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Hervey W. Whitaker visited Samoa in 1886 and again in 1887. His observations were published in The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine Of May 1889. ....Jane Resture.
Circumstances which were entirely unexpected compelled us to visit the Polynesia in the early part of 1886, and the greater portion of that year was part in visiting the various scattered groups of islands throughout the Pacific.
Again, in the beginning of 1887, we found ourselves sailing away to the South Seas, with fair prospects of a prolonged sojourn among those remote and interesting islands. It was our good fortune that much of the time was passed in the Samoan Group.
The American steamers of the Oceanic line running monthly between San Francisco, Auckland and Sydney, Australia, call enroute at Honolulu in the Sandwich islands, situated a little over 2,000 miles in a south/westerly direction from California. Leaving Honolulu, the steamers continue in much the same course for a distance of 2,200 miles before reaching the Samoan group of islands, which are in the direct line of these steamers route.
The group is made up of three large islands, Savaii, Upolu, and Tutuila, and of five others of inferior size, Manuua, Olosenga, Ofu, Manono, Apolima, making an area of about 3000 square miles, and containing at the present date not over forty thousand inhabitants, although at one time it is said to have been peopled by over fifty thousand souls
The position of these islands has been known since 1722, when the Dutch navigator Roggewein visited the Pacific with his three ships; but his explorations in this particular group were of little importance. Nothing was definitely known of them until until the renowned French navigators Bougainville and La Perouse visited them, the former in 1768 and the latter in 1787. It was Bougainville who, observing the skill of the natives in paddling canoes, aptly gave to the group the name of the "Isles of the navigators."'
During La Perouse's visit to Samoa an unfortunate occurrence took place on board the ship Astrolobe. While some natives were inspecting the vessel an accidental discharge of firearms caused the death of a native. The savages were so provoked that a few days after the accident they attacked a boat-load of sailors, among whom were Comte de Langle and M. de Lamanon, a naturalist who accompanied the expedition, and massacred almost the entire crew. On account of this ferocious act the natives were supposed to be generally cruel and warlike, and they were accordingly feared and avoided until about 1830 when the London Missionary Society established a mission among them, and found them to be a gentle and peaceable race, with few if any atrocious acts of violence such as were characteristic of cannibalistic Fiji. This mission continues in operation up to this time, and has accomplished much good for the people.
The steamers of the Oceanic line pass through the group but do not stop, merely "slowing down" off the western end of the Island of Tutuila sufficiently to transfer the European and American mails to the small cutter which is used for the purpose of transporting to Apia the monthly mail matter.
The seat of government, Apia, a town of fifteen hundred inhabitants, is situated about the bay of the same name, on the north-western side of Upolu. Here the various ruling monarchs have from time immemorial lived, ruled, and held court. The bay is an incomplete semicircle in form, extending from Matautu point on the east to Mulunuu, a low point of land stretching away to the westward over a distance of two miles. The ever busy coral insects have thrown up a barrier reef, extending from point to point, which receives and dissipates the huge swells of the Pacific, whereby under ordinary conditions of the weather protection is secured to ships at anchor in the bay. During certain seasons of the year, however, when hurricanes prevail, the anchorage becomes unsafe.
In Apia the California redwood cottages of the foreigners built along the thoroughfares, which extend parallel with the outlines of the beach from Matautu to Mulunuu, are surrounded with flowers and tropical plants. One rounded with flowers and tropical plants. One of the old landmarks by which ships steer their course into the harbour is the Catholic mission church, situated near the centre of the town, built entirely of coral blocks cut from reefs nearby, and enclosed within a wall of the same material. Half a mile distant, on a hill in the rear of the church, stand a college and a chapel belonging to the same Church, in which native men are educated for missionary purposes. The mission also possesses a convent school for the education and training of Samoan girls. Some of the native women renounce the world, take the same vows and assume the same garb as their white sisters, and devote their lives to acts of charity and mercy.
Apia, capital of Samoa
Continuing forty miles to the eastward, we come to Tutuila, a mountainous island nearly a hundred miles in circumference and containing eight thousand inhabitants. The interior of Tutuila is so rugged and the jungle is so dense that it is seldom visited by the the natives. There are comparatively few inland villages, most of the inhabitants living in proximity to the sea. On the south side of Tutuila is the entrance to the magnificent harbour of Pago-Pago. The natural beauty and grandeur of this bay are extensively known throughout all Polynesia. Being land-locked, and bounded by mountains on one side and a perpendicular wall of solid rock fifteen hundred feet in height on another, it affords the safest refuge to ships of all sizes during the hurricane season. It was conceded to the United States by King Malietoa in the treaty of 1872, for the purpose of establishing and maintaining a coaling station for ships of war, and for a number of years past the United States naval vessels cruising in the South seas have drawn their supply of coal from this place.
