Read a story about Sāmoa’s fight for independence
New Zealand occupied German Sāmoa during the First World War and in 1920, following Germany’s defeat, was allocated the territory (renamed Western Sāmoa) by the League of Nations. Distrust of the New Zealand administration took hold early on. On 7 November 1918, the SS Talune arrived in Apia from Auckland. Although some of its passengers and crew were suffering from the strain of pneumonic influenza that was then raging around the world, the New Zealand administrator, Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Logan (1863–1935), failed to quarantine the ship and sick passengers were permitted to disembark.
Logan then rejected medical help from American Sāmoa as infection rapidly spread throughout Western Sāmoa. Within two months, 8500 people had died — 22 per cent of the population. The speed and magnitude of deaths allowed no time for traditional burials, and grieving families had to settle with mass graves for their loved ones.
Over the next few years, opposition towards New Zealand rule hardened. O le Mau a Sāmoa, also known as the Mau or the League of Sāmoa, whose slogan was Sāmoa mō Sāmoa (Sāmoa for Samoans), was established in March 1927 with the aim of achieving independence.
This photograph, taken on 28 December 1929, shows a Mau parade proceeding along Beach Road in Apia peacefully — that is, until a little later, when New Zealand police attempted to arrest a Mau leader. When protesters intervened, police fired into the crowd before retreating towards the police station. There, police fired a machine gun from the balcony over the heads of the approaching protesters, and officers below began firing their rifles. Samoan leader Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III (1901–1929) was one of 11 people who died. The day became known as Black Saturday.
The tragedy exacerbated animosity between the Mau and the New Zealand administration until 1936, when the Mau was recognised as a political organisation and the New Zealand government and Sāmoa began the slow transition towards independence. This dream was achieved on 1 January 1962, when Tupua Tamasese Mea‘ole (1905–1963; son of Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III) and Malietoa Tanumafili II (1913–2007; son of Malietoa Tanumafili I, adviser to New Zealand administrator George Richardson) became joint heads of state.
On 4 June 2002, Prime Minister Helen Clark formally apologised to Sāmoa for the New Zealand government’s actions. Although Samoan people will never forget the tense relationship with New Zealand and those who died because of it, the apology closed a dark chapter in Sāmoa’s history and New Zealand’s activities in the Pacific region.
Story written by: Ulu Afaese
Copyright: Turnbull Endowment Trust
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