Telling Samoa’s stories

Pacific Papers Past

Telling the story of Samoa has just become easier with the addition of over 1500 issues of Samoa’s newspapers to Paper Past, providing coverage from October 1877 to December 1920. The new titles are:

Title Issues Pages
Samoa Times and South Sea Gazette 6 October 1877 - 27 August 1881 (200 issues) 801
Samoa Times and South Sea Advertiser 29 September 1888 - 26 December 1896 (405 issues) 1629
Samoa Weekly Herald 26 November 1892 - 28 July 1900 (374 issues) 1508
Samoanische Zeitung 19 September 1903 - 25 December 1920 (525 issues) 6046

News about Samoa (and the rest of the Pacific) has always been available from the New Zealand newspapers on Papers Past, but now you can go to the source and search or browse Samoan newspapers as they were published.

Samoa’s newspapers were set up for European settlers to bring them news from overseas, and comment on local political and social events. They provided shipping information, official notices, court reporting and notices of births, marriages and deaths. They included advertisements for services and venues.

The newspapers did circulate among the general Samoan population as there are notices in Samoan as well as German and English, the languages of the main settler groups.

If you’re new to Papers Past, you can browse – skim through issues, read whole pages, and zoom in to articles – or search. By doing an advanced search you can choose the newspaper, set a date range, and get more relevant results. I definitely recommend ticking the ‘Show preview images’ checkbox and increasing the number of results per page.

Finding stories

Late 19th century politics in Samoa was a tangle of competing interests, both locally and internationally, fighting for control of Samoa. Britain, America and Germany actively intervened in local politics to support one faction or another, and at one point almost went to war with one another over Samoa.

In 1900 Germany, by agreement with Britain and the US, annexed the islands of Upolu and Savai’i. The United States took the islands to the east, which included Tutuila. New Zealand occupied German Samoa under the British flag in 1914 and administered what was called Western Samoa from 1920 until 1962, when Samoa regained its independence.

All this and more can be found in these pages. I’ve spent some time digging into the new additions, and picked out some of the stories that caught my interest.

The Samoan Kings

In 1881 Malietoa Laupepa was crowned King with the support of the three Consuls of Britain, the United States and Germany. He was on and off King until his death in 1898 and was succeeded by his son Malietoa Tanumafili in 1899.

Malietoa Laupepa, one of the contenders for royal status during the Samoan civil wars prior to the German occupation in 1899.Malietoa Laupepa, one of the contenders for royal status during the Samoan civil wars prior to the German occupation in 1899. Ref: PA1-q-610-40-2.

Reads 'Coronation of Malietoa Laupepa. The Samoan Government have at length determined to rectify the anomalous position which Malietoa Laupepa has occupied since the death of the late Kind. We understand that the Consuls received notice yesterday of the determination of the Government to proclaim Maleitoa Laupepa, Kind of Samoa. The ceremony of coronation will take place this afternoon at Mulinu'u at 1 o'clock.'Samoa Times and South Sea Gazette, 19 March 1881, Page 2.

His main rivals were Iosefo Mata’afa and Titimaea Tamasese, who were also at various times proclaimed King of Samoa during this period.

Tamasese Titimaea and Mata'afa Iosefa, contenders for royal status in the Samoan civil wars prior to the German occupation in 1899.L-R: Tamasese Titimaea ca 1890s (PA1-q-610-38-3) and Mata'afa Iosefa ca1890 (PA1-o-546-15).

Malietoa Laupepa was exiled.

Group with guns at Fort Samoa, Apia.Group with guns at Fort Samoa, 1888. Ref: PA1-q-610-34-2.

Reads 'Proclamation of Mataafa. On the day that Mataafa was proclaimed King of Samoa at Faleula by his people the following notice was posting in the district – Notice. Attention all men. We have chosen this day, the 9th of September, 1888, at 10 o'clock in the morning, Maleitoa To'oa Mataafa as King of Samoa. There were present Tumua, and Pule, and Aiga.'Samoa Times and South Sea Advertiser, 29 September 1888, Page 2.

Then, in the following issue:

Mataafa's Proclamation upon being coronated. Reads 'I strictly prohibit any mischievous people of my war party at the beach frontage of the German Store at Savalala, from picking and making quarrels or using their fists in fighting. I also prohibit our war party to cross the boundary of the neutral territory at Sagi, an the party at Muliuu is hereby prohibited to cross the boundary at Matautu. I have also prohibited the drinking of the foeign intoxicating liquors by the people of my war party within the neutral territory. I hereby command all my war party to protect and respect, and also be aloof from all the things belonging to the gentlemen of the Foreign Powers and also those under their protection. If any person is found trespassing upon the above command, a policeman is hereby authorised to arrest him and bring to Vaiala for trial by a judge who I will appoint for the same.'Samoa Times and South Sea Advertiser, 6 October 1888, Page 3.

In 1889, after the Treaty of Berlin, the three powers restored Malietoa Laupepa to Kingship (under their supervision). When Malietoa Laupepa died in 1898 he was succeeded by his son Malietoa Tanumafili.

