New Zealand's Troubles in Western Samoa

Courtesy Reuters

NEW ZEALAND'S governance of Western Samoa has been fraught with increasing difficulty and disillusionment. The capture of the islands in 1914 appeared to be a long-deferred fulfilment of the dreams of successive generations of New Zealand statesmen -- Grey, Selwyn, Vogel and Seddon -- all of whom saw their country as the natural leader of the island peoples. Their vision ranged as far as Hawaii, which even in 1897 Seddon urged both upon the Colonial Conference and upon President McKinley and Secretary Sherman as a rightful field for annexation by New Zealand. The failure of British statesmen to develop a Monroe Doctrine for the south Pacific caused chagrin in New Zealand, and vigorous protests were made to the Colonial Office as French, German and American influence extended there. Annexation of the Cook Islands in 1901 was small consolation.

Trouble began almost immediately after the capture of Samoa at the beginning of the World War. The incidents of the first few years indicated that New Zealand had undertaken a more complicated task than she realized. The importation of more indentured Chinese laborers, which was strongly opposed by the Labor Party, and the liquidation and reorganization of the German plantations as a state enterprise struck at the foundations of Samoa's commercial progress. In 1918-19 official negligence allowed the influenza epidemic to enter the islands. The American Navy, which successfully fought the epidemic in American Samoa, proferred help; but its services were not accepted and thousands of natives died, leaving behind them a memory that years of effective public health work has failed to soften.

The Paris Peace Conference gave New Zealand a mandate over the island, and a period of calm succeeded the troubles of the war years. It lasted until 1926, when the New Zealand Administrator quarreled with a group of prominent European traders. There is ample evidence that energetic measures, especially in public health, were taken in this period. The New Zealand officials had the best intentions. Their mistakes were of method and understanding.


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