United States. Dept. of Commerce and Labor United States. Bureau of Foreign Commerce.

Consular reports, Issues 188-191 online

. (page 86 of 102)
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harbor of Pagopago, in Tutuila of this group, therefore becomes a matter of
no little moment to the future naval power, and the future, it may be, of the
United States in a yet wider sense. It is a matter of vast importance to
the Pacific Coast, not because Pagopago is among the best of harbors, which,
in all respects, it may not be, but it is of the first importance in view that
all the rest are preempted, that this one is the last that may reasonably be
hoped to l>e acquired in the South Pacific; because, in brief, it is Pagopago
or nothing.

The other matter in this connection, merely in passing, is to remark that,
however desirable foreign possessions may be, if, in fact, it be admitted
they are desirable at all, it is an interest with which our machinery of gov-
ernment, as at present constituted, is conspicuously unsuited to deal. That,
under the Constitution as it now stands, a scheme of territorial or semi-

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colonial government like that of Alaska might be formulated, I have no
doubt. But such, in fact, has not been formulated. The fathers of the
Republic seem to have discountenanced such an extension, judging by the
fact that it was unprovided for, but as a matter of fact, they left the subject
untouched, for no speck of its need obtruded itself upon their horizon. Be
this as it may, the inefficiency of our present machinery to deal with distant
territories, if we had that dijty to any considerable extent upon us, has
often forced itself upon the attention of those who have been much abroad,
especially in lands removed from the beaten paths of travel. Such a change
would require a different class of agents and diplomats, different in attain-
ment and training from those we have been accustomed to regard as amply
qualified for existing needs; it would, of necessity, enforce an application of
something akin to civil service in the foreign service and create what has
been so much objected to — whether with good reason or the contrary is not
for me to say — an office-holding class.

In this latter aspect, as an illustration and in some sense a guide, impor-
tant because it is the only one, although not a fair, test, for the reason that
it has been and is so peculiarly complicated, our relations with and partici-
pation in the affairs of Samoa are worthy of attention and offer a not un-
fruitful study. It can be said in response to this presentation, that if all
these unfortunate conditions do exist, they argue nothing more than a need
of reform ; that the treaty can be modified in those particulars where fric-
tion and conflict have been found by experience to occur, and this once
accomplished, benefit must follow from the improvements and then the ar-
rangements for government and advancement can be allowed to go on
in its course, stimulating development, promoting a higher civilization. I
feel sure that such a hope could only be indulged in at a distance, without
a close acquaintance with the divergent interests, the ineradicable racial dif-
ferences here closely grouped together on a confined field and which the
working of the treaty has developed to view and shown to be impossible of
beneficial union. I view the result achieved from the two standpoints of the
interest, first, of the United States, and next, that of Samoa. I have briefly
enumerated what may be termed in effect the many governments overgov-
erning these few small islands; but aside from all these, admitting that the
interdistrict and island institutions and clashing authorities might be oblit-
erated, yet four peoples, unlike in conception of the province, office, and
ends of government, remain linked together in the effort to govern. How
harmonious action, even if untainted with interest and design, can be the
fruit of such a union it is difficult to conceive. The United States and
Germany might be controlled by a single government, yet it would be an
unfortunate, an unhappy union, beneficial at this stage of human progress
to neither and ending in ruin. The United States and England might
jointly administer the affairs of Canada, but it would most probably result, in
view of the delays, halting, and conflict in the conception of policy, in
many points of bearing, disastrously to the people subjected to the system.

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Yet, then, the undertaking would be comparatively easy, for there the three
peoples concerned are equally civilized, are contiguous almost in territory,
and not unlike in institutions. As undesirable as either of the two suppo-
sitions instanced would be regarded, this in operation here is more so. It
is remote from the centers of authority, and these lie far apart. As between
the governing powers, the conceptions of the fundamental principles of gov-
ernment are as wide apart as the poles. It is at the outset — interest and
future designs left out of account — as oil and water, a quartering of the lib-
erty cap with the mailed hand, a union of the policies of Jefferson and
Frederick the Great.

