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Relationship of Colonial Powers with Aotearoa and Samoa

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 2785 words Published: 18th May 2020

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Colonialism has had a major impact on most, if not, all nations of Oceania, it was experienced first-hand by our ancestors many years ago in its most raw stage of impact and undoubtedly many years later, it is but all so subtly still experienced here in the 21st century. This essay will focus on the relationship of colonial powers and the islands of Aotearoa and Samoa. It will focus on how the relationship of these nations and their colonial counterparts influenced colonial conflict and friction. I have examined a secondary source for each country, a reflection will be made on how these sources corelate to the course. Finally, I will discuss how the experiences of this colonial relationship in Aotearoa and Samoa showed the importance of leadership in trying to disempower and decolonise the structures enforced by colonialism

Source 1: Samoa.

The making of Modern Samoa

Meleisea, M. (1987). The making of modern Samoa: Traditional authority and colonial administration in the history of Western Samoa / Malama Meleisea. Suva, Fiji: Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific. 

In the book: The making of modern Samoa. Meleisea (1987) discusses the relationship of Samoa and it’s colonial powers, he examines the events that began to shape and make up the resistance of Samoa to colonial rule from the early 1900’s to its inaugural day of independence in 1962. It looks at how colonial powers had different interpretations than the natives on Samoan customs and structures. Meleisea indicates that Samoa shared a unitary system of dispersed politics, a communistic system that colonisers viewed as weak. So, when Germany and New Zealand settled in Samoa it became evident that their aim was to change this communal system and to terminate the customs in which the natives set their economic and political foundations on. They believed they could do this by “using what they understood to be the traditional political system, weeding out the customs they disapproved.” (pg. 4) This enabled the conflict between traditional understanding held by the natives and the Western ideals that colonial powers introduced.

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A lack of respect to Samoan cultural customs and authority is another influencing factor of conflict. This sense of disregard was shown through administrative leaders, Dr. Wilhelm Solf and Lieutenant Colonel Robert Logan. Solf became the governor of Samoa on March 1st, 1900. When he became governor of then German Samoa, he laid the foundations of future administration. Meleisea indicates that Solf was an intelligent and cultivated individual who was successful at hiding his long-term intentions in restructuring the administration. He was clever at showing his sympathy towards Samoan customs and his knowledge of the Samoan culture was so complex that it assisted him in his political aim to “restructure the administration in ways that would be immediately acceptable to Samoans and which would disguise his long-term intentions.” (pg. 50). These intentions emphasised by Meleisea was to terminate the Samoan political institutions and replace them with modern rationalised institutions that expanded the interests of Germany.   

Solf’s discomfort in Samoan customs became evident in his behaviour towards the distribution of ‘ie toga (fine mats). A significant event where this became evident was at the taligātoga ceremony arranged by Mata’afa’s family in recognition of him becoming “Ali’i sili” (pg. 51). Solf instructed Mata’afa “to make it quite clear…that he was not to be recognised by them as tupu or tafa’ifā” (pg. 51). His decision to distribute the fine mats to every chief of the district and force them to leave the ceremony was in total violation of Samoan customs, many other actions taken by Solf eventually influence the formation of the Mau a Pule.

When the New Zealand administration took control of Samoa on August 24th, 1914 the tensions between Samoa and their former colonisers had most likely boiled over. Meleisea explains that Colonel Robert Logan put Samoa “under a military administration using structures introduced by the Germans.” (pg. 102) This indicates that New Zealand lacked experience in leading a country and making major changes therefore creating a dormant period. Samoan leaders saw this as an opportunity to regain control over of their affairs and they returned to their customary way of doing things, furthermore reasserting “communalistic and uncivilised” (pg. 103) values. Meleisea emphasises that the use of agency by Samoan leaders and the retaliation thereafter by the New Zealand administration revived the tensions between coloniser and colonised. This conflict intensified in the later years of the New Zealand administration period. The ineffective implementation of leadership by the New Zealand administration created the belief in Samoan leaders that they could resist the invasion of colonial rulers, hence the reformation of the Mau.

