years of the Mau in Western Samoa.)


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‘… a child of which we have assumed the guardianship’

(Governor-General Ferguson)54

‘Today Samoa is a great country. I am going to make it better.’

(motto of the ‘FETU OF SAMOA’, established by Richardson)55

Richardson came to Samoa, with a remarkable administrative and military record; his term of office in the territory was to prove highly controversial.56

This man of action, in his first 1923 Report, judged that the Samoans (both native and European) were contented, loyal. Conditions in the country conjured up within him a swelling feeling of optimism, and he lost no time in implementing his reforming policy, wholeheartedly supported by the New Zealand Government. Unlike Tate, Richardson did not subscribe to delaying tactics; he was sure, in his own mind, that, with positive action, he would solve the Samoan ‘problem’, that the fulfilment of the terms of the mandate was at hand, as it were.

The aims of the his Native Policy were classical in their simplicity, but, he knew that their execution would be difficult. Firstly, his policy aimed at developing the material welfare of the Samoans (natives), and, if necessary, at the expense of the European residents; secondly, such a policy page 67 should win, for the New Zealand Administration, the lasting confidence of the Samoans; lastly, the first two aims would be facilitated through the establishment of a system of Samoan self-help; this system would be the basis for a large measure of self-government in the future.

Real progress would be measured in terms of economic (agricultural) development. This meant the evolution of a modern agricultural economy; to do this, changes would have to be made in the Samoan system of land tenure. Expansion in the social-welfare services (education and health) was planned, also. Education would be a key weapon in forging, within the Samoans, a love of and a pride in country; education should also promote the desire to increase material prosperity through intensive agricultural effort.

The underlying values of the native policy of this well-meaning paternalist were the cardinal puritan virtues of thrift, hardwork, cleanliness and charity. Even Brigadier-Generals do become missionaries.

A complex system for controlling native affairs was visualised. The aims of such a system were to win the confidence of the Samoan people; wean them away from their frustrating preference for the ‘fa'a-Samoa’. The system would be adapted to the Samoan socio-political organisation and should, therefore, place the chiefly elite under the reforming scrutiny of the Native Affairs Department.

Richardson immediately plunged into reforming native government and establishing his own system of native administration. He organised a series of native committees; some were innovations, others were adaptations of institutions established by previous administrations.

The ‘Fono of Faipule’ was the most important Samoan council. Dr. Solf, in 1905, had first instituted this advisory council consisting twenty-seven page 68 representatives from the various districts; representation being on a population basis, and appointments made permanent if the ‘Faipule’ pursued his duties, faithfully. These men were treated as the true political ‘leo’ (voices) of their districts. This Fono had continued in existence under Tate.57 But even by 1923, the Fono was still an advisory body, not legally constituted and without legislative powers; its thirty-two members being direct nominees of the Administrator. Richardson changed the function, status, and constitution of the ‘Fono’. A New Zealand Parliamentary Act of August 15, 1923, gave the Fono legal status as the council to deal with native questions.58 Under Richardson's command the Fono consequently became the most crucial council in the system of native administration, to be considered as the only body through which Samoan opinion could and should be expressed.

From 1923 to 1925, the topics discussed by the Fono ranged from details concerning health and education to controversial issues of national importance, from the cleanliness of villages to the prohibition of fine mat ‘malaga’. After this initial success in using the Fono as a means of regulating and reforming Samoan everyday life, Richardson, after 1925, introduced trully fundamental issues such as the individualisation of landholdings, regulations concerning the removal of matais, and the question of inheriting matai titles.

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Apart from the Fono of Faipule, Richardson erected other committees at the village and district levels. The village committees, - bodies of representative villages chiefs and orators presided over by the pulenu'us, - made by-laws and enforced them. The District Councils, made up of representatives from the village committees and all the Samoan officials (except the fa'amasino) and presided over by the Faipule, dealt with such matters as the control of villages, sanitation, roads, and agriculture. The Administrator had to approve the decisions of these Councils.59

The whole system came under the control of the Native Affairs Department assisted by four agricultural inspectors of the Agricultural Department. The Secretary of Native Affairs was directly responsible to Richardson. The system was financed by alloting 75 per cent of the fines, imposed by the fa'amasino, to the District Councils and towards public works.

