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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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Western Samoa was placed under New Zealand as a ‘C’ Class Mandate. Article 22 (2) of the League's Covenant embodied the principle of ‘trusteeship’: that advanced nations should secure the well-being and development of the ‘backward’ peoples of the world. Colonial countries had to administer territories on behalf of the League, and had to establish forms of administration which did not infringe the terms of the mandate or Article 22. A Permanent Mandates Commission was established to scrutinise and supervise the activities of Mandatories within their respective territories.

The ‘C’ Class Mandate gave New Zealand the power to administer Western Samoa as part of her own territory. But the terms of this Mandate laid down certain safeguards in the interests of the Samoan inhabitants: New Zealand had to prohibit such activities as the arms-traffic and the sale of liquor to Samoans; it had to guarantee the freedom of conscience and worship; except in the creation of a police force, New Zealand was not allowed to erect military fortifications or train the Samoans for military purposes; and New Zealand was charged with the duty of promoting, to the best of its ability, the social-material-moral well-being of the Samoans. The New Zealand Government, through a series of Orders in Council and the Samoa Act of 1921, started evolving a civil administration for Western Samoa.28

Executive government was entrusted to an Administrator appointed by the Governor-General, and under the control of the Minister of External Affairs. page 37 The Governor-General in Council had the power to make regulations for the peace, order and good government of Western Samoa. A Samoan Public Service was created; its members appointed by the Minister of External Affairs. Several administrative departments were established, the most important being the departments of Health, Education, Native Affairs, and the Samoan Treasury. The Legislative Government was to consist of the Administrator acting through a Legislative Council, to make laws called Ordinances. The Legislative Council was to consist of four or more official members. (The unofficial members were not to outnumber the official members). The Administrator was to preside over the Council. The powers of this Council were limited; it was to be purely an advisory body.

A High Court of Western Samoa was established. The civil jurisdiction of the New Zealand Supreme Court was to cover Western Samoa. Appeals could be made to New Zealand Supreme Court. The Law of England 1840 was to be enforced as far as local circumstances permitted. The Statue Law of New Zealand was inapplicable unless it was stated specifically.

The 1921 Act also tried to regularise the system of land tenure by recognising three types of land title: Crown lands, including the ex-German estates; European Lands, being the rest of freehold land; and Native Land, which were all now vested in the Crown as the trustee. The Samoan system of land tenure was recognised, fully. No native land was to be alienated.

This whole system of government allowed the Administrator very wide powers. As head of the executive government he had considerable freedom to select his subordinates. He was also the central power in Legislative government because the Legislative Council had only advisory powers, and the official members outnumbered the unofficial members. The power and scope of the Council depended on the Administrator's interpretation of the page 38 Council. He could use it as a mere machine for issuing official proclamations and suppressing opposition, or he could win its support by cooperating with it. There were other factors which increased the Administrator's power. Because Samoa was a recent acquisition, there were few men in New Zealand who knew much about the territory. So the New Zealand Government had to rely heavily on the recommendations of the Administrator, the man on the spot. Ignorance about and the indifference of the New Zealand public to Samoan affairs enlarged the Administrator's freedom of action.

However, there were factors which could limit the Administrator's power. The New Zealand Parliament could alter the Samoan Constitution; the New Zealand Government could legislate directly for Western Samoa. The Administrator could be dismissed by the Governor-General; the final responsibility concerning policy belonged to the Minister of External Affairs.

The League of Nations and the Mandate System were restraining factors. The Mandate contained terms which New Zealand had to abide by. The Permanent Mandates Commission was a body of experts on colonial affairs; these were the men who scrutinised the annual reports on Samoa submitted by New Zealand.

Humanitarianism was a positive force in the world. New Zealand, an apprentice in the field of colonial administration, was anxious to promote a world-wide reputation for tolerance and fairplay. To do this, New Zealand had to be sensitive to world opinion concerning its Samoan administration, particularly criticism concerning its key officer, the Administrator.

The most important influence on the Administrator was found in the territory itself. The Administrator did not have (at his command) any effective force to enforce his orders if faced by a concerted opposition. Consequently, if the administration was to succeed it had to have the support of the majority of the Samoan chiefly elite. If it lost this support (as it page 39 did in the Mau period) it would collapse.

