Telling Samoa’s stories

May 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:

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.
An article with the headline 'Coronation of Malietoa Laupepa'. It is about a ceremony of coronation organised for the death of the late king.
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.
Article with the headline that reads 'Proclamation of Mataafa. It is about the day that Mataafa was proclaimed King of Samoa at Faleula by his people.
Samoa Times and South Sea Advertiser, 29 September 1888, Page 2.

Then, in the following issue:

A newspaper article about Mataafa's Proclamation upon being coronated.
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.

Newspaper article about Germany, Great Britain and the United States of America for the purpose of restoring tranquility in the islands of Samaoa.
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. Headline reads 'Sir - will you allow me to pointedly repudiate the sentiments of your correspondent 'Vox Populi'?.
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.
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, about the death of employees during during the Influenza epidemic in Samoa.
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.

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26 March 2018 5:07am

Thank you Roger. God Bless xoxo

Malia Narruhn
16 February 2016 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.

Galumalemana Alfred Hunkin
16 February 2016 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!

27 July 2015 8:50am

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

29 June 2015 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.

Anna Tiaki
26 May 2015 4:09pm

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