Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

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

CHAPTER II — POLITICS — ‘Queens and Pawns’

page 19


‘Queens and Pawns’

The second half of the nineteenth century saw the violent recurrence of the struggle between Tumua and Pule. 1844 to 1855 was the worst period of these civil wars, which involved nearly the whole of Savaii and Upolu. Before his death, Malietoa Vainu'upo - the last Tafa'ifa - visited the Tui Manu'a; these two leaders agreed that Samoa, because of the nation-wide acceptance of Christianity, was ready to acknowledge only one ruler, God.21 Consequently, Malietoa's mavaega (last testimony) scattered the Tafa'ifa titles amongst the various political districts. Malietoa's idealistic but naive faith in the ability of his people to keep the peace under Jehovah was a direct cause of the resumption of the Tumua-Pule wars. And even the missionaries could not stop their newly won converts from going to war.

From 1855 to 1866, Samoa experienced a diminuition in the struggle, especially under the ‘pule’ of Malietoa Moli. However, when Moli died in 1866, the wars resumed. The British consul and the missionaries, believing mistakenly that the ‘kingship’ was a hereditary one, supported Laupepa, Moli's son. Laupepa was rejected by Pule, but backed by Tumua. Moli's brother Talavou was Pule's candidate. Conflict broke out between the two factions. But the wars were not as severe as those during the earlier part of the century. By this time, the strife was intensified by the interference of foreign nationals within Samoa. Through the efforts of the missionaries (whose ‘enterprise’ could not function while its congregations were fighting page 20 each other) and the intervention of the American, German and British consuls (backing their decision with displays of naval might), peace was restored in 1873, and Laupepa was placed in the throne.

A colourful American adventurer, named Steinberger, made a brief appearance - in the years 1873 to 1876 - as the power behind Malietoa Laupepa's Government. Steinberger promised the Samoans the support of the United States Government, and by doing so, won their confidence and trust. He offered the Samoan political elite a way of restrengthening Samoan forces in the face of the European factions, centred at Apia, which were trying to manipulate Samoan politics to suit their own ends. Up to this time, Samoan efforts at establishing some form of stable Government had been rendered ineffective not only by the factional strife within the Samoan political elite but by the arrogant machinations of the European factions in Apia. To try and maintain their independence from these European factions, the Samoan elite accepted a Constitution evolved by Steinberger. This constitution alternated the royal title between Malietoa Laupepa and Tupua Pulepule, created two houses; Ta'imua (the upper house made up of the high chiefs) and Faipule (the lower house of the talking chiefs). Steinberger assumed the role of prime minister. And for three years Samoa enjoyed a peaceful interlude. But it could not last. The United Stated Government refused to support Steinberger. And because of his very success in gaining the trust of the Samoans, Steinberger exposed himself to the hostility of the European community; he was duly deported on a British warship.

Angered by Laupepa's action in signing the order for Steinberger's deportation, Ta'imua and Faipule dethroned him. Laupepa gained the support of a new party, the Puletua. A'ana and Atua (Tumua), supporting the claims page 21 of the Satupua family, put forth Malietoa Talavou as their candidate.

The foreign governments and consuls, concerned about their plantation and trading interests, strove to establish a strong Samoan government that would protect these interests. This task became more urgent when New Zealand attempts to force Britain into annexing Samoa grew more pronounced, and as the Samoans and missionaries pleaded with Britain (and America) to annex the territory. The consuls (and their governments), in this attempt to safeguard their interests in Samoa, signed treaties with various chiefly groups. In 1877, the Germans obtained exclusive rights to Saluafata harbour. The U.S.A. followed suit, in 1878, by gaining similar rights to Pago Pago harbour. Britain was guaranteed equal privileges in 1879. In these attempts to checkmate one another, these Three Powers became inextricably involved in Samoan affairs. Apart from the treaties, Apia was made a separate and neutral municipality governed jointly by the three consuls of Germany, Britain, and America.

This general settlement, safeguarding foreign interests in Samoa, and the acceptance in 1880, by the Samoan factions, of Malietoa Talavou as King, seemed to point towards peace. But Talavou died inconveniently in 1881, and the Samoan factions immediately jockeyed for political supremacy. The consuls advocated annexation as the solution. The majority of the Samoan political elite favoured annexation by Britain, with the U.S.A. as a second choice. Britain and America, however, refused. Economically, the Germans had the most to lose if Britain or America annexed the Territory. So German intrigue became more fervent.