Sixty miles to the eastward of Tutuila, we find what is generally known as the Manuua group, which comprises Olosenga, Manuua, and Ofu. These are as much a part of Samoa as a are any of the other islands mentioned; but it is a curious fact that the inhabitants of these three islands live apart from the others, have a king of their own, make laws to suit themselves, take no hand in the political differences of the others, and will not submit to any interference by them.
It is from this group that the royal family of Samoa is supposed to have sprung. The inhabitants still retain many pagan customs and superstitions regarding their king, whom they do not allow to drink water, to bathe in the sea, or to walk from place to place.
United States Consulate at Apia, Samoa
Three miles off the westward end of Upolu are situated the two small islands of Manono and Apolima. The latter is an extinct volcano projecting out of the sea, one side of which has tumbled into the water and forms an entrance into the interior.
The people of Manono have long held the reputation of being the most proficient seamen, while those of Apolima have the distinction of being the bravest and finest warriors among the islanders.
The islands of Tutuila, Upolu,and Savaii bear a striking resemblance to one another. The mountain peaks are clothed in perpetual green, and all are surrounded by barrier reefs of coral, over which the breakers, never ceasing, dash into spray. The rivers are simply tortuous mountain streams, which at times of heavy rainfall become turbulent torrents, frequently uprooting and carrying away large forest trees. As they rush down to the sea, many cascades falls, and cataracts of impressive beauty and grandeur are formed; one of the latter plunges over a precipice three hundred feet in height.
The coconut, bread-fruit, taro, and banana form a mainstay and daily food of the people. In the economy of a Samoan household nothing enters so largely or assumes such conspicuous importance as the coconut. The Samoan chiefs affirm that it was sent direct from heaven. Nothing is more acceptable to a tongue parched with tropical heat than its cool, palatable, and refreshing milk, while its soft, tender meat is fit for a meal. Although these trees grow naturally and abundantly, and to a perfection perhaps unknown in any other part of the world, still, in order that the demand shall never equal the supply a number of nuts are planted each year. Of later years coconuts have been largely cultivated for commercial purposes.
Native church built of coral
The bread-fruit tree is distributed throughout Polynesia and furnishes food for thousands of inhabitants of the various islands. It is a handsome tree, with large dark-green dentated leaves. The fruit, when ripe, measures about six inches in diameter bright golden yellow, with a rough and pitted surface. When roasted - the usual way of cooking it - it is not a bad substitute for bread, and its taste and merits soon become appreciated by strangers. Next in importance after bread-fruit is taro, or arum, which grows in thirty-odd varieties. This is a tuber, oblong in shape, that frequently grows to be fifteen inches long and six in diameter. Its large-ribbed, heart shaped, heavy leaves, growing from the top of the root, are always conspicuous in Pacific island landscapes.
Although the Samoans now have a written language, the old chiefs, who possess fertile imagination's, rich in resource and abundant in material, delight in recounting the wonderful deeds of valour of their ancestral chiefs and heroes, all of which traditions have been passed to the chief when a boy by word of mouth from his fathers, and he in turn passes them in the same way to his descendants.
The changes in features, form, and colour, as well as in customs, traditions, and language, are but alight, and are the natural result of long separation and various modifying influences introduced from different directions.
In colour the Samoans are the lightest, in physique the most perfect and imposing as well as the most graceful. In disposition they are the most gentle, and in manners the most attractive, while mentally and morally they are much the superior of their neighbours. Their colour varies through shades ranging from a dark brown to a light copper, and occasionally to a shade of olive which is exceedingly pretty. Their hair is straight, course, and black, although one daily meets a number of bleached red-heads, artificially produced by the application of coral lime, which is used to stiffen the hair so that it will be more easily stand erect - a style greatly admired. The hair is generally worn short, combed upward towards the crown, and receives frequent and liberal applications of coconut oil. Varieties of adornment prevail according to the fancy of the individual; these usually express themselves in the use of flowers and leaves, which are twined into wreaths and garlands and worn with becoming effect.