Colonel Robert Logan is a significant individual during this period of colonisation. Meleisea indicates that Logan “remained aloof from the Samoans and their customs.” (pg. 109) Similar to Solf, Logan was uncomfortable with the Samoan aspect of gift giving and this was evident on one occasion where Tupua Tamasese had presented the colonel’s wife with a lafo (gift honour). Logan had returned it, which signified that he was hostile. Logan, more so, mimicked Solf’s structural ideas and several events under his watch intensified the conflict between Samoa and their Colonial powers. Two events that were pinnacle during this time were the epidemic that killed 20% of Samoa’s population in 1918 and the events of Black Saturday in which Mau movement leader Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III died. These events are significant because it revitalised the formation of the Mau, a non-violent movement formed with the aim of gaining self-governance. Leaders such as Lauaki Namulau’ulu Mamoe, O.F Nelson and Tupua Tamasese are significant in the objective of this movement, they urged the Samoan locals to resist Germany’s plan, and were exiled for using their agency.  Meleisea allows us to be open minded about the events that took place during this time, he enables us to experience the severity and rawness of these events in the hope that it makes us understand how the natives felt at this time and why they decided to be agents of resistance.


Source 2 Aotearoa:

Two Peoples, One Land, The New Zealand Wars.

Wright, M. (2006). Two peoples, one land : The New Zealand Wars / Matthew Wright. Auckland, N.Z.: Reed.


The book Two Peoples, One Land, the New Zealand wars:  provides a unique focus on the conflict between Aotearoa and Britain. Matthew Wright (2006) investigates and researches the conflicts that took place in Aotearoa during its colonial era. He aims to identify the underlying reasons behind these conflicts to gage an understanding from two different perspectives. Wright indicates that these wars “were driven by issues flowing from the basic colonial dynamic of one people moving into the area occupied another.” (pg. 7)

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Wright suggests in this book that colonial conflict between the Māori and the British were ignited by cultural miscommunication. He states that these conflicts were “a product of settlement and culture clash shaped in ways the peoples of both sides struggled to understand.” (pg. 8) This indicates that when the Europeans settled in Aotearoa, they had no historical knowledge of the land and its people, in contrast the natives had a lack of knowledge on the structures that their colonial counterparts had introduced. This misunderstanding became a factor to colonial conflict between the two nations. The wars between the British and Māori intensified in the 1840’s – 1860’s and these wars broke out into three separate periods. Most of these wars were fought over land and sovereignty of Aotearoa and a significant period to discuss in this book was the Northern war of 1845 – 1846. This is a period of confusion between both sides. Wright emphasises that a cause of this war was the different interpretations the Māori and British had in understanding the Treaty of Waitangi especially after it’s translation. The natives had understood that they were promised autonomy however, as far as the colonial government was concerned, “Māori had signed over their sovereignty” (pg. 34). This misunderstanding caused the first major conflict, in which Māori leader Hone Heke physically took matters into his own hands at Kororareka. For both sides, land and sovereignty were at the heart of this conflict. Wright emphasises that although the hot phase of war was over, the conflict between the Maori and the British colony was never really resolved. When the physical wars for land petered out in the 1870’s, it transmuted into political and legal argument, so this war now is fought within court proceedings and political debates.

This book takes a dive into the several conflicts and wars between the natives and the colonisers, it researches and documents the reasonings behind this conflict with an understanding of both perspectives. Throughout the book Wright argues that the differences in perspectives of land and cultural clash constituted a major war of sovereignty fought between Māori tribes and European settlers. This enables us to understand the importance of whenua and sovereignty as an issue between Māori and their colonial counter parts. It shares the significance that land has to the natives and it gives us and understanding of the experiences faced by both parties during this colonial time.