The smooth functioning of the system depended on the condition of the base of the administrative pyramid: the Samoan officials and their ability to foster and maintain the loyalty of the chiefly elite in their respective areas. The Administration, through the Fono of Faipule, could (and did) pass a bewildering mass of laws and regulations to be applied by the Samoan officials, but the Administration did not possess an effective police force to enforce these laws if the need ever arose.60 Hence, if the native officials lost the support of the chiefly elite, who were still the real power in the villages and districts, the administrative machine would grind to a halt.

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As Richardson was establishing the native system he was also pushing ahead in other fields concerning Samoan welfare. In 1923, he created an advisory Education Board to assist the Administration in educational expansion. Up to this time the missions had been largely responsible for education. Richardson fostered a close liason between the Administration and the missions. By 1927, Samoa was covered effectively by a mission - Administration system of elementary education. A few Grade III schools were established at Vaipouli (Savaii) and Malifa (Upolu). Technical education was developed as well. Avele Agricultural College was founded in 1923, and, in 1927, a technical school was opened at Apia. Character-development, health, hygiene, and agriculture were stressed in the curriculum. To further enhance the aim of character-building, the ‘Fetu o Samoa’, a glorified scout-type movement, was founded and made compulsory for all Grade III pupils.

Throughout his term of office, there was a steady improvement in education. Teacher-training was introduced, and a new syllabus was devised re-emphasising the importance of agriculture, hygiene, technical training, and the vernacular. Education was free for the Samoans, and, by 1926, it was costing the Administration up to £10,000 a year, with New Zealand contributing an annual subsidy of £6,000.

Utilising propaganda campaigns, education and Native Regulations, Richardson tried to improve Samoan agriculture. A series of Regulations, in 1925, instigated the system of compulsory planting, severely limited the number of days the Samoans could devote to games, and forbade malaga, so that more time could be spent in plantation work. Papalagi and Samoan agricultural inspectors organised campaigns for the eradication of the rhinoceros beetle, inspected plantations, gave lectures and demonstrations. An improve- page 71 ment in the quality and quantity of Samoan copra was also attempted through similar means. Government inspections of plantations were tightened. Improvement was carried further, in 1927, when the Administration offered to aid the Samoan copra producers fetch a fair price for their copra by marketing this copra through the New Zealand Reparation Estates and not through the traders.

A diversification of the basis of the economy was also attempted. New crops, such as cotton and rubber, were introduced; and, in, 1926, the New Zealand Government agreed to transport bananas (and other fruit) from Samoa to the New Zealand market. A few agricultural, experimental stations were established as well.

In these attempts at economic improvement, especially in agriculture, Richardson came up against the problem of land tenure. In 1924, an investigation of the whole question was carried out. After discussions a reluctant Fono of Faipule adopted a regulation in November 1925, entitling a taxpayer to a ten-acre lease for life at a rental fee of 1/- per acre; this rent was to be paid to the District Councils. In 1926, Richardson tried to effect, through the Fono, the individualisation of landholdings. The Faipules rejected the proposal.

Richardson reorganised the Health Department; enlisted the Faipule's support in the drive to win Samoan confidence in modern medicine. In 1923, a free medical service was started; this was to be financed by a levy of £1 per male adult Samoan. By 1928, twenty-one medical stations covered the Group, and, apart from Apia Hospital, hospitals had been opened at Tuasivi (Savaii), and Aleipata (Upolu). A medical training scheme for nurses and male medical assistants had been established at Apia Hospital. Public Health was improved. The number of Health Inspectors and Medical officers was page 72 increased. Drives were made, in the villages, to improve sanitation. The Public Works built pipe systems, water tanks, and drainage. The Fono of Faipule passed Regulations concerning such things as latrines, water systems, and sanitation. By 1926, campaigns against yaws and hookworm were well under way. And Regulations were again passed for the control of these diseases. During 1924 and 1925, an expedition from the London School of Tropical Medicine carried out research into the disease of filariasis.

