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



page 58

By the end of Tate's Administration, certain racial myths had become deeply entrenched in the minds of the racial groups in Western Samoa. Myths about one another, and myths about themselves and the country in which they lived. These myths are important because they reveal the almost complete lack of communication between the Administration and the Samoans on one hand, and the Administration and the European-part-European group on the other. This lack of communication - the mutual exchange of ideas (views) without suspicion or condition or distortion - make the Mau completely inevitable. These myths - the product of the clash between Europe and Samoa - coloured and distorted race relations at all levels before the Mau and after it. (They still govern, to a marked degree, the race relations in modern Samoan society).

A racialist myth about the Samoans (‘natives’) evolved, in the minds of the papalagi, during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The papalagi groped for some kind of ‘pattern’ in Samoan society, searched for an ‘average’ type of Samoan personality to replace the eighteenth century myth of the childlike, noble savage which had been shattered when the papalagi had come face to face with the harsh realities of the South Seas and the Samoans. Out of this ‘quest’ emerged a racialist myth regarding the Samoans. A general outline of this myth can be discerned from the list of complaints about the Samoans.50

page 59

There were, so the myth went, ethical and moral deficiencies in the Samoan make-up; the Samoans were deceitful, evasive, dishonest, vain. There were intellectual deficiencies also: the Samoans were stupid, lacking in imagination, infuriating in their childlikeness, irrational, and incapable of managing their own affairs. Further proof of their ‘inferiority’ was their adamant refusal to adopt papalagi customs, papalagi methods and conventions, and papalagi forms of social, political and economic organisation. (The Samoans had even ‘paganised’ Christianity). The myth further alleged that the ‘natives’ were, completely under the domination of the fa'a-Samoa.51

According to Stanner, no real grounds existed then (or now) for such a myth concerning a ‘typical’ Samoan personality. The myth was highly suspicious because it was not based on actual scientific evidence but on the prejudiced value judgements of ordinary papalagi (and Administrators). However, the Samoan situation ‘needed’ such a myth, and one was ‘provided’. This myth tainted the policies of the New Zealand Government, and acted as a major barrier to a fuller understanding between the Administration and the Samoans; the myth drastically reduced the degree of communication between the ‘guardian’ and the ‘adopted child’. This myth also led to a misinterpretation of the Mau by the New Zealand Government, public, and Administration.

At the same time a myth, concerning the papalagi, grew up amongst the Samoans. Centuries of isolation had fashioned a deep conservatism within the Samoan people, an arrogant conservatism conducive to an almost fanatical adherence to their customs and traditions, to their socio-political system page 60 even when such a system meant civil war and political instability. Such conservatism and pride led inevitably to the view among the Samoans that they were superior to the papalagi.

The image of the papalagi changed radically during the nineteenth century. The papalagi (the ‘skyburster’) had burst out of the horizon to bring the Kingdom of Heaven, muskets, and a new mana. He was viewed as a superior and mysterious being. But when the papalagi became more numerous, more demanding, more hostile, the magical image changed for the worse. When the papalagi actively meddled in Samoan politics, especially during the pre-partition and partition periods, the image was damaged further. The folk-songs of the period prior to partition and the Mau of Pule bear this out.52 The papalagi was now seen as an exploiter, who would use any means to get what he wanted: land, copra, and political supremacy. The term ‘fia papalagi’ (wanting to be like a European), became part of the Samoan language as a term of abuse and derision. Apia became the symbol of European greed. Even the part-European was viewed as part of the European world, as someone no different from his pure-blooded counterpart, and duly discriminated against.

During the nineteenth century, Samoa occupied a position which was out of proportion to its size. This increased the Samoans' belief in their own self-importance, their own superiority. This strengthened their view of the papalagi as an inferior but dangerous being.

Consequently, by Tate's period of rule, the papalagi had become the common enemy of Tumua and Pule, with the Administration symbolising this enemy because it was so conspicuous.

During the latter half of the nineteenth century, a racialist myth page 61 concerning the part-European and European residents emerged to dominate the thinking of officialdom. Reference to this myth and its consequences have already been made.53

All these groups - the Administration, the Samoans, and the European-part-Europeans - had their own views regarding Samoa: its past, present and future.

