The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Samoan Islands

1719867The American Cyclopædia — Samoan IslandsJohn Denison Champlin Jr.

SAMOAN ISLANDS, or Navigators' Islands, a group in the S. Pacific, about 400 m. N. E. of the Feejee islands, between lat. 13° 27' and 14° 18' S., and lon. 169° 28' and 172° 48' W. They include nine inhabited islands, viz.: Manua, Olosinga, Ofu, Anuu, Tutuila, Upolu, Manono, Apolima, and Savaii; area, according to recent authorities, which reduce the figures of Com. Wilkes's survey of 1839, about 1,125 sq. m.; pop. in 1869, 85,107. Besides these, there are at the E. end of Upolu four islets, Nuulua, Nutali, Taputapu, and Namoa, and between Manono and Apolima an isolated islet called Niulapo. All the islands and islets are of volcanic formation, though the latter are separated from the former by coral reefs. There are extinct volcanoes on most of the islands, and the natives have no traditions of eruptions from any of them; but in 1867 a submarine volcano burst out of the ocean between Manua and Olosinga, and for two weeks shot up jets of mud and dense columns of sand and stones to a height of 2,000 ft. It left no permanent protrusion above the bed of the sea, and it is said to be difficult now to obtain soundings on its site. Manua, the most easterly island of the group, which has an area of about 20 sq. m., rises like a dome to the height of 2,500 ft. Olosinga is a narrow ledge of rocks with a double coral reef around it, the outer shelf 50 to 60 ft. wide, and the inner in some places 140 ft. It contains but 6 sq. m.; Ofu, next to it, is somewhat larger. Tutuila is high and mountainous, with precipices rising from the ocean to a height of from 1,200 to upward of 2,300 ft. Its W. end, which is lower, is covered with luxuriant vegetation and is thickly settled. On its N. coast are many good ports, but the best is Pango-Pango or Pago-Pago on the S. side. It is completely landlocked, has an entrance clear of rocks, and water enough for the largest vessels. It is one of the safest and best harbors in the Pacific, and, being on the direct steamship route between America and Australia, must become in time an important port. The area of the island is about 50 sq. m., and it contains, together with Anuu, an islet off its E. extremity, 3,500 inhabitants. Upolu, the most important island of the group, has an area of about 335 sq. m., and in 1869 had 16,610 inhabitants. A range of broken hills occupies its middle, the sides of which, covered with luxuriant vegetation, slope to the sea. Apia, on the N. side, the chief town, has a population of about 300, of whom 100 are whites. It is the official residence of the various consuls, of the members of the London missionary society, and of the Roman Catholic bishop of Oceania. Almost all the business of the port is in the hands of Hamburg firms. The harbor of Apia is sheltered by a natural breakwater, and is second only to that of Pango-Pango. Manono, which is enclosed within the sea reef of Upolu, has an area of only 3 sq. m. Apolima, about a mile distant, 2 sq. m. in area, is a natural fortress. It is the crater of an extinct volcano, and is a ring of perpendicular cliffs, with a single opening on the N. side, through which only one boat at a time can pass to the basin within. A few miles distant is Savaii, the westernmost and largest island of the group, containing about 700 sq. m. and a population in 1869 of 12,670. Its interior, which has not been explored, is occupied by a mountain chain, in parts nearly 5,000 ft. high, sloping gradually to the sea, and leaving but a strip of alluvial land a few miles wide along the shores. It has little timber and no running streams, and its shores are rocky and precipitous, with few harbors. On the N. side the bay of Mataatu affords good anchorage. A series of wonderful caves in the island have been explored for 2½ m., but not to their full extent.—The climate is very equable, the mercury seldom rising higher than 88° or falling lower than 70°. From observations made in 1872 at Mama in Upolu, the mean temperature for the year was 78.33°. The difference of temperature between sun and shade is seldom more than 7°. Rains are distributed evenly throughout the year, excepting in January, February, and March, when heavy rain storms with northern winds prevail; but destructive storms are rare. The soil is a rich vegetable mould, with a slight proportion of decomposed lava impregnated with iron. Excepting the shore line, the mountains, and a lava field on the E. end of Savaii, there is little naked land on any of the group. The interior is covered with dense forests of tropical luxuriance, containing many varieties of valuable timber