It was an evil day for the weaker side when the white man set foot on
the shores of the darker races. Probably to the eye of the publicist, in the
great march of time, the extinction of a people — a small and helpless people —
is a matter of no great moment, and, yet, the contemporary can not contem-
plate the passing away with equanimity or satisfaction. For ages, Samoa has
been the arena of faction, the battle ground of tribal warfare. These petty
predatory wars, in which the loss of life is the smallest disastrous result,
have become part of the very nature of the people. For twenty years,
Samoa has been the football of the greater powers. Whether her position,
after all these years of strife and turmoil, has been, on the whole, more or
less unfortunate than that of the other Polynesian and Melanesian peoples
of the Pacific, is an open question. That her present situation is deplorable,
no one will deny; but she has so far emerged from the long conflict, rent
and torn, during which she more than once escaped what seemed to be the
decree of doom, with probably five-sixths of her lands still in the possession
of her children — although, in point of value, much the better part is gone —
and with her nominal independence, at least, acknowledged. With the ex-
ception of Tonga, if that in fact be an exception, she is the last independent
group in the Pacific. What the future may have in store for her, is a ques-
tion. Whether she is to rise into a yet better position, or sink along with
the others to the point where her own children shall wander as outcasts and
strangers in the land of their fathers, remains to be seen. Practical common
sense in public affairs, the signs of the times, and the unhappy fate which
has fallen upon other people, similarly related to the whites, are things
which make no impress, give no thought to these people, little capable' of
lasting impression, and, in such matters, by turns but pliant or ferocious

It is not strange that their ideas of the great and far-away things of the
mighty peoples and forces of the vast world are at best but the vaguest,
isolated as they have been for ages by the stretch of the all-surrounding
ocean beating upon the barrier reefs. They see only the little-changing
course of the sluggish insular life. The lesson of the decaying Hawaiian,
the disappearing Maori and Fijian, the heavily burdened Tahitian, the march
of conquest in Madagascar, are, when known to the Samoan, but the echo
from the far-off, half-unreal world beyond, without application or import —

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if indeed, for him, such places do exist and if such things in fact have been
done. Within their own sphere — that with which nature and experience
have made them familiar — they are capable, wise, canny, shrewd enough,
but in the sphere of seashore villages, for broader affairs, they are adrift.


The German interest is at once the oldest and most considerable in Samoa.
It far more than equals, many times over, that of all other nationalities
combined. Its groundwork was laid in the establishment of the trading firm
of Godeffroy & Son, before the coming of perhaps any white man now liv-
ing in the islands. Taking the estimate as approximately correct that
i35>ooo of the 832,000 acres of land — supposed to represent the total area of
the entire group — have been confirmed to foreigners, at least 85,000 acres of
this foreign-owned land belong to this one interest. To say this is to leave
half unsaid. These 85,000 acres include by far the best land of the islands.
In its present condition, it may equal in value all the balance of the group
together. It represents the pick and choice, and why should it not? The
projectors of this enterprise were virtually the first on the ground, with
the country open before them, unopposed by competition, at a time when the
things to be exchanged for lands had far greater value in native eyes than
they have had of late years.

This landed estate was not secured in a day. By the original firm and
its successor, it was, through years, secured piece by piece. The purchases
of lands have not been long discontinued; it may be said, indeed, that in
the form of foreclosures of mortgages given to secure goods bought of it
years ago, the firm continues to accumulate.

While virtually without competition, it was not without opposition in
this — that at every step it was opposed by the wise instinct, as it were, of the
Samoan to cling to the land that was his. The pressure of some great ne-
cessity alone could induce him to part with the tropic forest of unbroken
twilight that had been the heritage of his '* family.'* By attention to opportu-
nities, these occasions were, in pursuance of the persistent policy of enlarged
and ever-enlarging domain, discovered and taken advantage of. Purchases
were made. When the opportunities were lacking, they were produced.
The prices paid were — what? Anything that an untutored savage, consumed
with the one desire for a gun or ammunition at the outset or in the midst of a
war, could be borne down upon to accept. There were also money and
other considerations. In some cases, governed by special conditions, reason-
ably fair prices were paid. More than this, to make titles secure, the same
land was undoubtedly bought and paid for over and over again. It was
often bought from natives who had no shadow of claim to it. Who does
possess an alienable title to land — the land, any land — is among Samoans a
something that shifts and changes like the drifting clouds. Ir the face of
all, the ''firm*' bought and bought. Well it might. In liie speculative
value that golden visions of boundless crops of coffee and cotton and sugar

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that needed but to be thrust into the intensely fecund soil, once in a decade,
lent to the lands, with copra at {130 or {140 a ton — if but a part of the
titles so secured could be maintained, the part actually acquired, even with
a loss of half or more, would still be had for a song. And, then, these titles,
had from any wretch willing to put his mark to a paper written in a lan-
guage not one word of which could he understand, might, nay, most likely
would, in the rapid revolutions of the whirligig of time, in the new-formed
ix)wer of Germany, all be made good. German confidence had been tested
with tremendous results in the Franco- Prussian war. An era of power,
naval extension, and colonial possession opened out before the victors. A
German firm had long before established itself on these islands, dominating
all the trade of the South Seas. Here, of all places, if colonial possession
was to come, and surely it must, was it first naturally to take root.

