How Samoa’s Freedom Was Won

Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i


How Samoa’s Freedom Was Won

By Savea Sano Malifa

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, June 1, 2015) – Samoa’s struggle to be free from colonial rule was long, hard and bloody. It started with the Tripartite Convention of 1899 when the three world powers – the United States of America, Germany and Great Britain – carved up this side of the Pacific as if they owned it.

America took Eastern Samoa and called it American Samoa, Germany took Eastern Samoa and called it German Samoa, and as for Great Britain, unsurprisingly they wanted out.

Admitting they already owned enough colonies scattered around the Pacific, as well as in Asia and Africa to keep them busily occupied for hundreds of lifetimes, they said thank you very much.

Germany though was the exact opposite. Immediately when the matter was settled they declared that Samoa was now "a protectorate of the German Empire", and right away they renamed the place German Samoa.

In less that a year, on 1 March 1900, German Samoa had a governor, his name was Wilhelm Solf, and the first thing old Solf did was raised the German flag on Beach Road, so that this time, Samoa was also known as Nazi Samoa.

Still, over there in Germany the news that there was now a German Samoa in the Pacific was described as "a happy acquisition", and was also proudly "viewed as a splendid achievement in colonial policy, a genuinely popular one at that."

Back in German Samoa Wilhelm Solf was a busy man; he was building up Germany’s image in the Pacific and this time, he believed that making the German Emperor, Kaiser-Wilhelmsland, the uncontested King of German Samoa, was the next step to take.

But then such a move would mean dismantling Samoa’s Fa’alupega - the formal oratory salutation that acknowledges paramount leaders during traditional ceremonies with the respect and dignity befitting their status, an honorific ritual that had been revered throughout history and yet it may now be scuttled to please the German Emperor, Kaiser-Wilhelmsland – which is a pretty disturbing idea.

Still, the question that would not leave Wilhelm Solf alone, was: Would Samoa’s traditional leaders object to having Samoa’s original Fa’alupega altered, so that Kaiser-Wilhelmsland was conferred the honour of being named, "Head of State" of German Samoa?

They did not. They were therefore "sworn on oath to become advisors to the governing council of German Samoa’s administration."

And so with their consent, Wilhelm Solf went ahead and dismantle Samoa’s ancient foundation on which its unity as a nation was founded, its Fa’alupega.

Samoa’s original Fa’alupega reads:

"Greetings Tumua and Pule, Greetings Itua’au and Alataua, Greetings Aiga-i-le-Tai, Ma le Va’a-o-Fonoti, Greetings Sons and your Families, Greetings Families and your Sons."

On the other hand, Wilhelm Solf’s revised Fa’alupega for German Samoa reads:

"Greetings to your Majesty Kaiser, Emperor of Germany, our Fatherland;

Greetings to you Governor of German Samoa;

Welcome Malietoa. Welcome Tupua, Advisors to our government, you are an honour to your two families;

Greetings to you all representatives who are supportive of our government.

Welcome to you all appointed members of our community who are pledging your support and service to our government."

And so, when the job was done and Kaiser- Wilhelmsland had become the "Emperor of German Samoa", Malietoa and Mata’afa had been reduced in rank and status; this time they were just simple advisors to Governor Wilhelm Solf, and that became the blistering fire that burned inside everyone.

There was hurt, disbelief and even anger, plenty of it. Wilhelm Solf had done his job well.

He had cleverly manipulated "Samoa’s two men of authority whom everyone respected" and used them in his plan to ensure that "all matters affecting (Samoa’s) lands and titles were brought under the sole control of the Governor of German Samoa."

And so with Western Samoa replaced by German Samoa, just another colony in the Pacific controlled from Germany far away, Samoa’s traditional leaders, Tumua and Pule, having been effectively silenced, we not happy.

Wilhelm Solf had done a fine job. He had single-handedly made Kaiser-Wilhelmsland the "Supreme Ruler" of Samoa, and all of Germany would have been proud of him. His reward, as it turned out, was exemplary. Elevated to the newly created post of Secretary for the Colonies of Imperial Germany, he would be beating his chest with silly ecstasy.

And then in 1908, an orator from Safolulafai, Savaii, named Lauaki Namulau'ulu Mamoe, showed how mad and disappointed he was, and everyone stopped.

He started a resistance movement known as Mau a Pule, which sole purpose was to "assert claim to independence from colonialism on behalf of all of Samoa," and so began the first direct resistance to German Governor Wilhelm Solf’s seemingly assertive administration.

However, unimpressed, Governor Solf retaliated by ordering the German military stationed in German Samoa to get rid of Lauaki and his followers, and to prove he wasn’t bluffing, sometime later four warships and troops from Germany’s East Asia Squadron showed up.

It was early 1909.

The warships cordoned off Savai'i from Upolu, they threatened to bomb Savai’i, and yet undaunted Lauaki and his supporters stood their ground. They refused to be intimidated so that for three months, the standoff between the Mau a Pule supporters and the German military continued.

And then on 1 April 1909, Lauaki, other village matai and their supporters surrendered; they were arrested and charged with insubordination and treason. Found guilty as charged, they were sentenced to be taken into exile.

Eighteen days later, on 19 April 1909, Lauaki, his wife Sivaotele, and their only child, Tivoli, 71 members of the Mau a Pule including I'iga Pisa, Asiata Tautoloa, Leiataua Mana, Namulauulu Pulali and Tuilagi Letasi, with other women and children, were put on board the ship, SMS Jaguar, and sent to Saipan, a German colony in the Pacific’s Mariana Islands.