Tate, the first Civil Administrator, arrived in May 1920, to begin civil administration. Discontent was widespread. Within a few days of his arrival he was handed a petition, at a gathering of Samoans, asking for the retirement of New Zealand. Open discontent, however, was curbed by the high copra prices during the post-war boom. Prosperity blunted the anger. And, as long as this level of prosperity continued, New Zealand would not be subjected to open hostility. In late 1920, the boom broke, and Samoan discontent found expression in a boycott of Apia stores. New Zealand (and Tate) was accused openly, by some of the Samoan elite, for ‘causing poverty and distress’ among the Samoans.29 Supposed German ‘goodness and fairness’ was held up as a contrast to the supposed tyranny of New Zealand.

Tate, unlike Logan, was a volunteer soldier and a New Zealander by birth and upbringing. He had practised law in Greytown between 1886 and 1914. In 1911, had assumed command - as a volunteer officer - of the Wellington infantry. In 1916, had become adjutant-general; in 1918 had been awarded the C.B.E.30 According to a local correspondent who knew Tate, Tate ‘was an excellent citizen but entirely raw in the treatment of Samoans. He did not trouble to listen to any complaint, and as a matterof fact took the line of least resistance hoping that all troubles would solve themselves.’31

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Confronted with the open hostility, especially of the Samoans in Apia and the areas around it, Tate, like Logan before him (and Richardson after him), blamed the Apia residents for causing the trouble. Because of this naive assumption (caused by a lack of knowledge of Samoan affairs and the Samoan ‘mind’), and wanting to break the boycott, Tate, in January 1921, issued the ‘Prevention of Intimidation Ordinance’, threatening those ‘evilminded persons desiring to cause disaffection’ with severe punishment. He also promised to set up a Commission to inquire into the causes of the high prices. To make sure his orders were obeyed, he ordered three warships to Western Samoa.32

Another factor which encouraged the unrest in Western Samoa were the disturbances in American Samoa during 1921. Greene, an American, and two other Americans organised a number of Samoans to oppose the Government.33 The disturbance ended with twenty chiefs going to prison, with Greene being deported, and the Governor committing suicide.34 Rumours of this encouraged the growth of opposition in Western Samoa. The continued opposition of the European-part-European residents to Tate and New Zealand also bolstered Samoan opposition.35

The 1918 Epidemic and the end of the post-war boom triggered off age-old Samoan discontent. Till by January 1921, Tate was convinced that the Samoans wanted to govern themselves. (He was also convinced that, because of page 41 their lack of ‘intelligence’, the Samoans were unfit to govern themselves).36 In July 1921, the Faipule sent a petition to King George V, asking for the transference of the mandate from New Zealand to Great Britain. A certain Englishman, Reay, (an accountant), was one of the originators of this petition. Afamasag Lagolago and Nelson also helped in formulating it.37 But the fact that most of the Faipule - apart from Malietoa Tanumafili and Tuimaleali'ifano - signed it, revealed that there was marked discontent amongst the chiefly elite. Reay, Nelson and Afamasaga only showed them a constitutional way of trying to oust the New Zealand ‘malo’.

After this petition, however, there was a decrease in Samoan discontent. Tate's native policy made the Faipule part of the New Zealand ‘malo’; this erased their earlier fear that New Zealand would rule without them. Tate's native policy, by not attempting to quickly and radically change Samoan society, was not a real threat to the ‘fa'a-Samoa’. It had also brought some economic, educational, political and social gains to the Samoans. The most important factor in the decrease of discontent was the steady improvement in economic conditions overseas. Costs went down, and copra prices rose. Prosperity was returning once again to blunt the edge of discontent.

The two meetings of the Fono of Faipule in 1922 revealed that discontent, amongst the Samoan elite, was dying down (at least for the rest of Tate's Administration). The first Fono was held on 26 April, 1922; the majority page 42 of Faipule pledged allegiance to New Zealand. In July, 1922, they again expressed their loyalty to New Zealand.38

When Colonel Tate arrived in 1920 he had been faced by heavy odds. The Samoans were arrogantly sure of the superiority of their own way of life, and were unwilling to be hurried into the twentieth century. Beyond Apia, nineteenth-century Samoa still prevailed. Western influence was a thin veneer symbolised by the trading store and the church. Tumua and Pule, and the clans (houses) associated with them, dominated Samoan politics; the power of the chiefly elite, supreme. European influence was confined largely to Apia and its immediate environs.