trees. Among the trees and fruits are the banian, two varieties of pandanus, several species of palms, the anauli, bamboo, rattan, breadfruit, cocoanut, wild orange, lemon, lime, banana, plantain, yam, taro, paper mulberry, tacca (from which arrowroot is made), pineapple, vi apple, guava, mango, and citron. Wild sugar cane grows abundantly, and there are two varieties of sea-island cotton, one of longer staple than the other. Tobacco is grown in small quantities, and some coffee is raised. The ava (macropiper methysticum), which grows in clus- ters from 6 to 10 ft. in height, is a species of pepper. From its dried root is made an intoxicating beverage, which when taken in small doses is a delightful soporific. There are no traces of native mammalia except a species of bat (pteropus ruficollis), which often measures 4 ft. from tip to tip of wings. Horses, cattle, and swine have been introduced. Poultry is plentiful, and pigeons abound. A bird called the tooth-billed pigeon (didunculus strigerostris), allied to the dodo, is found in the lonely parts of the mountains.—Among the Polynesian islands the inhabitants of the Samoan group rank in personal appearance second only to the Tongese. The men average about 5 ft. 10 in. in height, are erect and proud in bearing, and have straight and well rounded limbs; the women are generally slight in figure, symmetrical, and easy and graceful in their movements. The skin of both sexes is dark olive, but the chiefs and better families are much lighter. The nose is usually straight and not flattened like that of the Malay, and the mouth is large, with thick lips. In some the eyes are oblique. The hair is black and straight. Beards are not so common as among Europeans, yet many have heavy beards. Polygamy is customary, but two wives seldom live in the same house. They are generally cleanly in their habits and social in disposition. Women are considered the equals of men, and both sexes join in the family labors. Great ingenuity is displayed in the construction of their houses, which are built of the wood of the breadfruit tree, thatched with wild sugar cane or pandanus leaves. The ancient religion of the islanders acknowledged one great God, but they paid less worship to him than to some of their war gods. They had a god of earthquakes, a god who supported the earth, and gods of lightning, rain, and hurricanes, and also many inferior gods who watched over certain districts; and they had carved blocks of wood and stone, erected in memory of certain chiefs, whom they worshipped. All are now nominally Christians; there are schools and a church in every village, and the missionaries have unbounded influence. Nearly all the children seven years of age can read their own language, and most of the adult population can read and write. The Bible has been translated and printed, and hymn books and other works are published at the missionary printing office. According to a census taken in 1869 by the representatives of the London missionary society, the population was divided denominationally as follows: Independents and Presbyterians, 27,021; Wesleyans, 5,082; Roman Catholics, 3,004.—The commerce of the islands is small. The exports are coppra, or the dried meat of the cocoanut, from which oil is made, and a small quantity of cotton. Of the former about 10,000 tons are shipped annually, mainly to Hamburg. The imports are general merchandise and provisions, and some lumber from California and Oregon. Nearly all the trade is controlled by the Hamburg house of Godeffroy and co., who have buildings at Apia and several cotton plantations in the vicinity. In 1873 105 vessels, of 25,198 tons, entered the port of Apia, of which 47 were German, 47 English, and 4 from the United States.—The Samoan islands were named by Bougainville, who visited them in 1768, the archipel des navigateurs, from the skill of the natives in using their canoes. In 1787 La Pérouse touched at these islands, and De Langle, the commander of one of his vessels, and 11 men were killed by the natives. The first missionaries landed in Savaii in 1830, from the Society islands, and in 1836 they were joined by others from England. The first Roman Catholic missionaries arrived in 1846. The islands were surveyed by Com. Wilkes in 1839. In 1872 Com. Meade visited the group, and, by arrangement with the native chiefs, took the harbor of Pango-Pango under the protection of the United States. In 1873 a special agent, Mr. A. B. Steinberger, was sent by President Grant to the islands, who reported that the chiefs were desirous that the whole group should be protected by the United States; but in 1875 a native king was elected, and Steinberger became his prime minister.