And now with Lauaki gone, the Mau a Pule movement collapsed, just as Governor Wilhelm Solf had hoped it would, and then a year later, Solf too was gone.

He was off to become Secretary for the Colonies of Imperial Germany, and replacing him as German Samoa’s new governor, was a former Chief Justice named Erich Schultz.

And the something interesting showed up.

As the war was raging on, the Tripartite Convention of 1899 that gave birth to German Samoa was no longer effective, German troops based in German Samoa were therefore powerless, they were shunned, so that no one was afraid of them any more.

Out there in nearby New Zealand though Prime Minister W.F. Massey was worried. He was concerned that the war started in Germany could quickly spread to the Pacific, and should that happen those countries with political ties to Germany such German Samoa, the Marianas and Papua New Guinea, were most likely to be the first places German military forces would occupy.

And that would make German Samoa - which was so close to New Zealand - a huge threat he just could not ignore.

On 5 August 1914, Prime Minister Massey issued a public declaration in which he made it clear that "before New Zealand could commit its troops to Europe, any direct threat in the Pacific region had to be removed."

He then he made it clear that "the first objective is to capture German Samoa." That order, as it turned out, was soon followed by a message from the British government to the New Zealand government.

It asked Mr Massey to "perform your great and urgent imperial service to the free world, and seize control of German Samoa."

Twenty four days later, on 29 August 1914, an "expedition of some 1,400 New Zealand troops" landed on Upolu in German Samoa, and even though the Germans refused to surrender, they offered no resistance so that the New Zealander troops just seized control, and took over German Samoa without a single shot fired.

As it turned out, the New Zealand soldiers were all volunteers. After their eight-month stint in German Samoa, most of them would go on to join the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in the Middle East and France.

By the war's end, 210 of them had been killed in action or died of wounds, 163 died in France, and a further five were killed while serving with the Australian Imperial Force.

Today in Samoa though, Lauaki Namulaulu’s exile in Saipan – along with his wife and child as well as his supporters - on orders from Wilhelm Solf, the former governor of German Samoa, attests to the horror of colonialism, and so it remains the lingering reminder that freedom, in any form or gesture, should be treated with the utmost respect that it deserves since it is, indeed, priceless.

Lauaki was never to see Samoa again. He was on his way home, when he fell ill on Tarawa Island in the Gilbert Group, and he was forced to stop there with his family. On 14 December 1915 he died.

Four days later, on 18 December 1915, some of those who had been living in exile in Saipan – including Leiataua Mana, Taupau Pauesi, Tagaloa and Malaeulu – returned home.

On 15 January 1916, Lauaki's wife Sivaotele, and their son, Tivoli, arrived back in Samoa, aboard the steamer Atua. They brought the news that Lauaki had died.

They also brought with them the bones of the others who had died in exile, including Asiata, Taetoloa, Tevaga, Letasi, Tuilagi, and members of their families.

Over the years others were able to return home. And like those before them, they brought with them the bones of the others who had died in exile.

After Lauaki's death however, the Mau Movement he had founded had gained widespread support in his country.

One of its supporters was Taisi Olaf Frederick Nelson. Born on 24 February 1883 in Safune, Savaii, he was the son of a Swedish trader named August Nilspeter Gustav Nelson, and his Samoan wife, Sina Masoe, whose family had links to the prominent chiefly family, the Sa Tupua. His chiefly title, Taisi, was from his mother's family.

Taisi went on to become a successful businessman, a statesman, and also a founding leader of the Mau Movement that sought independence from colonial rule.

He too was exiled from Samoa.

As a businessman, Taisi Nelson was one of the wealthiest members of the Apia community, and was influential in both the Samoan and European communities.

When the country was called German Samoa, the colonial administrators treated Nelson as an equal. However, after New Zealand had seized control, Nelson was excluded and alienated by the new government.

Despite being elected to the Legislative Council in 1924, he could do little since he was constantly being overruled by the majority-led New Zealand administration.

As a result, Nelson became one of the major forces in the Mau a Pule.

In May 1927 he founded a newspaper, the Samoa Guardian, to support its claims.

In response, the New Zealand administration, in a bid to stem his dissenting views and his growing popularity, tried to brand him as a troublemaker.

And then in desperation, in January 1928, they silenced Nelson by sending him into exile in New Zealand, along with two part-European members of the Mau Movement.

Meantime in Samoa, the Mau Movement had gained momentum with Samoa's royal leaders becoming more supportive of it, and then on 28 December 1929 – a Saturday - during a peaceful demonstration in Apia, Tupua Tamasese was shot by the New Zealand police, along with eleven others.

Before he died, Tupua advised his people that no more blood should be shed. The day he was was shot is known as "Black Saturday."

The New Zealand Police were left alone.

New Zealand governed Western Samoa first under a mandate from the League of Nations, and after 1945 as a United Nations trusteeship, until independence in 1962.

On the morning of 1 January 1962, the Flag of Freedom was raised at Tiafau signifying the end of colonial rule in Samoa.

The flag was raised by Maleitoa Tanumafili II and Tupua Tamasese, as Joint Heads of State, with Paramount Chief, Fiame Mata'afa Faumuina Mulinu'u II, as the country’s first Prime Minister, just behind.

As the flag was going up the pole, brooding, black clouds were seen heading from the ocean towards Tiafau, but then instead of them spilling down torrents of rain on the crowds sitting on the grass as everyone thought they would, they circled around the Tiafau Grounds, and then slowly they went away.

Call it what you will, but that was how freedom arrived, and why we should always protect it with all our might.

Have peaceful anniversary celebrations Samoa, God bless.

Rate this article: 
No votes yet

Add new comment