Reads 'Proclamation. Whereas the Great Powers of Germany, Great Britain and the United States of America for the purpose of restoring tranquility in the islands of Samaoa and establishing a Provisional Government therein have invested the High Commission with supreme power and authority and WHEREAS the decision of the Chief Justice declaring Malietoa Tanumafili to the King is considered by the High Commission as valid and binding, and WHEREAS the said Malietoa Tanumafili has voluntarily tendered to the High Commission his resignation as King and the same has been duly accepted, and WHEREAS the High Commission has decided to abolish the office of King in Samoa, now therefore NOTICE is hereby given that during the stay of the High Commission in Samoa, unless orders to the contrary are issued, all the official duties of the King and his councillors will be performed by the three Consuls of the Great Powers, a majority of whom are authorized to act in all cases where by the Treaty of Berlin unanimity of action is not required. The Chief Justice will continue to exericse the duties of his office, Dr Solf is authorized to enter upon the duties of his office as President of the Municipal Council of Apia and all other officers of the said Municipality will continue to perform the duties of their respective offices.'Samoa Weekly Herald, 10 June 1899, Page 2.

Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson arrived in Samoa in 1890, living at his home ‘Vailima’ with his family until his death in December 1894. Stevenson involved himself in local issues, and there are many references to him in the Samoan newspapers. This is a letter to the editor from him:

Robert Louis Stevenson's letter to the Editor. Reads 'Sir - will you allow me to pointedly repudiate the sentiments of your correspondent 'Vox Populi'? A man is not bound to be a hero, he may be congenitally chicken-hearted, but he should have a sense of shame; he should not make haste to take the public in the confidence of his unmanly tremors; above all, he must refrain from doing so when the expression of his cowardice tends to encourage barbarism and jeapardise other and worthier heads. The Chief Justice may rest assured; he has done his duty; and there are plenty of persons even in Apia who appreciate his courage and are quite willing to take, by his side, a share of those risks which have blanched the cheek of 'Vox Populi'. I may add in conclusion that I have read your contemporary's article with amazement.'Samoa Weekly Herald, 24 March 1894, Page 3.

The Samoa Times & South Sea Advertiser provides a fulsome report on his 43rd birthday party held at Vailima. The Turnbull Library has a photograph from the event in its collections:

Robert Louis Stevenson's birthday party, at Vailima.Robert Louis Stevenson's birthday party at Vailima, 1893. Ref: PA1-o-546-25.

The end of German Samoa

The English language section of the Samoanische Zeitung of 5 September 1914 has a very interesting account, likely written by the editor, of the occupation of German Samoa by the New Zealand forces. It’s the view from the beach and tells of the uncertainty of what was about to happen.

Part of a report on the occupation of German Samoa. Reads 'On Saturday, the 29th August, soon after daybreak, smoke was observed on the horizon, and it was at once reported that a steamer was in sight. One, two, three, tour, columns of smoke appeared in quick succession, followed by others, extending from the far north in the Bight of Fagaloa. The first idea was that the vessels were the 'Scharnhorst', 'Gneisenau', 'Nurnberg', and 'Titania', bu as soon as it was observed that there were more than four ships visible, it was known that either a British or Japanese Squadron was approaching. Soon the White ENsign was visible, showing that the squadron was British. The approach was certainly imposing. Undoubtedly never such a naval display has been seen in the South Seas.'Samoanische Zeitung, 5 September 1914, Page 9.

Again, the event is recorded in the Library’s collections:

New Zealand Expeditionary Force arriving inside the reef at Apia.New Zealand ships, Apia, Samoa, during World War I. Ref: 1/2-148889-F.

Personal stories

Sometimes it’s the small details in newspapers that capture the moment: this from the Samoanische Zeitung.

Notice, reading 'We have the sad duty to announce the deaths during the recent Influenza epidemic of our employees: Mr Emmanuel Betham, on the 30th November; Mr Walter Fourmeaux, on the 30th November; Mr Gerhard Ihnen, on the 3rd December; Mr Peter Heitmann, on the 3rd December. They will be kept in good remembrance.'Samoanische Zeitung, 14 December 1918, Page 5.

If you’re interested in German Samoa, see To Walk Under the Palm Trees: the Germans in Samoa, a very interesting website with photographs from family albums of that community. To Walk Under the Palm Trees: the Germans in Samoa. You’ll find many of those mentioned on this website in the newly-added Samoan newspapers.

By Roger Swanson

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

Post a Comment

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Anna Tiaki May 26th at 4:09PM

Fa'afetai lava Roger, thank you so much for this information. I know this will be very helpful for our Pacifica people.

Richard June 29th at 12:55PM

Thank you for shearing.
I will need to keep searching if I'am to learn to who my grand father whom I am named after married leaving 5 siblings and their decedents wondering who their grand mother
s linage was.

Carla July 27th at 8:50AM

Thank you, this addition to the collection has been really helpful in my research.

Galumalemana Alfred Hunkin February 16th at 9:30AM

Thank you very much Roger for making these old newspapers available online. Its great that they can be used for research on a whole lot of issues and subject matters relating to Samoa and its history. I have always wanted to access these but have really had no time nor easy access, but now, its really wonderful! Fa'afetai tele lava (thank you very much) - for the great work!

Malia Narruhn February 16th at 1:20PM

Very interesting. Did the Newspaper list all ships that disembarked in Apia? I ask because my great grandfather Capt Frederick Narruhn sailed his ship the Neptune into Upololu's waters. It would have been the early 1800 thru 1884. He was from Prussia. He met his wife Katherine Bartley in Samoa and sailed off to Ponhpei, Micronesia. Am hopeful.

Dorinda March 26th at 5:07AM

Thank you Roger. God Bless xoxo