Researching Samoa: "Samoa Mo Samoa"

A good time to research

This year marks 50 years of independence from New Zealand rule for Samoa. The anniversary is important for New Zealanders as it marks a new beginning in our relationship with the Samoan people and nation. It also recalls our shared history from 1914 to 1962.

The collections at the Alexander Turnbull Library also reflect this close association with our Pacific neighbour. The Library is fortunate to have in its collections personal and official papers of many individuals who worked or lived in Samoa during this time.

Occupation in WWI

New Zealand’s administration of Samoa began somewhat dramatically when on 29th of August 1914 New Zealand troops landed at Matautu, Apia, and took control of German Samoa, on behalf of Great Britain, fortunately without a shot being fired.

The “Occupation of German Samoa” had a lot of press coverage in New Zealand, including first-hand reporting by Malcolm Ross, free-lance journalist and photographer.

A report, most likely written by him, appeared in the Christchurch Press of the 10th of September, 1914, and describes the landing of the New Zealand troops.

Malcolm Ross was the official correspondent for a number of New Zealand newspapers, including the Press. He had previously covered the Samoan “troubles” in 1899, and so grabbed the opportunity to travel to Samoa again on the Troopship Monowai, with the landing party.

He later became New Zealand’s only official, government, appointed war correspondent for the Great War in Europe.

You can find out more about Ross at, where there are two university theses about his life. Both of these include Ross’ experiences in Samoa and both authors used the Library’s collections in their research.

The Library is fortunate to have Ross’ photographs of the occupation along with those of a long time resident in Apia, Alfred Tattersall, who lived in Samoa from 1886 to 1951. Here's a number of them (along with photos by Francis Gleeson of the Mau movement - see below).

Ross' Samoan photographs are part of a group that includes his photos of New Zealanders in WWI, mountaineering, and more.

What the House said

Another fascinating source for information about Samoa are the New Zealand Parliamentary Papers. These are now available online from 1858 onwards and are being progressively added to each year into AtoJs Online.

By the end of June the reports up to 1923 will be available online, including these relating to Samoa:

  • The official communiqués concerning the Occupation of German Samoa in Parliamentary Paper 1915 H 19c.
  • The Samoan Epidemic Commission in Parliamentary Paper 1919 H31c, containing reports on the influenza epidemic of 1918 and its terrible effect on the Samoan population.
  • The first and second annual reports of the Administrator of Western Samoa appear in 1922 and provide detailed coverage of the Administration’s activities from 1920 onwards, in Parliamentary Paper 1922 A4 and A4a. The third report appears in 1923 as part of Parliamentary Paper A4.

Independence stirs

The movement for self-rule – called the “Mau”, in Samoa, began in the mid 1920’s as dissatisfaction from some sectors in Samoa grew over New Zealand rule.

An album of photographs compiled by Francis Gleeson documents many of the activities of the movement and the Administration’s response. Francis, as a young police officer, was sent to Samoa as part of larger contingent in 1930 to deal with the “troubles”.

Again you can find in Papers Past contemporary reporting of events in Western Samoa. From 1927 onwards there are regular reports (at times almost daily) in the Evening Post of the “Mau problem”.

A treasure trove of documents

Another collection held by the Library are the papers of Guy Powles, the New Zealand High Commissioner for Western Samoa from 1949-1960. These provide a wealth of material for the researcher of this pivotal period in Samoa’s history, as the country moved towards independence.

A photograph from this collection, of this very popular couple, that I particularly like is this one – perhaps from their farewell tour?

Guy Powles, New Zealand High Commissioner for Samoa, his wife Eileen, and son Michael, photographed by Donald Ross, Alexander Turnbull Library, PA1-o-822-24.

Dive into it!

I have really only touched the surface of what is a huge topic – there is plenty more to explore online.

By Roger Swanson

Roger is the Research Librarian, Pacific, for the Alexander Turnbull Library.

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Teresia Teaiwa May 31st at 4:19PM

What an amazing compilation of resources on Samoa's path towards independence, Roger! If this does not excite a new generation of researchers--and some of the oldies as well!--I don't know what will! Thank you for bringing these particular resources together and for sharing them this way. Malo lava le galue, Teresia-

Roger Swanson June 21st at 3:40PM

Very pleased to see that the Parliamentary Papers online in the A-J's Database now extend up to and including 1930. Available now are the first 10 annual reports of NZ Administration - all at A4 each year , The Royal Commission Concerning the Administration, Paper 1928 A4b, and the Coroners finding re the fatalities of 28th December 1929 - Paper 1930 A4b.

