Samoan Islands: Inter-War Era (1920s-30s)

Figure 1.--The American administration of the eastern Samoa was paternalistic, but benign. Samoans continued to live their traditional life style largely untouched by the outside world. The United States set up a public school system and public health system, but the principal interest was the naval station and excellent Pago Pago harbor. Little economic development occurred. This photograph was taken in 1923 and scenrs like this were still common at the time of the Pacific War. Major change only began after Pearl Harbor with the arrival of large numbers of American servicemen and the construction of major base facilities.

World War I resulted in the creation of the League of Nations which initiated a new look at colonislism. Colonial riuvslruies were identified as a source if international conflict. Thus the victorious Allies decided not to simply seize the colonies of imperial Germany and the Ottoman Empire. Instead they were place under international administration supervised by the League of Nations. And there was a vision of future independence, perhaps the first step in the de-colonization process. In practice this proved more than theoretical than practical. As the trusteeship powers to a large degree administered them as colonies, but the internatiinal attention generally brought a degree of enlightened administration that had often been absent before. This was not the case of the Japanese who were the Mandate power for the former German Central Pacific islands to the north. They simply ignored the League and withdrew from it (1931). The eastern former German islands were a League Mandate. The United States did not join the League. The eastern American islands continued to be an American territory with no League envolvement or supervision. Under both New Zealand and American adminnistrations, Samoans continued to lead their traditional life styles, largely untouched by the outside world. The islanders were totally unaware of the militarists in far away Japan who were prepaing to launch the Pacific islands and preparing plans to invade their peaceful islands.

New Zealand Mandate/Trusteeship (1920-45)

New Zealand administered the former German Samoan island under a League of Nations Class-C Mandate. An estimated quarter of the western Samoan population perished in the dreadful influenza epidemic (1918-19). The ensuing Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Epidemic concluded that New Zealand authoriries contributed to the epidemic. there was no epidemic of pneumonic influenza in Western Samoa before the arrival of the SS Talune from Auckland (November 7, 1918). Authorities allowed it to berth in violation of quarantine regulations. Within 7 days influenza had become epidemic in Upolu and proceeded to spread rapidly throughout the islands. The population had little resistance to the virus. This of course was only the local manifestation of the world-wide flu epidemic. A New Zealand civil administration replaced the World War I military government (May 1920). The New Zealand mandate was confirmed by the League of Nations Council (December 1920). A New Zealand Administrator was appointed, charged with the executive government of the island. An advisory Legislative Council consisting of six official, four Samoan, and two elected European members was established. Two “fautua” (official Samoan advisors, representatives of the traditional high chiefly lines of Samoa) and a “Fono of Faipule”, a body of 41 Samoan district representatives, also acted as advisers to the Administrator. This was the first move toward self government. The 'Mau' resistance movement developed (1926). It actually had origins dating back to the German occupation era. It was a civil disobedience effort to resist New Zealand control. A major issue was discontent over the loss of certain high titles. It was a kind of unofficial opposition to the New Zealand Administration. The strength of the Mau varied over time. We note one source suggesting that it achieved wide-spread support because of 'New Zealand mistreatment of the Samoan people'. The source does not explain just how the Samoans were mistreated and we are still looking into this. There does seem to have been excesive force used to confront the Mau. We are unsure, howver, about other aspects of New Zealand rule. The Mau did not develop as a Samoan Nationalist movement. It was more a factional development as there was as much factional animosity as resistance to the New Zealanders. The movement gradually disapated (1936).

American Territory

American administration of the eastern Samoan islands, unlike what occurred in the western Samoans was seamless. There were no significan differences. After World War I, American Samoa was saved the ravages of the flu epidemic when Governor John Martin Poyer quanantined the islands. The village of Fagatogo was the center of American Samoa. As the administrative headquarters of the U.S. Naval Base Tutuila (1900-51), it was for many decades the most westernized village in the Territory and the only village with a paved road. Unlike Hawaii, American investors took little interest in the islands and the land remained mostly in Samoan hands. There was only limited economic development. American Samoa was affected by the Mau movement arising in New Zealand controllked Western Samoa. It was led by Samuelu Ripley, a World War I veteran who was from Leone village, Tutuila. After meetings in the United States mainland, officials on American Samoa prevented from disembarking from the ship that brought him home to American Samoa. The U.S. Navy suppressed the Mau Movement. The U.S. Congress sent a committee to investigate the status of American Samoa (1930). It was not altogether a disinterested effort. It was led by Americans who had a part in the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii. American administration was basically light, although paterbalidstic. Samosans were allowed to continue their tradituional life style while instituting reforms such as public schools and public health measures. Missionaries cointinued to play an important role. There was no provuision for local prticupstion in the administration id the islands. Nearby Swains Island was one of the guano islands listed in the 1856 Guno Act. Congress authorized the inclusion of Swains to American Samoa. Pan America Airways was investigating the exrtension of its more northerly Clipper flights south to New Zealand through Pago Pago. A crash put an end to this effoirt.


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Created: 6:17 AM 5/2/2018
Last updated: 6:18 AM 5/2/2018