Category Archives: Samoa

Runaway Sailors, 1839

From Twenty Years Before the Mast, by Charles Erskine (Fossil, 2016), Kindle pp. 54-56:

On many of the islands of the Pacific there were runaway convicts from Hobart Town and Sydney, the Botany Bay of Great Britain. There were also many runaway sailors and many who had not run away, but who had been driven off by bad usage. The next morning after our arrival, an American whaler, hailing from New Bedford, came into port with a red shirt fluttering to the breeze from her fore-rigging.

When a man-of-war’s man sees that signal he well knows that there is difficulty between Jack before the mast and the officers of that ship. Our commodore was soon on board the whaler and listening to Jack’s yarn. He was told that they were two years out; that they were full of oil, had plenty of provisions, and were homeward bound; that they had been put on short allowance; were short-handed, five of the crew having died, and three being sick in their bunks from ill-treatment; and that they were so tyrannically abused that they had taken charge of the ship, confining the officers below in the cabin, and had steered for the nearest port. Our commodore, who acted as arbitrator, soon settled matters, and the whaler sailed for the United States a week afterward, with several of our invalids on board of her.

A whaler’s crew are not paid by the month, but have a lay; that is to say, the captain has one barrel out of every thirty, and Jack before the mast one out of about every five hundred. At the end of a voyage, through much abuse and tyrannical treatment by the officers of the ship, Jack before the mast is often fairly driven from the ship. This is called desertion. Then his lay falls to the owners, if the captain does not contrive some way or other to secure it.

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Filed under economics, labor, migration, Samoa, travel, U.S.

Perils of Pago Pago Bay, 1839

From Twenty Years Before the Mast, by Charles Erskine (Fossil, 2016), Kindle p. 54:

ON the 10th of October we came to anchor in Pago Pago Bay, on the south side of the island of Tutuila. This is another rendezvous of our whalers and South Pacific traders. Ships seldom enter or leave Pago Pago Bay without a great deal of “going about,” “tacking,” “wearing,” “luffing,” “letting go,” and “hauling.” Then one must be very careful, or the ship will get “in stays or irons.” If this happens, the alternative will be to “box her off” or to “wear her round on her heel.” Entering this harbor is something like beating up the Straits of Balambangan, when the ship’s yards have to be braced chock up in the wind’s eye to keep the monkey’s tails from getting squeezed in the brace blocks.

One of the most frequent bits of nautical jargon in this book is “splice the mainbrace,” which has its own article on Wikipedia giving a detailed account of its evolution and current usage.

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Filed under anglosphere, Britain, language, military, Samoa, travel, U.S.

Sources of Samoan Legal Terms

From A Power in the World, by Lorenz Gonschor (Perspectives on the Global Past, U. Hawaii Press, 2019), Kindle Loc. c. 3412ff:

What is also intriguing about the Samoan constitutional system is that despite the absence of classical state-like political structures, the vocabulary created for concepts of modern statecraft was remarkably traditional, much more than the equivalent terms in Tongan and Fijian. For instance, the Samoan term for law is tulāfono, a concept clearly grounded in classical concepts of governance. Other terms for innovative institutions were literal translations, such as failautusi (someone doing writing or accounting) for secretary (that is, cabinet minister). Very few words, however, were direct borrowings from foreign languages comparable to Tahitian ture and basileia or Tongan lao and minisitā.

In the end, however, the Constitution failed to produce a stable government, but this was due to antagonistic foreign interests, agitation by settlers, and naval intervention. In early 1876, Steinberger was arrested and deported by a visiting British warship due to a conspiracy of the US and British consuls who objected to the premier’s pro-Samoan policies, especially his commitment to examine fraudulent land sales in the past and prevent further such sales (Gilson 1970, 321–331).

In the resulting chaos, the Ta‘imua deposed Laupepa, who then set up a rebel government. Although all parts of the Constitution were not fully in force, the Ta‘imua continued to run at least the external affairs of the government quite successfully for a while. This included sending High Chief M. K. Le Mamea on a diplomatic mission to the United States to sign a Samoan-American treaty in 1878 and concluding similar, albeit unequal, treaties with Germany and the United Kingdom in 1879. After multiple crises and hostilities between the rivaling parties, Malietoa Laupepa was restored to the throne in 1880—Mata‘afa Iosefo, another paramount title holder, serving as premier—but the government’s authority remained tenuous (Gilson 1970, 332–382; So‘o 2008, 39–41). Nonetheless, the Samoan government published a new set of laws, a copy of which was sent to the Hawaiian government (Kingdom of Sāmoa 1880).

In the absence of Steinberger or another trusted European, the position of premier was abolished and a more extensive executive cabinet created instead. By the mid-1880s, this cabinet included a failautusi sili (secretary of state), failautusi mo Sāmoa (secretary of interior, literally secretary for Sāmoa), failautusi teu tupe (secretary of treasury), failautusi o taua (secretary of war), failautusi o fanua (secretary of lands), failautusi o galuega (secretary of works), the faamasino sili (chief justice), and a failautusi faamau-upu (registrar). The American-derived terminology for these offices reflected the continuing legacy of Steinberger’s political ideas.

In Samoa, Robert Louis Stevenson was called Tusitala ‘Write-story’.

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Filed under Fiji, Hawai'i, language, nationalism, Polynesia, Samoa, U.S.