Because of the Mandate and the prevailing world humanitarian thought regarding ‘native peoples’, New Zealand (and especially Richardson) tended to consider its job in Samoa as a sacred mission; it was bringing the enlightened twentieth century to its wards, the Samoans. New Zealand looked upon Samoa, at that time, as a model of disorder, ignorance, and waste. Its mission was the establishment of a model of order. To achieve this, the principle of utility would (and should) be applied. Policy, unconsciously or consciously, was based on the cardinal virtues of puritanism. It was thought that such a policy would, in the future, result in the emergence of Samoa as a model of order with leaders whose qualifications for leadership were a good education (European-wise), industry, thrift, physical fitness, and individuality. Only when such leaders emerged would Western Samoa be ready for self-government.

On the other hand, the Samoans already saw Samoa as a model of order; the scheme of things was unalterable (and should not be altered). No European socio-political system could match the virility and ‘beauty’ of the Samoan system. The quest for political prestige and ascendancy was the true aim in life. The pursuance of money and economic power, based on individuality, was a misguided quest. In short, Samoa as it was, always page 62 was as it was, and would always be as it was. Jehovah was the sole judge as to whether this system should end or not. Because had it not been Jehovah Who had blessed the Samoans with such a way of life? (Christianity served to strengthen the conservatism of the Samoans). Money, a good education, hard work, thrift and individuality were not the qualifications for leadership. Title (and the ability to gain titles), family allegiance, obedience and service were far more important. Who your family was, was more important than who you were.

Caught between these two worlds, was the European-part-European group, the world of Apia. These elements tended to look upon Samoa primarily as a source of income, so they naturally wanted to see the emergence of a prosperous economic community. And because they controlled a major share of the economy, they should play a major role in political leadership. New Zealand, so this group argued, should implement policies conducive to the growth of a prosperous future. To them, the essential qualification for leadership was business acumen; Government was a business, and any good businessman would make an effective political leader. Most Samoans were out of touch with the modern world. Leadership should be left to those who were completely in accord with the twentieth century.

Hence, all these groups had different opinions and views concerning what Samoa was and what it should be. These differences were produced and reinforced by the racial myths they held regarding one another and themselves.

The emotional and psychological demarcation lines between the three worlds seemed insurmountable. But during Tate's period of rule, Apia drifted towards Samoa; the final merger occurred under Richardson, and New Zealand was left out in the cold, so to speak.

page 63


Certain themes wove right through the period which has been reviewed in the preceding pages. The basic one - in the nineteenth century - being the rivalry between Tumua and Pule, and the attempts of foreigners to introduce some form of stable government to Samoa. Because of the Tumua-Pule struggle and the machinations of the foreign minorities (and the Governments) within Samoa, the Samoans could not produce a stable government.

In the face of Samoan conservatism, papalagi attempts to solve the Samoan ‘problem’ failed. The papalagi usually had to resort to the ‘mana’ of guns and warships. But even this failed. When the odds proved unfavourable, the Samoans characteristically vanished into the bush, and, offering no effective opposition, refrained from recognising authority; this being the traditional manourve against any ‘malo’ whether papalagi or Samoan. (An opposition technique later employed, during the nineteen twenties and thirties, to frustrate the New Zealand ‘malo’).

From 1900 to 1917, the Germans and the Samoan leaders (in this instance Tumua) identified with them, were the new ‘malo’ because of superior might. Those in opposition plotted (and prayed for more propitious times) to oust it from power. The ‘lack’ of concerted rebellion against the German ‘malo’ did not mean full acceptance of German authority. The time (and odds) were not favourable to physically oppose Dr. Solf. Opposition could only be against the Samoan leaders (in this case Mata'afa) whom the Germans had placed at the peak of the Samoan political system, (and who, to Pule, had no right to such a position). If Tumua could be defeated, the German Regime would fall with it.

When New Zealand assumed control, the ‘problem’ was still unsolved. page 64 The onerous task of cushioning the impact of papalagi civilisation on Samoan culture (and the ‘natives’) seemed insolvable. The problem was complicated further by the fact that the papalagi did not understand Samoan culture, which, even though crumpling at the outer branches, was still intact and strong at the trunk and roots. It was made more complex by the racial antagonism which had grown up between the Samoans and the papalagi, and between the papalagi (officialdom) and the European residents. Reinforcing this antagonism were the racialist myths, which had evolved during the lengthy period of cultural contact.

The ‘problem’ needed skilful, diplomatic handling. Tate abstained from meeting the ‘problem’ head on; favourable conditions saved him from the storm. Nevertheless, the storm clouds of Samoan-European-part-European discontent began to amass ominously during his term of office.