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

The establishment of the Citizen's Committee - during Tate's Administration

The establishment of the Citizen's Committee - during Tate's Administration

The Citizens' Committee as a properly constituted and permanent Association, contrary to the view of the New Zealand Government in 1927, was not formed in 1926; it became the spearhead of European agitation in the years 1921-22. During these two years - the Europeans, namely; O. F. Nelson, A. G. Smyth, E. Curr, A. Williams, E. G. Westbrook and S. Meredith), who later led the Mau, assumed the leadership of the European community. This lengthy period of training up to 1926 gave these men the political experience vitally necessary to the mass agitation of the Mau period.

The Committee grew out of the troubled years of 1914 to 1922, and became the spokesman for the European dissident section. The growth of organised agitation coincided with the beginning of Tate's policy of discrimination, the enforcement of prohibition, the realisation that the Administration's native policy would be costly, the eruption of open Samoan hostility against the Government, the trade recession, the boycott of stores, the organised revolt against the Administration in American Samoa, and the assumption of European leadership by younger more aggressive men such as O. F. Nelson. 1921 was the most critical year in its growth, the year of feverish general discontent against New Zealand rule, the year of the Faipule's Petition to George V.

Before 1921, criticism of New Zealand rule, amongst the European-part-European page 53 community, had been widespread but loosely organised. Fourteen months after the beginning of New Zealand civic administration, in July 1921, a premonition of dire things to come took place. A petition, dated 5 July, 1921, was sent to the New Zealand Government by ‘representatives’ of the European-part-European community. The petition was signed by 66 British nationals (‘or half-castes’), 63 Americans, Germans, Chinese, Danes, French, Portuguese, Swiss, Norwegians, Russians and Belgians (‘or half-castes’). Among the signatories were the names - Nelson, Meredith, Westbrook, and Smyth. Most of the petitioners, so they claimed, had had ‘10 to 40’ years experience in ‘Island affairs’. One major grievance was stressed - a grievance which persisted right up to 1926 - FINANCE; the petitioners claimed that the territory was ‘drifting towards bankruptcy’, and that New Zealand should impose a policy of retrenchment and relieve ‘them’ of the ‘heavy burden of taxation’ (which the petitioners claimed had risen by 100 per cent). New Zealand rule, the petitioners concluded, ‘was a hopeless failure’. 46

Accompanying the petition was a table of expenditure and revenue. The table was highly misleading but this table was a forecast of future ‘expert’ reports on finance, health, education, and everything else which the ‘citizens’ wanted to attack.

A short time after the petition was sent, the Minister of External Affairs, E.P. Lee, visited Western Samoa. He returned to New Zealand without meeting the petitioners. (Who refused to meet him). Lee wrote to the petitioners, demolishing their arguments. So the ‘citizens’ continued to meet, agitate, and organise; their next target being Prime Minister Massey, page 54 who was planning to visit the Territory. The adamant and continued refusal of New Zealand to satisfy the citizens grievances forced them to organise. This was to be a characteristic feature of the opposition movement: any failure would lead to more efficient organisation, to greater, more concerted anti-Administration activity.

On 31 January, 1922, a meeting of citizens took place in the Apia market place, (later to be their favourite forum).47 The meeting was very similar to the crucial meetings of 1926 in the way it was conducted, the leading personalities involved, the topics discussed and the way they were discussed. The only difference between 1922 and 1926 was the absence of Samoans from the 1922 meeting.

The meeting floated on a cushion of bravery, with the self-styled ‘reformers’ not knowing (or caring) what the consequences of their very promises and actions would lead to four years later. ‘Grand’ meetings, such as this, were rare in the history of Apia. When one occurred it was almost a festive occasion where lengthy speeches and brave resolutions served, to some extent, to relieve the boredom of life on the ‘beach’. (Without concerts, rallies, movies, and other ‘cultural’ features of civilisation). Gave some of the permanent transients some meaning out of a life so far away from Europe and the United States. And like all selfstyled ‘reformers’, they took themselves too seriously, perhaps. They seemed prepared to face any odds because they recognised no odds. ‘The humorous lust for aristocracy in this world is unending … deep in the heart of every … reformer … you find personal envy, jealousy, hunger for personal aristocracy, in a new, clever disguise, running page 55 a very close race with desire for more food and less poverty’.48

The meeting was called to formulate proposals to be put before Massey when he arrived, and it marked the ascendance of O. F. Nelson as the leader of European agitation. He was elected chairman, unanimously. (It must be noted here that there was no permanent, properly constituted Citizens' Committee. Committees were appointed for each night). E. G. Curr appeared, for the first time, as a member of the committee; Meredith as a seconder for a motion to draw up a financial statement; A. Williams as a seconder for one committee member; and A. G. Smyth made a verbose, bubbling speech on topics ranging from a Municipality for Apia through to the free press, electric lighting, education, the police force (‘an expensive luxury’), up to elected members for the Legislative Council and the lofty question of prohibition.

After the election of committee members, the hall resounded with speeches concerning certain grievances. The main grievances paraded were associated with indentured labour, finance (agreed that a financial statement should be put before Massey), and prohibition (Massey would be asked to have a plebescite ‘amongst all taxpayers other than natives’ to determine their feelings about prohibition).

Before closing, the meeting agreed to hold another meeting four weeks later. The grievances aired persisted right up to 1926.

Blinded by the belief that the Europeans were people whose ‘lives had been spent in making money out of the natives’, and who were now trying to secure ‘a political ascendancy over the natives’, Tate persuaded Massey to postpone his visit, indefinitely. The Prime Minister did so in March, 1922.

page 56

Another meeting of citizens was called (and held) in the Apia L. M. S. Hall on 18 July, 1922. There were about ninety people present. The most important result of this meeting was the agreement to draw up a Constitution for a permanent Association ‘to promote the progress of the Territory’. O. F. Nelson was elected permanent Chairman. Certain members also delivered prepared reports on finance (Smyth), Laws and Ordinances (Judge Roberts) and the press (Westbrook).49 Such reports became a characteristic feature of the attack on the New Zealand Administration.

Sometime after March, 1922, it became known to the Citizens' Committee that the Prime Minister's visit had been postponed. And another meeting was called on 4 August, 1922. The meeting agreed to send a report to Massey, expressing disappointment at the postponement of his visit. Further reports on finance and Laws and Ordinances were delivered during the meeting.

By this time, August 1922, there was a marked decrease in Samoan discontent. In July, the Faipule had reaffirmed their loyalty to New Zealand. But even when prosperity had returned, the Citizens' Committee continued to agitate for the satisfaction of their grievances right up to the end of Tate's rule and during Richardson's term of office. Continued refusals to comply with the wishes of the Committee spurred its growth and increased its determination to succeed. Tate's continued policy of discrimination, his enforcement of prohibition, his policy of developing Samoan welfare and its resulting increase in expenditure, officialdom's concentration on doing everything for the Samoans and nothing for the Europeans (or so it seemed to Europeans), all contributed towards the strengthening of organised agitation against the Administration. By this time a deep personal page 57 animosity had developed between Tate and Nelson. (The same animosity later developed between Nelson and Richardson).

After the postponement of the Prime Minister's visit, memorandums from the Citizens Committee continued to reach the New Zealand Government. The grievances remained the same; the methods of agitation, strictly constitutional.

Tate left the Territory in March 1923 and Richardson had to confront a now well-trained group of citizens. During Tate's term of office, the Samoans and Europeans drifted towards each other. The final merger took place under Richardson.