However, Tate had symbolised a more forbidding opposition to old Samoa. The Civil Administration he represented was the embodiment of the dynamic ideas, values, and institutions of the west. The task of the new ‘malo’ was to evolve political, social, economic and legal changes that would lead to the integration of the Samoan world and the world beyond the reef. This was to be done by adhering strictly to the terms of the Mandate: the promotion of the socio-material-moral welfare of the Samoan people. Political development, so it was assumed, would follow, naturally.

Tate made a small start in promoting Samoan participation in government. Basing this on the German model, pulenu'u were appointed for each village; they were responsible for the peace, cleanliness, collection of taxes (and rhinoceros beetles), and the supervision of agricultural production. Samoan judges, known as fa'amasino, with limited civil and criminal jurisdictions, were appointed. A panel of Samoan assessors, the ‘Komisi’, was set up to decide questions of lands and titles. The pulefa'atoaga (Samoan agricultural page 43 inspectors) were also appointed. The most important part of this native system was the Fono of Faipule. This body of Faipule (senior members of each district) was an advisory council which aided the Administrator in Samoan affairs. If orders were necessary after its sittings, ‘tulafono’ were issued. This Council was regarded, by New Zealand, as the proper training ground in which the Samoan leaders would be prepared for self-government. The two paramount chiefs, who acted as the Administrator's personal advisers, were to be known as Fautua (as in German times). The Native Department was launched to act as a link between the Administration and the Samoans. European Resident Commissioners were positioned in Eastern Upolu and Savaii.

The economic base of the Samoan economy was a narrow one indeed. Any drastic drop in copra prices usually resulted in a corresponding reduction in the level of prosperity (and a resurgence of unrest).

Tate's policy aimed at leading the Samoans towards the development of a modern money economy. He failed to persuade the Samoans to work on Public works and private plantations, so he tried to encourage them to develop their own lands. Ordinances, regulations, and propaganda campaigns in the use of modern agricultural methods and techniques were used to try and wean the Samoans away from the age-old ‘fish and taro’ economy. But he failed to effect any revolutionary changes in the Samoan economy.

Economic problems were inextricably bound to the problem of land tenure. By 1920, there was a shortage of land in the most heavily populated areas round Apia and the coast of Upolu. Land ownership, to the Samoans, was of paramount importance. But ownership not primarily for cultivation but for reasons of social and political prestige. Uncountable disputes and feuds over land occurred. The Samoan system also retarded the development of a page 44 stable money economy.

The need for modifying this system was realised, but Tate feared the real dangers involved. So he confined his activities to the regularisation of European land holdings, and the development of the Crown Estates. Richardson inherited the problem of land tenure unchanged in any way.

Tate instituted a vigorous health scheme. But here again caution marked his policy; such a health scheme meant the revolutionising of Samoan thought regarding modern medicine, and this had to be done cautiously because of Samoan adherence to ‘fa'a-Samoa' medical practices.

Tate built twelve medical out-stations throughout Western Samoa, enlarged Apia Hospital, issued health regulations in public hygiene and sanitation, and used health officials to study health problems and give advice. In the field of health, Tate opened the way to Richardson's more intensive health scheme.

Tate planned a national system of education, and gave grants to the missions to expand their educational activities. Apart from these, no real advance was made in education.

Tate never solved the problem associated with revenue. Even though revenue was increasing annually, expenditure was increasing more rapidly. After 1921, New Zealand contributed £16,000 annually, but the territory continued to operate on a deficit right up to 1923. The Samoans, by way of a poll tax, contributed about 7 per cent of the total revenue, while the Europeans contributed another 7 per cent. Now, even though the Samoans were responsible for raising only a small portion of the revenue, Tate's native policy accounted for 33 per cent of the total expenditure. (A sore point with the European-part-European community). To meet the deficit, a policy page 45 of borrowing was instigated in 1921.39

This brief survey of Tate's policy in action reveals that he achieved some measure of success in thos spheres he focused his attention on. But the sum total of his achievements did not amount to a substantial start in solving the main problem of integrating Samoan society with the world beyond the reef. He avoided all the major problems which, if solved, would have hurried Samoa into the twentieth century. But by avoiding them, he did not cause the storm to break. (He avoided the storm by avoiding the crucial problems.) He handed the ‘problem’ to Richardson; and Richardson, a braver guardian with positively good intentions, reaped the bitter harvest of over a century of cultural contact.