1918 Flu in the Pacific

From Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World, by Laura Spinney (PublicAffairs, 2017), Kindle pp. 93-94:

Australia saw the epidemic coming from a long way off, both in time and space. Its authorities first heard about a flu epidemic in Europe in the northern hemisphere summer of 1918, and in September they became aware of the horrifying reports of the lethal second wave. Having watched it advance through Africa and Asia, they finally introduced quarantine procedures at all Australian ports on 18 October (New Zealand did not follow suit). When jubilant crowds gathered in Sydney’s Martin Place to celebrate the armistice in November, therefore, they enjoyed the privilege–almost unique in the world–of having nothing to fear from the virus. Though the country did receive the third wave in early 1919, its losses would have been far greater had it let the autumn wave in.

The Philippines were not protected by their island status. When flu broke out there, it didn’t occur to the occupying Americans that it might have come from outside, even though the first casualties were longshoremen toiling in the ports of Manila. They assumed its origins were indigenous–they called it by the local name for flu, trancazo–and made no attempt to protect the local population, which numbered 10 million. The only exception was the camp on the outskirts of Manila where Filipinos were being trained to join the US war effort, around which they created a quarantine zone. In some remote parts of the archipelago, 95 per cent of communities fell ill during the epidemic, and 80,000 Filipinos died.

The starkly contrasting fates of American and Western Samoa–two neighbouring groups of islands in the South Pacific–show what happened when the authorities got the direction of travel right, and when they got it wrong. The American authorities who occupied American Samoa realised not only that the threat came from outside the territory, but also that indigenous Samoans were more vulnerable to the disease than white-skinned settlers, due to their history of isolation, and they deployed strict quarantine measures to keep it out. American Samoa got off scot-free, but Western Samoa, under the control of New Zealand, was not so lucky. After infection reached the islands via a steamer out of Auckland, local authorities made the same error as the occupiers of the Philippines, and assumed that it was of indigenous origin. One in four Western Samoans died in the ensuing tragedy which, as we’ll see, would dramatically shape the islands’ future.

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Filed under Australia, disease, migration, military, New Zealand, Philippines, Samoa, U.S.

Rapid Fall of Germany’s Overseas Empire

From African Kaiser: General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and the Great War in Africa, 1914-1918, by Robert Gaudi (Caliber, 2017), Kindle Loc. 365-394:

Today, a bronze historical marker in Belgium memorializes the first British shot of World War One and the first death in battle involving British troops. According to this marker, the opening round of uncountable millions was fired by Corporal Ernest Thomas of C Squadron, 4th Royal Irish Dragoons on August 22, 1914, in a cavalry action near the town of Casteau, Belgium. The first combatant killed, a German uhlan (mounted infantryman), is credited to Captain Charles B. Hornby in that same action. Captain Hornby pierced the unfortunate uhlan’s heart by saber thrust—an ironically old-fashioned death (on horseback, with a sword) in what was to become a decidedly modern war (mechanized, faceless), its human toll exceeding 14,000,000. But the markers’ assertions do not stand historical scrutiny; their authors disregard earlier campaigns in far-off Africa.

The first British shot of the war actually occurred on August 5, fired off by Regimental Sergeant Major Alhaji Grunshi, a black African soldier serving with British Imperial forces a few miles north of Lomé, in German Togoland. The first recorded British death in battle, one Lieutenant G. M. Thompson of the Gold Coast Regiment, took place sometime over the night of August 21–22, also in Togoland: Lieutenant Thompson, given command of a company of Senegalese Tirailleurs, fought it out with German askaris in a confused action in the thick bush on the banks of the river Chra. His comrades found him in the morning, lying dead and covered with insects in the midst of his slaughtered command. They buried them that way; the Senegalese arranged around Lieutenant Thompson’s grave like a loyal pack of hounds around the tomb of a Paleolithic chief.

After less than a year of war, the German Overseas Empire—one of the main catalysts for the war in the first place—seemed nearly at an end.

In China, on the other side of the globe, the small German garrison holding the Kiao-Chow Concession found itself besieged by a Japanese Army 23,000 strong, supported by a small contingent of the 2nd Battalion of South Wales Borderers. The Concession—a 400-square-mile territory centered in the fortified port city of Tsingtao on the Yellow Sea—had been ceded to Germany in 1897 as compensation for the murder of two German Catholic priests by anti-Christian Chinese mobs. Tsingtao’s commandant, Kapitän zur See Meyer-Waldeck, held out against the siege behind the city’s thick walls for two months, under continual bombardment from land and sea as Japanese Infantry assault trenches pushed relentlessly forward. Realizing the pointlessness of further struggle against the combined might of the Japanese Army and Navy, Meyer-Waldeck surrendered his garrison of 3,000 German marines and sundry volunteers at last on November 16, 1914. It came as a surprise to him that the Japanese and the British were fighting together against Germany—they had signed a secret mutual defense treaty in 1902, only now bearing fruit.

Meanwhile, Australian, New Zealand, and Japanese forces easily captured German possessions in the South Pacific. These included the Bismarck Archipelago, the Caroline Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Marianas, Palau, New Caledonia, and Samoa—where the Kaiser’s barefoot native soldiers sported fetching red sarongs beneath their formal German military tunics—and Kaiser-Wilhelmsland, now the northeastern part of Papua New Guinea. Here one intrepid German officer, a certain Hauptmann Herman Detzner, who had been off exploring the unknown interior with a contingent of native police, refused to surrender and remained on the loose in the wilderness for the duration of the war. He turned himself in to the occupying Australians on January 5, 1919, wearing his carefully preserved and outdated Imperial German uniform—a kind of German Rip van Winkle who had been asleep in the jungle while the world changed irrevocably around him. By July 1915, of Germany’s prewar colonial possessions, only German East Africa remained.

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Filed under Britain, Cameroon, China, Germany, Ghana, Micronesia, migration, military, nationalism, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tanzania, war