The two sources provide many similarities as well as differences between each other and these differences and similarities need to be considered for purpose of analysis. Both these books indicate similar factors that influenced the resistance for each country. Both Meleisea and Wright indicate that a causing factor of this colonial conflict was the differing interpretations of both the colonised and the coloniser. In Samoa we see that there were differing interpretations on land and titles during its colonial era. The German and New Zealand administration saw land as an economic capability that aided their own interests and disregarded the “tapu-ness” of land and chief titles in Samoa. In New Zealand the same aspect of land considered as tapu to Māori were trampled on when the British settled and started buying land. Another compelling similarity to make note of is that both these sources presented a sense of urgency, by the colonisers, in establishing and enforcing a sense of mana on the colonised nations. Wright emphasises this when he discusses that the British understood that sovereignty and mana was given to them through the signing of the treaty, therefore trying to reinforce this during the land war period. Similarly, in Samoa, colonisers were threatened by the matai system and used their agency to try and reassert the mana and control they had over Samoa during this period.

Agency used by both nations is of significant difference. Samoan agents approached this non-violently and Māori agents approached this through physical force. This is significant because we begin to identify that both nations had mana in resisting, but the outcomes were significantly different. For Samoa, their nonviolent approach resulted in their independence. In contrast, the use of force by the natives of Aotearoa prolonged the colonisation of the country. Both nations used their agency with the intended aim of regaining the mana that had been taken away, therefore it becomes more significant to identify that through these different approaches only one country managed to reach the intended goal of self-governance.  In both sources you can see an urgency for the use of agency from the natives to ensure their mana and structures were undisturbed and maintained. It therefore becomes important to note the significance of political leadership. Both these sources had significant leaders who were important agents of resistance. It is important to recognise the work of these political leaders because it was through their use of agency and mana that initially started this resurgence and this revival for self-governance and sovereignty.


Through this assignment, I have been able to drift away from the black and white view of historical events in Polynesia, I have been able to understand that Oceania is not homogenous, and they did not offer their sovereignty on a platter. They fought for their sovereignty and were agents of change and resistance. I have also been able to make this understanding through historically thinking about why a certain event happened and what forces were influential in making decisions in such a time. Through reading books and articles written through a Pacific lens I have been able to disempower the structure of thoughts and perspectives that were implemented by Western ideals and furthermore make connections and distinctions between islands in Polynesia.

Colonialism is a big theme of the course and focusing on colonial conflict, I have become more inclined with the need to decolonise the structures put in place that have washed away the purity of indigenous customs in Oceania. The structures of indigenous people of Samoa and Aotearoa for instance have been pushed aside and replaced by a systematic structure. This in turn has altered our values in the sense that these western ideals have stripped away the tapu-ness of our customs. In the process of decolonisation, one must understand that leadership is a big component of this process. Through this course I have been able to identify that Polynesian people are leaders, we have a duty to further decolonise the colonial structures that have been implemented and this first begins with acknowledging our own sense of mana. It’s our duty to continue the work laid by our ancestors, this also means that in order to further decolonise the structures around us we must remember our historical past in order to move forward as agents of change.

List of 10 sources:


  • Alofaituli, B. (2018). Tautai: Samoa, World History, and the Life of Ta’isi O. F. Nelson. Contemporary Pacific, 30(2), 560-562. 
  • Davidson, J. (1967). Samoa mo Samoa : The emergence of the independent state of Western Samoa / J.W. Davidson.Melbourne ; New York: Oxford University Press
  • Field, M. (1991). Mau : Samoa’s struggle for freedom / Michael J. Field. (Rev. ed.). Auckland, [N.Z.]: Polynesian Press.
  • Meleisea, Malama. (1988). Change and Adaptations in Western Samoa. University of Canterbury, Christchurch: Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies.
  • Meleisea, M. (1987). The making of modern Samoa : Traditional authority and colonial administration in the history of Western Samoa / Malama Meleisea. Suva, Fiji]: Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific. 


  • Crawford, J., & McGibbon, I. (2018). Tutu te puehu : New perspectives on the New Zealand Wars / edited by John Crawford & Ian McGibbon.
  • Crosby, R. (2015). Kūpapa : The bitter legacy of Māori alliances with the Crown / Ron Crosby.
  • Keenan, Danny. (2009). Wars Without End: The Land Wars in Nineteenth-century New Zealand. New Zealand: Penguin Books.
  • Wright, M. (2014). The New Zealand wars : A brief history / Matthew Wright
  • Wright, M. (2006). Two peoples, one land : The New Zealand Wars / Matthew Wright. Auckland, N.Z.: Reed.


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