This health policy acted as a further drain on finances. By 1927 expenditure on health alone was £25,912. The New Zealand Government gave £14,000 annually.

Throughout his period of rule, Richardson, like Tate, undoubtedly emphasised the importance of Samoan welfare. Both Richardson and the New Zealand Government failed to appreciate the importance of the European-part-European elements in Samoan affairs. Richardson maintained the policy of segregating the ‘half-castes’ from the ‘pure’ Samoans. Apart from a few ineffective measures, such as making employment in the Public Service available to qualified European youths, he made no real effort to cater for the needs of these minorities. The true significance of the racial problem escaped Richardson as it had escaped Tate.

Nothing was done for the highly influential individuals within the part-European group; they were ignored, classified with the European residents, and treated as if they were aliens within Samoa.

Right from the beginning, he set out to win the confidence of leading European residents. He had numerous discussions with the Samoan Welfare League to discern the views of the Europeans on important subjects. He wanted to give them the opportunity to control their own civic affairs by page 73 supporting their demand for the restoration of the Municipality of Apia. But, after lengthy negotiations with representatives of this group, the scheme was abandoned in 1925.

He made some concessions in granting the Europeans a larger share in the administration of the territory. In August 1923, the New Zealand Government passed the Samoa Amendment Act: the three nominated members of the Legislative Council were to be replaced by not more than six elected members. This, so the New Zealand Government claimed, would be the first step in granting local autonomy.61 Richardson's interpretation of the Amendment, however, showed that he was unwilling to go very far in liberalising it. He limited the number of elected members to three, and restricted the franchise by placing a high property or salary qualification.62 By 1925, he had stifled all hope for greater autonomy. He reaffirmed his stand on 14 March 1927 when he declared, in the Council, that the Council was only an advisory committee.63

Even though he subordinated European economic interests to those of the Samoans, he made some concessions to the Europeans. He kept taxation low, and helped planters in improving their crops and plantations. The Europeans also gained from the reforms in Samoan agriculture, health, and education. He did not ignore, altogether, European interest in the question of indentured labour. This system, even though drastically reformed, was continued page 74 up to 1927. The Europeans also benefitted from the Public Works programme and the fact that the profits from the New Zealand Reparation Estates being used for the development of Samoa.

However, in other matters, his policy worked in direct opposition to European interests, particularly in the question of prohibition. He was personally against prohibition. But, because he was primarily a man of duty, he enforced the prohibition law even in the face of mounting European hostility.

His whole programme resulted in a vast increase in expenditure. And because most of this expenditure was a result of his Native Policy, he incurred the wrath of the European minority. Before he took office, the annual expenditure was £132,658 (in 1923), and ordinary revenue was £131,250, leaving a deficit of £1,408. He made only one renovation in the method of raising revenue: he introduced a compulsory medical tax of £1 per adult male per year. In 1927, this tax was amalgamated with a poll tax, which now totalled £2 per matai and £1/16/- per commoner. And apart from increasing the annual subsidies from New Zealand to £24,000 (in 1924), he continued Tate's policy of borrowing. So, while revenue remained constant at about £133,000 a year, expenditure increased rapidly.

For this progressive policy, breathless in its dimensions and seemingly dazzling in its execution (or so it was believed by New Zealand, the League, and overseas opinion), Richardson won a Knighthood and overwhelming praise. The weaknesses and dangers of the system he forged escaped the notice of the New Zealand Government, the League, and overseas public opinion. But weaknesses and dangers there were. Beneath the gilded facade of progress and reform, the discontented forces of old Samoa were amassing; the combination page 75 of these forces and European discontent brought Richardson's massive ark of reform to a brute standstill within six months of his return from New Zealand in 1926, with the laurels of knighthood. The ‘adopted child’ had been forced, by his guardian, to prove openly that he was not a child but a wiry oldman centuries old.