Their language, containing thirteen letters is, like all the Polynesian dialects, soft and liquid, but not musical, although by some it has been called the Italian of the Pacific. A superficial knowledge of it, answering for ordinary requirements, may be easily attained; but as it is virtually a language of idioms, it would take years of study to master a sufficient command of it for anything approaching oratory.
Previous to the arrival of the missionaries in the year 1830, these people were supposed to be destitute of of religious belief, and by some were called "godless Samoans." This idea, however, found to be erroneous, and it was discovered that they possessed a religious belief peculiar to themselves. At the time of his birth, each individual Samoan was dedicated to some imaginary gods, who kept constant watch over his daily actions and guided his destiny. This god was supposed to appear in some visible incarnation, which to that individual remained forever afterwards an object of veneration. They believed in a soul or disembodied spirit, which they called Anganga, meaning a going or coming. This to them was represented in the function of sleeping and waiting. When sleep overtook one, they supposed his soul had been called away to wander with other spirits in the lower regions, the location of which they referred to as being under the sea; and when the Anganga returned, awakening was the result. The possessed also a system of mythology of their own, in which everything relative to themselves was intimately connected; and by these means they were able to explain, to their own perfect satisfaction, the origin and cause of every obscure phenomenon.
Notwithstanding the influence of the Christianity at the present time, the greater number of Samoans of today live under the powerful influence of constant dread of some of their old deities. This induces them to perform strange acts of heathenism.
Hospitality is a part of the Samoan religion, politeness one of their chief characteristics, and a dishonest act the exception. Food and shelter are vouchsafed to everyone entering their home or villages, and the stranger had but to consult his own wishes when he is ready to depart. Attached to every village is a Faletale or guest house set apart for the reception, lodging and entertainment of visitors. Generally, this is situated in the middle of the village, and it also used as a council house on occasions when the chief and the people assemble to discuss subjects of importance. Foreigners and visitors from other villages are at once conducted to this house set apart for their occupation, a journey of considerable distance often being made especially to meet them, when they are received by the chief of the town and the maid whose duty it is to look after the welfare of the guest. During the preliminary conversation, in which the compliments of the day are exchanged, with a lavish expenditure of personal flattery, the kava bowl is produced, and while the free interchange of compliments continues, the bewitching nut-brown maid with the assistance of her dusky attendants, begin to masticate the seductive route.
In the meantime, the villages, being advised of the arrival of the visitors, have assembled in another part of the village, collected articled of food, and begin to sing and march in procession towards the Faletale. Boys and girls, young and old, making a festive display, their persons anointed with coconut oil and arrayed in scanty toilets of leaves and flowers, join in demonstration of songs of praise and welcome. The music of their well-attuned voices, first heard faintly in the distance and increasing in sweetness and volume as they approach nearer and nearer produces a charming effect, the impression of which is long retained by strangers. In the meantime the guests, who have remained seated and silent, as if unconscious of what is going on preserve a wonderful solemnity of countenance as each donor in turn modestly places his offerings at the feet of the most honoured one with salutations inimitable in gracefulness. On such occasions food, consisting of fruits, fish, and sucking-pigs, is sometimes given in sufficient quantities to sustain a visiting party for days and weeks.
No occasion of ceremony or importance takes place without the use of kava, a root of the pepper family, and all exchanges of sociability are conducted under its influence. The concoction of the seductive beverage made from this root is attended with so many ceremonious observances, and acclamations of approval that an account of the customs of these people would be incomplete without reference to the manner in which the drink is prepared.
Paddles and war club
A wooden bowl, a coconut cup, and a strainer are the implements used in making the brew. That personage of the chief social importance in Samoa, "the maid of the village," is invariably called upon to brew the beverage, which ceremony, with her attendants, she conducts with becoming dignity. After carefully washing out her mouth in the presence of all assembled, she sits herself upon the matted floor with the bowl in front of her and with resigned manner and preoccupied countenance, begins to masticate the bits of roots handed her by the attendants. piece after piece is chewed until the mouth is full and the cheeks bulging, when the mass is ejected into the palm of her hands and with a graceful swing deposited in the bowl. This operation is repeated until the proper quantity of the root is secured. Then her hands are washed scrupulously clean, and her attendants having poured the required amount of water into the bowl, the maid proceeds with the compounding. With a graceful rolling and twisting movement of the hands she mixes all the undissolved portion of the root in the "fou," or strainer, which, after ringing, is shaken out, and the straining repeated until the brew is finished.
