Samoa 1930

The Mau

Western Samoa had been under New Zealand military rule since 1914, when the islands were invaded and the German administration removed at the outbreak of World War I. Opposition to New Zealand rule revolved around two primary grievances: an administration totally lacking any appreciation of Samoan values or culture (and making petty laws and arbitrary decrees which clashed severely with these customs); and the Administration’s handling of the influenza epidemic in 1919, which resulted in the deaths of 22% of the population.

The Mau grew out of a series of meetings in late 1926/early 1927. Certain members of the white and ‘afakasi’ community called the first of these to set up a citizens’ committee. By the third meeting, which adopted the name ‘The Samoan League’ (commonly known as the Mau), the organisation was almost exclusively made up of native Samoans.

In the early days the Mau concentrated on deputations, although a total lack of response from either the Administrator or the New Zealand Government led to a rapid increase in tactics. These included:
* Total refusal to pay taxes
* Refusal to collect Rhinocerous beetles (an important pest which attacks copra plantations)
* Refusal to register births or deaths
* Noncooperation with malaga (a ceremonial tour of the villages) involving Administration officials
* Sa (boycott) of all European owned stores
* Wearing of a Mau uniform openly in the streets
* Public demonstrations and marches
* Setting up of communities on the outskirts of Apia where the Mau congregated throughout the campaign.

The Administration’s response to these measures included an intensification of many of the measures already in force (which the Mau were opposing). These included:
* Summary removal of chiefly or princely titles
* Exile to villages of birth, or remote offshore islands
* Imprisonment
* Deportation to Aotearoa
* Use of physical force (including clubs, firearms and bayonets)
* Fines and confiscation of property
* Shows of military strength involving the New Zealand Navy
* Use of military personnel as special police
* Night-time and early morning raids on homes of Mau supporters involving searches and destruction of property.

Two examples from the campaign illustrate the tactics of the Mau and the Administration.

Arrival of HMS Dunedin and HMS Dionedes

By late 1927 the Mau were congregated in large numbers at Lepea and Vaimoso, regularly parading through Apia in the Mau uniform, and picketing shops to enforce the sa (boycott). Up to 90% of the Samoan population were supporting the Mau. General George Richardson, the Administrator, called for military help. February 21st 1928 two cruisers, HMS Dunedin and HMS Dionedes, arrived in Apia. They were met by a demonstration of 200 uniformed Mau on the wharf, but there were no incidents. On February 24th marines from the ships moved to arrest demonstrators and picketers. To their surprise, the Mau fell into columns and marched off to prison. Some 400 were arrested. The Mau were aware there was not enough prison accommodation for such numbers, and later in the day when a further 150 offered themselves for arrest, they were loaded into trucks and released on the outskirts of Apia. The 400 appeared in court and were sentenced to six months imprisonment. To cope with the numbers a two-strand barbed wire fence was placed across the neck of Mulinu’u peninsula, and the prisoners were placed in the camp under armed guard.

The camp was impossible to guard effectively, and prisoners left the camp each evening, returning in the morning for the free breakfast. Marines attempting to stop people walking around the end of the wire were told ‘shoot us if you wish’. The marines, under orders from New Zealand to avoid violence, did not shoot. This infuriated the Administrator who said in a telegram to Wellington: ‘Under circumstances law and order depends entirely on goodwill of Natives.’

Despite attempts to reach a compromise with the Mau (all charges would be dropped if the Mau disbanded) the Mau remained firm – and in the end Richardson conceded defeat, releasing all 400 without gaining a single concession. They were warned, though, that arrests would follow any more fono (meetings). At 7.30am on March 7th, twelve days after the arrests, the Mau formed up in uniform and marched out of Mulinu’u and back to Lepea.

Black Saturday

Shortly after the incident described above, Richardson was replaced as Administrator by Colonel Stephen Allen, who arrived in Apia with 74 members of the newly created Samoa Military Police. The SMP were armed with rifles, hand guns and two Lewis (machine) guns. Although the SMP were disbanded in April 1929, the weapons remained with the newly created police force, who were more of a Civil Guard, as a predominantly Samoan Police force performed most regular police duties.

The Mau continued to grow, despite the presence of the SMP. By the end of 1929 they were regularly marching into Apia to conduct rallies outside the Administration building. Several Mau leaders were in exile – Tupua Tamasese had served six months in Mt Eden prison in Auckland, and three men, two Europeans and ‘afakasi’ O.F. Nelson (founder of the Citizens’ Committee, and advisor to the Mau) were in exile in Aotearoa. There had been several clashes between Mau and members of the SMP arresting people for tax evasion.

On December 28th 1929 Alfred Smyth, one of the two Europeans exiled to Aotearoa, was due to return to Apia. Plans were made by the Mau to greet the ship, which also carried Alfred Hall Skelton, a leading lawyer and Mau supporter from Auckland. A feast was planned at Vaimoso, with 6 bullocks, 100 pigs, and 400 chickens slaughtered to feed the expected 3,000 guests. A small group of Mau intended to march to the wharf. Arthur Braisby, head of the SMP, announced that any person with outstanding warrants would be arrested if they marched, and plans were made accordingly with Sergeant Waterson leading the police on the day.

At 5.15am about 300 Mau, mainly men in uniform, left Vaimoso. A smaller group from Savai’i marched towards Apia from the opposite direction. In Apia the police gathered, carrying revolvers despite a recent order from Allen that weapons were only to be carried if the officer in charge anticipated ‘tension’.