The Germans forged an alliance with Tamasese. When this became known, the Americans and British backed Malietoa Laupepa and Pule. The rivalry page 22 between the two alliances began mounting towards open conflict. The Germans declared war on Laupepa, exiled him, and placed Tamasese in the throne. Most of the Samoan elite regarded Tamasese as a usurper and, in the war between Tamasese and Mata'afa - the new Malietoa leader, backed the latter. These events critically increased the tension between Germany, Britain and America, who all sent warships to Samoa. Seven warships gathered in Apia harbour and open war seemed tantamount. Nature intervened. The great hurricane of March 1889, destroyed six of the seven warships, and the Three Powers were forced to the conference table in Berlin. Samoa was declared neutral territory, with all the Powers and their respective citizens having equal rights within that territory, which was now to be governed jointly by the Three Powers. Laupepa was restored to the throne.

The new arrangement was unwieldy and could not work effectively because of the distrust between the consuls and between the Samoan factions. In 1893, political upheaval returned when the Mata'afa faction revolted. After a short but brutal war, the rebels were suppressed and Mata'afa was exiled. At the same time, the Tamasese party rebelled against Laupepa, and had to be put down by the Powers.

When Laupepa died in 1898 and the Supreme Court made an unpopular choice in appointing Malietoa Tanumafili as his successor, Tumua and Pule, in an unexpected fit of nationalism, threw their weight behind Mata'afa (who had returned from exile). In January 1899, a brief engagement occurred between the rival parties. Mata'afa and the rebels were triumphant. Two months later, American warships arrived to enforce the decision of the Supreme Court. March and April witnessed widespread warfare between the Samoan rival claimants. While these factions were engaged in hand-to-hand combat, the page 23 warships bombarded the Upolu villages which supported Mata'afa. After the shelling, landing parties burned the villages and plantations.

After these events, the Powers had to admit, to themselves, that the only solution to the Samoan ‘problem’ was partition. In another conference at Berlin in 1899, Upolu and Savaii went to Germany, while America assumed control of Eastern Samoa.

The brief survey of the pre-Partition period reveals some of the major causes of Samoan discontent. From 1844 to 1899, the Samoan civil wars, intensified by foreign intervention, cost hundreds of Samoan lives. All for what? so the Samoan leaders asked themselves: partition was effected without their consent. Some of them, who had wanted annexation, had pleaded for Britain or America. But in the final count, Samoa got Germany, the least preferable of the three.

During the struggle, the consuls, planters, traders and gunrunners used Samoan instability to increase their economic, political, and commercial footholds. They showed little genuine concern for Samoan welfare. When they strove for the establishment of a stable Samoan government, it was in order to safeguard their own selfish interests: stable government would facilitate the development of European plantations and trading. Any form of Samoan government, which did not suit one of these foreign groups, was rendered ineffective by that group. True, the Samoan factions, when in opposition, willingly accepted the aid of these groups, but there were times (such as the Steinberger period) when the Samoan leaders united to establish a unified Samoan government, but foreign interference usually resulted in the disintegration of such a government.

By 1890, Apia had become a state within a state, the bulwark of the page 24 domineering papalagi whose attitudes towards the Samoans were determined primarily by economic, political and commercial self-interest. Samoan governments could not function while Apia continued to be the instigator of plots to overthrow governments which threatened the interests of one or more of the foreign minorities. Most of the territory's revenue was controlled by the white inhabitants of Apia, and Samoan governments had no power over Apia. Any laws passed by Samoan governments had no legal effect over the papalagi, while the Samoans were expected to abide by the rulings of the foreigners. When these rulings or decisions were not obeyed, troops and warships were called in to enforce them. The last bombardment of Samoan villages in 1899 resulted in a great loss of life caused not only by the actual shelling but by the famine which followed the destruction of villages and plantations.

To many of the Samoan leaders, the papalagi were attempting to usurp their place as the rightful rulers of Samoa. And while they were usurping this power, they were also taking Samoan land. Many of the foreigners used the unsettled situation in Samoan to gain land cheaply. The Samoans needed arms and ammunition; they had only land to offer for these. Consequently, as the civil wars intensified, more and more land was sold for weapons. By 1894, over 135,000 acres had passed into the hands of the foreigners, particularly to the Germans.

As the papalagi minorities became more numerous and more rapacious - their will backed by the mights of their governments, - the image of the papalagi, in the Samoan mind, underwent drastic changes. The papalagi acquired a reputation for double-dealing, rapacity, and ruthlessness; completely lacking in breeding, they were motivated by the desire for economic and political page 25 power over the Samoans; they thought nothing of humiliating the Samoan leaders or breaking Samoan laws and taboos; they had brought the Word of God, yet they were the pharisees.

As Germany and New Zealand discovered later, Western Samoa had only been ‘conquered’ by name.