The New International Encyclopædia/Samoan Islands

SAMO′AN ISLANDS, or SAMO′A (formerly Navigators' Islands). A group of islands in the Pacific Ocean, belonging partly to the United States and partly to Germany, and extending from about latitude 13° to 15° S., and from longitude 168° to 173° W. They lie about 4200 miles southwest of San Francisco. The group comprises altogether 14 islands, of which only Savaii (660 square miles), Upolu (340 square miles), Tutuila (54 square miles), and the Manua group (26 square miles) are important. The total area is about 1100 square miles. The islands are all volcanic and mountainous, rising in Savaii to a height of 5413 feet. Savaii shows signs of recent volcanic activity. The region along the coast, however, supports a luxuriant vegetation, and the other islands are forest-clad to the summits of the mountains. The coasts are high and steep, but offer no very good harbors. Earthquakes are frequent, but seldom severe.

The climate is tropical, with a mean temperature of 80° in December and 70° in July. The rainfall is abundant, but the islands are subject to severe hurricanes. The flora is similar to that of other Polynesian groups, and the fauna is extremely limited. The only indigenous mammal is a species of rat, but there are several reptiles, including four species of snake. Among the birds the most remarkable is a species of ground pigeon, the Didunculus strigirostris, which is interesting as being a link between the African Treroninæ and the dodo. It is, however, becoming extinct.

The wealth of the islands consists principally in their rich vegetation. The soil is of extraordinary fertility and well watered. The staple product is copra, which is produced on a large scale on European plantations, and which constitutes almost the sole article of export. Fruit is also an important product, and cacao is cultivated on an increasing scale. Aside from agriculture there are few industries. The imports and exports of the German portion of the Samoan group in 1901 were $373,898 and $241,808 respectively. The trade of the American island of Tutuila amounted in the same year to over $100,000, the exports representing less than one-fourth. The chief port of the group is Apia (q.v.), on Upolu, but the best harbor is Pago-Pago, in Tutuila (q.v.).

To Germany belong Savaii and Upolu (qq.v.) and the adjacent islets; and to the United States, Tutuila (q.v.) and the Manua group. German Samoa is administered by an Imperial Governor and a native chief, assisted by a native council. The American possessions are in charge of a naval Governor. There are a number of primary schools maintained by Protestant and Roman Catholic missions. The population of German Samoa in 1900 was 32,612. of whom 347 were European, principally German, British, and American. American Samoa has an estimated population of 5800. The natives are typical Polynesians linguistically and physically. Their somewhat lighter skin and alleged ‘Caucasoid’ features have led some ethnologists to class them as ‘Indonesian’ and to assume their affinity with the white race of the Eurasiatic continent, together with the other Eastern Polynesians—Tongans, Marquesans, Hawaiians, Tahitians, etc. Like many other Polynesian peoples, the Samoans are often quite good-looking and are generally well-formed. Tradition and legend make the Samoan Archipelago the centre from which a large portion of the island-world of the Pacific was peopled. The Samoans have always been noted as sailors and boat-builders. They are famous for their legends and tales. Though they have practically all become Christians, the European and later American colonization has not been altogether to their benefit. In matter of population they seem to be about holding their own. Beneath the acquired new religion and borrowed culture survive many old traits and habits. The ancient arts and inventions of the natives are, however, disappearing before the labor-saving devices of the whites.

History. The Samoan Islands are probably identical with the Baumann's Islands, discovered by the Dutch navigator Roggoveen in 1722. In 1708 Bougainville gave the name of Navigators' Islands to the group. Christianity was introduced by John Williams in 1830. The various islands were ruled by independent chiefs, who acknowleilged, however, the nominal authority of a king elected from one of the noble families. After 1868 the islands became subject to continual disturbances, owing to the struggle between rival candidates for the throne. These dissensions were fostered by the representatives of the three foreign Powers possessing considerable interests in Samoa—Germany, Great Britain, and the United States. In 1888 interests hostile to the Germans brought about the election of Mataafa as opposition King to Tamasese, and civil war broke out. Mataafa made himself master of Apia, and in December defeated a small force of German marines. The German consul's truculent action nearly brought on war between the Powers, but a conference was finally called to adjust the difficulties. The Act of Berlin, June 14, 1889, proclaimed the independence and neutrality of the islands and guaranteed the natives full liberty in the election of their King. The interests of the Europeans were to be protected by the creation of a Supreme Court, consisting of a Chief Justice, and the erection of Apia into a municipality, the president of which, as well as the Chief Justice, was to be nominated by the three powers. In 1898 King Malietoa Laupepa died, and Mataafa was elected his successor by an overwhelming majority of the people. The election was contested by Malietoa Tanu, a nephew of the dead King, who was declared by Chief Justice Chambers, an American, rightful King. Fighting thereupon ensued between the forces of Malietoa and Mataafa, who now enjoyed German support. The latter was victorious, and in January, 1899, was recognized as provisional ruler of the islands. In March the United States man-of-war Philadelphia arrived at Apia. Rear-Admiral Kautz, after conferring with the representatives of the other Powers, refused to lend further recognition to the Government of Mataafa. The German consul issued a proclamation in favor of Mataafa, who accordingly maintained his attitude of resistance. On March 15th the villages around Apia were bombarded by the British and American ships. Germany again showed herself conciliatory, and by the agreement of December 2, 1899, between Germany, Great Britain, and the United States, the Samoan Islands were partitioned between Germany and the United States. Great Britain received compensation in the Solomon and Toga Islands. On March 16, 1889, a tidal wave destroyed the American and German fleets in Apia roadstead. Of the American vessels, the Trenton and the Vandalia were sunk, and the Nipsic cast on shore, the loss of life being 52 officers and men. Consult: Turner, Samoa a Hundred Years Ago (London, 1884); Robert Louis Stevenson, A Footnote to History (London, 1892).