admin's picture


By Michael Field

MULINU'U, Samoa (June 3, 2002 – Agence France-Presse)---A tragic and almost forgotten part of Pacific history was emotionally closed here Monday when New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark formally apologized to Samoa for events that occurred in colonial times over 70 years ago.

The tragedies included a catastrophic epidemic and the gunning down of pacifist protesters on Apia's streets by New Zealand police, including the assassination of a Samoan paramount chief, Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III.

As Clark spoke to the large gathering, the current holder of the princely title, Tupua Tamasese Efi, let tears run down his face.

"I was very moved," he said. "I was struggling not to cry because I don't want to be seen to be expressing hollow emotion."

Samoa's Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailale implied that it was unnecessary to apologize as the events had been put to rest with independence in 1962.

Samoa was annexed by Germany in 1900 and seized by New Zealand at the start of World War One. It became a League of Nations mandated territory, later a United Nations trusteeship under Wellington's administration.

Independence was re-established in 1962 and Clark is here for the anniversary celebrations.

"On behalf of the New Zealand government, I wish to offer today a formal apology to the people of Samoa for the injustices arising from New Zealand's administration of Samoa in its earlier years, and to express sorrow and regret for those injustices," Clark said.

She said she was "troubled by some unfinished business.

"There are events in our past which have been little known in New Zealand, although they are well known in Samoa.

"Those events relate to the inept and incompetent early administration of Samoa by New Zealand.

"In recent weeks as we have been preparing to come to Samoa, there has been a focus on those historic events, and the news has been a revelation to many New Zealanders."

In 1918 New Zealand administrators knew the ship Talune, which had arrived in Samoa, was carrying Spanish Influenza, but they still let people ashore. In the following two weeks, over 22 percent of the population died in what was the world's worst single case of the epidemic. Neighboring American Samoa, which had a strict quarantine, never got the virus, although Talune went on to take it to Tonga and Fiji -- and New Zealand has not offer apologies to them.

The blunder led to a pacifist movement, the Mau, calling for independence. On December 28, 1929, as the Mau paraded peacefully behind a brass band, New Zealand police, equipped with rifles and a machine gun, opened fire and killed at least nine protesters and wounded 50 more. Among the dead was the high chief, who was killed while holding his arms high, calling for peace.

The "Black Saturday" killings at the time were compared, proportionately, to the April 1919 Amristar massacre in India in which British soldiers killed 400 unarmed protesters. Britain has never formally apologized to India over that.

Clark's apology is also in marked contrast to her Australian counterpart, John Howard, who has steadfastly resisted apologizing to his own indigenous people. Australia was represented here by Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson.

Clark later told reporters the Samoan government had never sought an apology but it was New Zealand's responsibility to acknowledge the hurts of the past.

The current Tupua Tamasese told reporters that the Mau espoused the cause of peace based on justice. Its cause remained strong and despite admission now of New Zealand’s wrong he would not seek compensation.

"Not by my family. I will not demean the cause for which these people lived and died by asking for a penny.

"The fact is that no New Zealand government has admitted this wrong before, no New Zealand government has said 'look, this is wrong, I am sorry'; that is what is significant, that is what touches the core of my being. It's a very emotional moment. It was a struggle not to cry.

"This gesture is historic, and I accept it in the spirit it is given."

Tuilaepa told the audience after Clark's apology that Samoans had an expression in which wrongs that took place had to quickly be consigned to unpopulated lands.

"We have long ago forgiven and we have certainly not allowed the past to stifle the excellent relations we have had."

Samoa has a constitution that requires it to act in a Christian way and forgiveness is part of this, he said.

He also quoted Head of State Malietoa Tanumafili II, who called on people "to remember that the day Samoa's national first flew on Independence Day all wrongs were forgiven."

The 1962 Treaty of Friendship had been a demonstration of both countries "to put to rest the past and to concentrate on the future and ways in which New Zealand could assist with Samoa's nation building."

For additional information, see: Mau: Samoa's Struggle Against New Zealand Oppression by Michael Field at 

Michael Field New Zealand/South Pacific Correspondent Agence France-Presse E-mail:  Phone: (64 21) 688438 Fax: (64 21) 694035 Website:  Website: 

Rate this article: 
Average: 3.5 (2 votes)

Add new comment