As the Vaimoso group entered Apia, Braisby identified Mata’utia Karauna, the Mau secretary who was wanted for tax evasion and contempt of court. He telephoned the police station, then left to accompany the Customs inspection of the arriving ship. Waterson, Sergeant Fell, and three constables waited until the march reached the centre of Apia, then pushed into the head of the crowd to arrest Mata’utia (who was playing the bass drum in the band). In the ensuing scuffle, several men struck Fell, and he threw his revolver at one as he broke free. Eighteen police from the nearby station rushed out, and seeing the arresting party under threat they opened fire with their revolvers.

The Mau began to pull back, many on the verge of panic according to one observer. The police continued to fire on the crowd, who were throwing stones, until Waterson ordered them back to the police station. As they ran up a small alleyway, one constable, William Abraham, was struck on the back of the neck, and fell. He rose and ran some distance before crumpling behind a tree. He was later found to be dead.

As the police reached the station, many of the Mau were unaware of what had happened at the front of the march and continued walking towards the noise. At least four members of the Mau were already dead or fatally wounded, and several others had lesser wounds. Waterson, on reaching the station, rushed upstairs and fired a burst from the Lewis gun over the head of the crowd. Several (European) witnesses said that at that time there was no-one in the street leading from the main road to the police station. Waterson then fired two more bursts, one into the nearby market hall and one across the Apia malae (village square) where several women and children were running for shelter. The march was still moving towards the intersection between the main road and ‘Ifi’ifi Beach Road, when Tupua Tamasese reached the head of the march. Holding his rolled umbrella over his head, with his back to the police station some twenty metres away, he called for the march to stop. According to several witnesses he called to ‘be patient’ or ‘stop, keep the peace’. He was shot in the leg by a .303 bullet fired from the police station. Several people rushing to his aid were also hit by fire from the police rifles and the Lewis gun, which started firing into the crowd. Suddenly the shots stopped, as the police realised that they were not under any threat. The Mau gathered up the dead and wounded and, followed by the armed police carrying the Lewis gun and fixed bayonets, they returned to Vaimoso.

Hall Skelton landed at 6.30am, as the Mau were returning to Vaimoso. He reported that some wounded had up to seven bullet holes. The body of Tu’is was found to have three wounds to the chest, one on the side, the groin, the foot, between the shoulders, and six shots in the right leg. In all nine died on the day. Two, including Tupua Tamasese, died later from their wounds, and some fifty others were wounded. The only police injury was the blow which killed Constable Abraham.

Tutpua Tamasese died twenty-four hours after being shot. His dying words were an appeal for peace:

‘My blood has been spilt for Samoa. I am proud to give it. Do not dream of avenging it, as it was spilt in maintaining peace. If I die, peace must be maintained at any price.’

There was considerable difficulty in restraining some members of the Mau. On the night of Tupua Tamasese’s funeral a large fighting force arrived in Lepea, but were dissuaded from acting by Hall Skelton and the new Mau leader, high chief Faumiuina. There were no retaliations against any member of the white community.

After the massacre in Apia most of the male members of the Mau fled into the dense bush to avoid what they saw as the very real danger of further deaths. In this they were justified, as the New Zealand Government sent troops to round up the Mau, and at least two Samoans died in the ensuing search – although virtually no Mau were captured. Finally representatives of the Mau met with the Administration, and some of the tension was relieved – although the campaign continued.

How successful was the campaign? There is no question that the early tactics of tax refusal caused severe problems for the Administration. Between 1920 and 1928 borrowing went from nothing to £160,000. Administration costs were being paid from capital gained from estates seized from German owners in 1914. These estates were becoming a very bad financial risk for the taxpayer in Aotearoa.

Similarly the refusal to use Government schools, to register births etc, frustrated the Administration. In reality, despite the presence of a New Zealand administration, New Zealand laws, and New Zealand taxation, the Samoan people continued as far as possible as if there were no colonisers. An example is seen in the punishment of stripping offenders of their titles. In Samoa titles are not easily removed, and although Richardson felt it was effective, the Samoan people just ignored the decrees.

The Mau met severe repression in the late 1920s – from initial imprisonment, which proved ineffective, to military action. Despite strong feeling after Black Saturday the Mau did not resort to violence, although it came close. As with many campaigns the reaction to strong repression, especially massacre, is a pivotal point in the struggle. In Samoa the reaction was an unusual one, for while they did not resort to violence, and clearly refused to back down and disband the Mau, they did not continue the action. Retreat into dense bush in the centre of the island and refusal to confront the troops searching for them put considerable strain on the military, and was effective. The effect on the population remaining in the villages requires more attention though, as the women and children bore the brunt of the troops’ frustration through this period.

Nonviolence continues to occur in history, and campaigns such as the Mau, which seem to have no links to any prior examples of nonviolence, are not infrequent. But did the nonviolence of the Mau succeed? With the time lag between the decline of the Mau in the late 1930s and independence in 1962, it is hard to give all the credit to the Mau. Yet Western Samoa was the first nation in the South Pacific to receive independence, and at least part of the credit for that must go to the continued pressure from the Mau – both in the raising of awareness in Aotearoa, and in building strong leadership among the Samoan people. American Samoa… remains a colony.

Reference: Article compiled by Association for Transarmament (Aotearoa) from Michael J Field Mau Wellington: A.H. & A.W. Reed, 1984.

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