Preparation of kava
A vigorous clapping of the hand three times announces that it is ready to be served, whereupon the highest chief, or toast-master, in a loud, monotonous, exclaims: "Ah, here is kava! Let it be served." Then one of the attendants produces the cup and presents it at the bowl to be filled by the maid, which she does by plunging the strainer in the liquid and afterwards squeezing it over the cup. She will then, says a writer on Samoan custom, face about, and with the cup held delicately by the outer rim, level with her dimpled chin, and with her arm raised, stand in the most charming attitude of expectation, awaiting the criers instructions as to whom she is to take the cup. The toast-mater, having decided who is to be honoured by taking the first cup, called out his name with a loud, sing-song voice. The louder and more prolonged the name is pronounced the greater the compliment. The maid bows with dignity and presents the cup to the honoured one with her most irresistible grace of manner then stands with a become air of simplicity awaiting the command of the person whom she has just favoured, who either returns the cup to her with a gracious acknowledgment or with the dexterity spins it along the floor-mat towards the bowl, the perfection of which practice is to cause the cup to stop immediately in front of the bowl. The accuracy with which this feat is sometime accomplished is surprising.
An experience in which every stranger visiting Apia is invited to indulge is a jaunt of about three miles to what is known as Papaaseaa, a sheet of water falling over smooth rocks, where he is introduced to the novelties of a Samoan picnic, which is in reality a day's frolic in the water.
Generally the party is decided upon several days previously, so that an ample supply of refreshments may be prepared and sent ahead early in the morning, cooked in the Samoan fashion, with hot stones, in the ground.
At about 8 o'clock, while the dew is still on the leaves, dusky maidens, resplendent with coconut oil and attired in festal wreaths of flowers and bright-coloured lava-lava, assemble with the young men and invited guests at the appointed place preparatory to the march. Shouting, laughing, and singing they spring lightly along the path leading to the falls, and as soon as they arrive one after another eagerly jump into the clear cool pool of water at the base of the falls, diving and splashing in the water with screams of laughter and delight that make the valley ring with their enthusiasm. The greatest feat, which, when first attempted, fairly takes the breath away, is to go above the rocks over which the stream rushes, and with three or four seated together, toboggan-fashion, slide over the smooth rock for a distance of eighteen feet at an angle of forty degrees and plunge into the pool below. The sensation produced is indescribable, and can hardly be imagined unless realised. After spending a few hours in the water it is forsaken to partake of dinner, served upon banana leaves for plates, and with fingers for folks. Then all return to the aquatic sports, which are kept up until it is time to return home.
The only industry engaged in by the people, aside from fishing, collecting copra, planting taro, and cultivating fruit, is the making of tapa, or cloth from the inner bark of the paper mulberry tree, and since the introduction of cotton prints among them its production is annually decreasing.
The various pieces of cloth are glued together with arrowroot paste until pieces sometimes a hundred feet in length by eighteen feet in width are formed, which the old women, who make all the tapa, colour and figure into stripes, squares, triangles, etc., according to their wishes. A certain colour and figure, however, are set apart for high chiefs and royalties, and are never used by commoners. Until fantastically figured and gorgeously coloured prints were imported into the island, a piece of tapa a yard square, worn about the loins and called a "lava-lava," was all the clothing used by the natives. Fine mats of straw and of twisted fibre of the paper mulberry, the elaboration of which frequently consumes years, are considered the most valuable of Samoan possessions, and are handed down from one generation to another. A fictitious value is placed upon these mats, and only occasionally can they be purchased.
Matautu, eastern end of Apia
The Samoans have not varied the architectural features of their houses for many generations. A fairly correct idea of a Samoan house is represented by a huge beehive, forty feet in diameter, raised from the ground by a number of posts, varying from four to six feet in height, according to the size of the structure, and se0parated one from another around the circle at intervals of four or five feet. In the centre are two and sometimes three main posts sunk into the ground to support the roof, and securely braced to give stability to the structure. To these the rafters are lashed, curving gracefully downwards and outwards to the circle of posts. The rafters are made of pieces of bread-fruit wood, and, in order that they may have the necessary curves, are made of pieces spliced and lashed together with sennit, a rope made from the twisted fibres of the coconut leaf. The rafters are crossed with ribs about two inches wide, made of the same kind of wood, and are lashed to the rafters with sennit.