Aanoalii Rowena Fuluifaga June 27th at 12:25PM

Inspiring images - thanks for the wonderful resource! Its great to see our National Library allowing resources like these images freely available :) On another note, you wouldn't happen to have a copy of the 'Cry of Mata'afa?' available? ...Unfortunately, the only copy available sits in the National Library of Australia??

Pollyanna Alo April 22nd at 6:34PM

Hi there, are you able to direct me to a book written by a German author which outlines the history of Samoa (including names of the kings of Samoa, including matai names. I was told this was available at libraries on request however no one is able to give me the title of this book. My interest lies in a Matai title Faalafitele and the history of this Matai name. Thank you

Roger Swanson April 29th at 5:01PM

The book you are looking for is called "The Samoan Islands : the outline of a monograph, giving special consideration to German Samoa" by Augustin Kramer.

It was first published in 1902 in German & Samoan. An English & Samoan edition was published in 1942 and there have been a number reprints of this edition since then. It is in two volumes - the first volume is mostly genealogies. The second volume is more about life and customs.

You local library should be able to tell you which libraries have copies of this publication.

We have a copy in our Pacific Reference Collection at the Alexander Turnbull Library - if you live in the Wellington area you are welcome to read it here. We also have a number of other books with the genealogies relating to the Kings of Samoa - particularly the Malietoa family.

paul August 25th at 1:20PM

Is there ia Samoan National Bibliography? Is it Published online. Does NLNZ aim to add most Samoan Books to its collection?

Roger Swanson August 26th at 11:15AM

Hi Paul

There two general published bibliographies relating to Samoa namely:

“Samoa : a national bibliography”, compiled by the Book Exhibition Committee for the 7th Pacific Festival of Arts 1996.

“Samoan Islands Bibliography” compiled and edited by Lowell D Holmes, 1984.

I don’t think either of these are available online

On the internet there are a number of bibliographies some general and other by topic/subject. These might be a bit more up to date. Here are a few I have found;

Samoan Sensation website SEE

Samoa Reference Sources SEE

Samoa: a select bibliography (Centre for Pacific Island Studies, University of Hawai’i at Manoa) SEE

The National Library of New Zealand does try to obtain most Samoan publicans and publications about Samoa. These can be found listed on our online catalogue SEE Search either by Keyword or by Subject headings.

Roger Swanson

Henry Fesuluai November 22nd at 8:59AM

Talofa Paul,

Really enjoy reading through your work.

As a teacher of Samoan language, I am just wondering if you offer any special presentations to schools next year? If so, are you able to email me directly to organise dates and a visit for 2014?

Faafetai lava,

Henry Fesulua'i.

Henry Fesuluai November 22nd at 9:00AM

Apologies Roger for the error in the earlier email and reference to you as Paul.

Faamalulu atu i lau Afioga.

Henry Fesulua'i.

Tanya Williams August 23rd at 7:20PM

Hi Roger, what other books do you have regarding the genealogies relating to the Kings of Samoa, in particular the Malietoa family?

Roger swan August 29th at 10:48AM

There are a number of books written by Misilugi Tulifau Tofaeono Tu'u'u on the history of Samoa and its rulers. Two titles relate directly to the Mailietoa line namely "Supremacy and legacy of the Malietoa" - published in 2002 and "Malietoa superior warrior of Samoa: the crown and title : history of Samoa" published in 1999. These are available at the National Library in Wellington but also at some public and university libraries in NZ

loane nightingale August 31st at 7:46PM

I would love the history of mulivai.from malietoa taulapapa to leota anitelea

Roger Swanson September 23rd at 2:16PM

Ioane - please submit your question to the "Ask a Librarian" link at the top the National Library web page and provide a bit more detail such as time period. I have found some mention of Mulivai but not sure if it's what you want.. Thanks Roger

Julie Tauave March 2nd at 4:40PM

Hi there I was wondering if you have a book that contains much information about the history behind the mau movement in Samoa? I am doing a national history project about the mau movement and everyone that was involved or at least alive during the time. Such as chiefs, New Zealand officials and much more. Hopefully you could help me!

Roger Swanson March 7th at 4:38PM

Julia there are two books by Michael Field namely “Mau: Samoa’s struggle for freedom” published 1991 and “Black Saturday: New Zealand’s Tragic blunders in Samoa” published in 2006.
There is also “Tautai: Samoa, world history, and the life of Ta’isi O F Nelson” by Patricia O’Brian published by Huia in 2017. Ta’isi Nelson was one of the founders of the Mau.
Also you can look on Papers Past for reports on the resistance to New Zealand rule in Samoa and letters to the editor from the Nelson and other Mau leaders were also published in NZ Newspapers.