Celebrating Samoa

Today marks the start of the Pasifika festival. 'My pride, my treasure, my Samoa / O lo'u mitamitaga, o a'u measina, o lau Samoa' is the title of the new collection of Samoan photos on Historypin. This collection covers both Samoa and American Samoa and was created from the heritage collections at Auckland Libraries. The images are mainly from the late 19th and early 20th century with a selection from the late 1980s and 1990s giving a more contemporary focus.

Ref: AWNS-18980909-2-1, bush scene in Apia, 1898, Sir George Grey Special Collectio
These photos capture the timeless essence of what is most important to Samoa; her land and her people and are a good way to mark the start of the Pasifika Festival. They bring together key places and events in Samoa and NZ - from the sliding rocks of Papasea, to the procession of Malietoa’s men on Coronation Day in the late 1800s, to the Bairds Intermediate Samoan group performance at the Otara Festival.

To access the 'My pride, my treasure, my Samoa' collection, go to the Auckland Libraries, Heritage and Research channel/profile page on the Historypin website (you can click on the badge below), scroll down the page and click on the Collections tab and choose the Samoan collection.

Link to AL Heritage & Research content on Historypin
Robert Louis Stevenson arrived in Samoa in 1889 and quickly became an influence amongst the Samoan people. Known locally as Tusitala, he was a trusted voice amongst the Samoan people. He went on to be involved in politics and influenced much of the decisions made by the Samoan people

As the photos show, the late 19th century was a period of unrest in Samoa with the first Samoan Civil War between 1886 and 1894. Germany, UK and the USA had a strong presence in Samoa and all laid claim to different parts of the island. In March 1889 all these colonial powers sent warships to Apia Harbor, after Germany’s intervention in the civil war. On 15-16 March 1889, a violent storm hit Samoa and consequently destroyed 6 of the 7 warships in Apia Harbor, ending what was an imminent war.

Ref: AWNS-18990407-4-1, British and American Bluejackets with Gatling Gun, 1899, Sir George Grey Special Collections
Early the 20th century, Samoa was partitioned. Germany took most of the territory, and the USA retained the small islands of Manu’a and Tutuila. In 1914, the withdraw of Germany from the Pacific and NZ’s military expedition to Samoa saw NZ take control of what was known at the time as Western Samoa.

The migration of the Samoan people to NZ started in the early 1900s. The Mau rebellion started in 1927 as a result of the Samoan people’s desire to be self governed in Samoa (‘Samoa mo Samoa’). NZ responded forcefully to the different forms of demonstrations. On Saturday 28 December 1929, NZ military police fired upon a peaceful Mau demonstration, killing at least 9 Samoans including high chief Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III. On January 1930 the Mau rebellions leaders were exiled and the movement suppressed.

By 1940 there were a large number of Samoan people who had already migrated  to NZ.  Key to this migration was the natural establishment of community through the Church. The Church is seen both a place of worship and a place where ‘village’ gathers. The Historypin collection includes images of the Samoan Congregational Church in Wiri 1985 and the Samoan Seventh Day Adventist Church established in 1987 and finding a home in Otara in 1990. Both these Churches are still active parts of the wider Samoan community today.

Ref: Footprints 00659, School music festival, Otara, 1988, photograph reproduced by permission of Fairfax Media, South Auckland Research Centre
Samoan culture is expressed through song and dance. Where there is large Samoan demographic such as South Auckland, these areas have also traditionally the location of festivals which showcase these cultural expressions. In 1988, festivals like the Otara Music festival, which hosted performances from local schools, led the way for what is today the ‘Polynesian Festival’, the largest festival of its kind in the world. 

Author: Liz Muliaga, Pacific Service Development