Telling Samoa’s storiesMay 21st, 2015 By Roger Swanson
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:
|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.
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.
His main rivals were Iosefo Mata’afa and Titimaea Tamasese, who were also at various times proclaimed King of Samoa during this period.
Malietoa Laupepa was exiled.
Then, in the following issue:
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.
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:
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:
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.
Again, the event is recorded in the Library’s collections:
Sometimes it’s the small details in newspapers that capture the moment: this from the Samoanische Zeitung.
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.