The interior of the house is one large apartment used for all purposes except cooking, which is done in an adjoining hut used exclusively for that purpose. For sleeping purposes the room is divided into a number of apartments by means of tapa, swung on sennit ropes, as curtains. Folded tapa and a few mats form a comfortable bed, which is removed in the morning and the curtains lifted. For a pillow, bamboo of various sizes and lengths, raised a few inches on short wooden feet, is used. This crude device serves an admirable purpose in the tropics, but it can, however, during one night's effort to sleep, cause more annoyance to one unaccustomed to its use than anything the writer can recall, unless perhaps it be the indomitable energy of the Polynesian mosquito. Fire being unnecessary for heating purposes, the Samoans never have fireplaces, but in their stead possess a "family hearth" - a small excavation in the floor, walled with rocks, where formerly flaming fires of dried coconut shells and leaves were made as offerings to their gods, and around which, after the evening meal, the family gathered, bowed their heads and prayed to the gods, great and small, for prosperity and happiness.
A Samoan homestead
The negotiations between the skilled and wily carpenter and the prospective Samoan house owner would amuse, but hardly met the approval of, the business man of today. Under the propitiating influences of kava, the necessary presents are produced to induce the carpenter to undertake the construction of a house. It is begun at once, without any terms of agreement, and the work advances until the thinks more presents more necessary, and he ceases work. Additional gifts being made, the carpenter continues the construction until he deems it necessary to demand another contribution, when he again stops work. If the contribution is not forthcoming, labour is suspended on the incomplete house, never to be undertaken for completion by another of the craft; and for ever afterwards it remains unfinished and a public reproach to the good name of the unfortunate owner, who, at the time of its beginning not knowing what may be the ideas of the carpenter as to the cost of its construction, must either call upon the community for aid which is generally freely extended, or suffer the humiliation of this unfinished monument.
In the construction of their large canoe these people have shown great ingenuity and skill. Their small canoe are made after the pattern of outriggers, which is the prevailing form used throughout Polynesia.
A Samoan canoe
The larger canoes, capable of making inter-island passages, and carrying from 50 to 75 persons are models of aboriginal skills and patient labour. Unlike the smaller ones, they are made of many small pieces accurately fitted and sewed together with sennit on the inner side by a novel process of sewing which leaves the outer surface perfectly smooth. A small deck in the bow is the seat of honour and is occupied by chiefs and the pilot, who stands erect and directs the course of the canoe as it passes through the many small and dangerous openings in the coral reefs.
The helmsman occupies a corresponding deck in the stern, where, sitting cross legged, with the aid of a long pole, he steers the boat with remarkable accuracy and dexterity. Four persons occupy each thwart of these sea canoes. Sitting cross legged and facing the bow of the boat, with short, heart shaped paddles they literally dig their way along at a rate of speed varying from one to five miles an hour, keeping perfect time in stroke to the music of the songs they sing. By lashing together two or more canoes and building a thatched deck-house over them, accommodation for two hundred warriors is secured. In time of war, these boats cruise from island to island, using coconut leaves woven together for sail.
The most respected and honoured personages among the people, next to the chiefs, are the orators, or "talking men" who are the mouthpieces of the chiefs. This is a profession aspired to by only the few who become proficient in rhetoric which they use with telling effect when addressing an assemblage according to the dictates of the chiefs whom they represent.
Residence of Malietoa
There is an established communism among the people. To go among their friends, take up their abode, and remain with them as long as they please is a liberty that all enjoy alike; and with aboriginal naivety they borrow or beg of one another whatever may have pleased their fancy.
Stingy or disobliging are epithets so opprobrious and insulting to Samoans that they will give almost anything they possess or will adjointly perpetuate an untruth, rather than acquire so repugnant a distinction. No matter how energetically one may labour, his earnings soon pass from his possession to his family or clan, who consider that they possess equal rights in their distribution. So long as this condition of affairs exist the individual distinction acquired by personal wealth is impossible, and they will never progress to the state of those nations where the reign of personal interests is supreme.
A coconut avenue and the Papaaseaa
It would be unnatural to the visitor to understand these brave, generous and noble hearted people not to feel great sympathy for their future and welfare. "Talofaa" ("love to you") is their word of greeting to him, always accompanied by a smile and an honest handshake. "Tofaa" ("God be with you") is their parting benediction, the significance of which was never appreciated until the hour arrived when with regret we took leave of our dusky friends who have assembled on the beach and at the boat landing, and heard their gracious last parting, "Tofaa alii alii tofaa" ("Goodbye, chief; chief, goodbye"), which lingers like a melody in our memory after months of separation.
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