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

CHAPTER VI — ‘DISCONTENT ON THE BEACH’ — The Growth of European-part-European Discontent

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The Growth of European-part-European Discontent

Apia had come from across the seas, in ships. Had grown out of copra, and the years had nailed it to the seashore. Law and order had come with the consuls backed by warships. Till by 1890 it had become not only the ‘port and mart, but the seat of the political sickness of Samoa’.40

The town was strung along the seashore at the foot of Mt. Vaea. Bordering it to the West was Mulinu'u Peninsula jutting into the sea, like an accusing finger. To the east was Matautu. Windswept, anchored to the soil by palms, and backed by a mangrove swamp, Mulinu'u was the seat of the Samoan paramount chiefs, but, by 1890, it had become the property of the D.H.P.G. Firm.

Next to Mulinu'u lay the stores, offices and barracks of the Firm. Then came Matafele housing German bars, stores, the German Consulate, the Catholic Mission and Cathedral, and ending at Mulivai Bridge. This bridge was the frontier between German influence and the Anglo-Saxon sphere of influence which extended from Mulivai to the Vaisigano River to the East. In this area were Anglo-Saxon stores, the English mission, church and newspaper. Over the Vaisigano, lay Matautu, pockmarked by the pilot-house, the signal-house and the British and American consulates.

Apia was far less glamorous than its physical setting. The houses were meanly built; the buildings being low, hastily put together, and often unpainted. The main street was unpaved, very dusty in fine weather and page 47 treacherous in rainy weather.

The population ranged from the permanent transients (sailors and beachcombers) to priests, Protestant missionaries, clerks and merchants. Sometimes, the transients outnumbered the residents. The Samoan population was more numerous than the papalagi, but they lived in the area behind the papalagi businesses. ‘The handful of whites (had) everything. The natives (walked) in a foreign town’.41

The Municipality of Apia had its own Court, collected its own revenue, and was supervised by the foreign consuls.

The seat of Samoan Government was shifted from place to place, depending on the foreign minority supporting it at a given time.

The frontier between Europe and Samoa was the boundary between the Municipality (the Ele'ele Sā) and the rest of Samoa.

All the money, luxury and business of Samoa was centred in Apia, a town which did not come under the jurisdiction of any Samoan ‘malo’, and administered by papalagi for papalagi.

Within Apia, the Samoans did little. The majority of papalagi were merchants, plying a lucrative trade in copra. The town thrived on gossip. Was crowded with amateur politicians whose favorite forums were the bars. (Some found Apia invigorating because of the daily conspiracies). All were after a livelihood narrowly based on copra. Some merchants were famous for foul play in business, (so a competitor would tell you). The only function of the Samoan, in the eyes of the Apia residents, was to supply them with copra and buy their goods.

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Hence by the eighteen nineties, the leaders of this community were hard, shrewd businessmen schooled in the rough-and-tumble politics of the South Seas. Independent and arrogant, they tended to treat the Samoans as pawns in their commercial and political game of trying to annex the Group on behalf of their respective Governments (irrespective of whether their governments wanted to or not). No government was able to curb their independent empire-building schemes. In fact, after partition the German authorities cultivated their friendship and support in administering Western Samoa. In most cases, these men (and their families after them) came to have a valuable stake in the future of the Territory. With the scarcity of European women, many intermarried with the Samoans (female). And, over the years, a mushrooming part-European group appeared. All inextricably woven into the economic fabric of Western Samoan and its future. The leaders of whom were used to participating in administration, and men who would feel extremely offended if treated (considered) as aliens in a country their fathers (and they) had helped to found (and build).

By 1921, these minorities - the Europeans and the part-Europeans - made up one seventeenth of the total population of 34,000, with the part-European group multiplying prodigiously, and, consequently, becoming difficult to absorb into the life of the Territory.42 Because of the Samoa Act, 1921, - which designated a ‘European’ as a ‘pure white’ inhabitant or a legitimate part-Samoan descendant of non-natives, - both the Europeans and part-Europeans were classified as ‘Europeans’.

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The part-European group created an unrecognised problem.43 As their numbers increased, the odour of discrimination became attached to the term ‘half-caste’. According to New Zealand officialdom, the ‘half-castes’ were the dregs of modern society: the products of the licentious life on the ‘beach’, who were intellectually inferior to them (their pure-blooded counterparts). Were of low moral calibre, unreliable, untrustworthy, and inclined towards criminality.44 As this discrimination grew intolerable, mutual antagonism occurred between the part-Europeans and the Administration. The Europeans, and especially the part-Europeans, were also discriminated against by the Samoans. The Samoan attitude was mainly a product of the lengthy history of European contact, and partly an echo of the official attitude.

Inheritance and natural ability permitted a limited number of part-Europeans to procure a recognised niche in the European and Samoan circles. But the majority of them were forced to occupy the no-man's land between the European and Samoan worlds. Because of this, they were easy to rouse against authority, the willing disciples of and agitators for anti-Administration movements. Another section of the part-Europeans were easily absorbed into Samoan society: the taint of alien blood was small.

The first two groups, in relation to any Administration, were the explosive (unpredictable) ones. If the Administration wanted to win their support - render them less susceptible to anti-Administration activity - it had to provide them with a comfortable place in Western Samoa's social and economic order.

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The true European section ranged from remittance men and beachcombers to traders and planters. Through marriage most of them had solid ties with the Samoan community. In the past, this group had flagrantly interfered in Samoan affairs. The Germans had realised their power and had allowed them to enjoy a great degree of influence. Economic prosperity, during the German Regime, had won their support for the Administration.

This group and the part-European traders and planters suffered severely from the economic slump during Logan's period of rule. They were the men who controlled the economy, and, when this economy collapsed, many were driven to the edge of bankruptcy (if not into bankruptcy). Logan's policy of repatriation and the imposition of export duties drove them further against New Zealand rule. The 1918 Influenza Epidemic and the 1920 Samoan boycott of Apia stores incensed them further. By 1920, their grievances ranged from the indentured labour system through to the enforcement of prohibition, (which led one planter to exclaim in January, 1921: “Prohibition deprives a man of his liberty - the greatest of God's free gifts to mankind”), 45 and finance.

Suffering from a fatal streak of racial prejudice and pursuing the policy of his Government faithfully, - a policy which aimed at barring the part-Europeans from contaminating the Samoans, - Tate showed no appreciation of the inflammable nature of the racial problem in Western Samoa. The attitudes of the officials under him and the New Zealand Government and public were equally contemptuous of the part-European and European residents. Any unrest in the territory was blamed immediately on these racial minorities. The Administration pursued the paramountcy of Samoan interest, subordinating page 51 the interests of the part-Europeans and Europeans to this end. In short, these minorities were treated as aliens in the territory.

The failure of Tate's Administration (indeed the failure of New Zealand) to comprehend (appreciate) the power and influence of these minorities would have drastic consequences. But not during Tate's term because the steady rise in copra prices and improved trade lulled the hostility of these groups, minimised their anti-Administration activities.