The elder Theodore Weber was the purchasing agent. He was an actor
playing many parts. At different times, he was both consul and manager of
the firm, well adapted to the parts he acted and the stage of his operations.
He was a combination of energy, capacity, ability. His own interest was
his guide, and this was closely bound up in that of his employers. One
ponderous deed book in the records of the then American consular agency
is nearly filled with his deeds. It is strange that his deeds should be re-
corded in an American consulate, but he had a purpose in it. His purchasing
agent was the American consular agent, making most of the purchases— one
Jonas M. Coe, who had been a resident of the islands for years, coming
originally under the name of Brown. The larger part ot the deeds (there
was no official acknowledgment) are indorsed, as having been understood
and acknowledged by the vendor, by one Groht, an employee of Weber.
Coe recorded them. The incident where, through some mistake, one of
them came to light duly executed by Asi, a native petty chief, with the body,
or space for description, left blank, to be afterwards filled with the boundaries
of any land, has been often referred to and illustrates the procedure in vogue.

In time, the old firm went down in a crash. It was succeeded by the new
firm, made up in part of creditors, but the most active period of purchase
was from 1871 to 1875. The vision of commercial supremacy encircled the
greater part of the South Seas within its gilded confines. In its enlarged
sphere and prospects, a name for the new corporation was sought commen-
surate with its future. Der Deutschen-Handels und Plantagen Gesellschaft
der Sudsee-Inselen zu Hamburg was the outcome, and such is the name
under which the corporation to-day struggles along, with other and far more
practical difficulties in the shape of prospects unrealized, experiments disap-
pointed, and an enormous debt.

The history of this firm for twenty years has been the history of Samoa.
Rather, it has made by the unfortunate influence it has been able to exert
upon the representatives of the country of its owners — which country, to
the native understanding, hopelessly entangled with the physical company
here, is pardonably synonymous with and a part of it — that maimed and

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mutilated chapter of Samoan history, which tells the story of dissension, of
wasted energy, of stagnation, of endless wars and feuds, of rebellion, of the
deportation of un pliant chiefs, of a King kidnapped in his capital, of turmoil

The attempt made to forcibly take possession of a country while a con-
ference as to its fate was in effect in progress, the deportation of its King on
grounds so specious as to be unworthy of serious consideration, were strik-
ingly in accord with the procedure in Samoa from the beginning. All these
things were done in the interest of the German firm. Had that firm been
without interest here, there would be in effect scarce an excuse upon which
to hang the tangled thread of German intervention in these islands. But
these proceedings were met in a way not anticipated, and, to save time, it
is sufficient to say the Berlin conference was assembled and the treaty was
the outcome.

Among the many difficult questions presented for its adjustment, the
question of land titles was not the least. Was it after all to come about that
these hundreds of titles, acquired, in greater part, by the enterprise of Weber,
were to be annulled? The difficulty of determining who, in fact, under
Samoan custom; or law, as it might be termed, was authorized to alienate
lands was known. Here was the opening, the saving loophole for the firm
to make good its titles, and the opening was not overlooked.

The provision of the treaty on this point is, in short, that all titles ac-
quired prior to August 28, 1879, ^^e valid if purchased from natives in good
faith, for valuable consideration, in regular and customary manner. The
regular and customary manner is meaningless beyond that it must be in a
writing signed by the maker.

The land commission, appointed in pursuance of the same treaty, in con-
struing this section, held that on this point but one defense was available —
the native, perhaps the actual owner, who, for the first time, heard that his
land had been sold years before from under his feet, the house from over his
head, by some perso» whom he may never have seen, and who, perhaps, he
had never even heard of, much less held an interest in the land ; that defense
was to deny and establish the absence of good faith in the purchaser in
making the purchase. That is, to go into the heart and conscience of the
man presenting the paper title and establish that at the time he bought, or
made believe he bought, the land, he knew he was not buying in good faith
from the real owner. So the treaty construed, so the treaty meant. It in
effect cut off all contest in this class of titles. I neither indulge in nor in-
sinuate any criticism as against the commission. It doubtless judged that it
must take the treaty as it found it. The titles were made good, not by in-
vestigation, but by the bunch, or by bunches corresponding to the section
and article of the treaty.

The treaty cut both ways, as to lands at least. An American corpora-
tion, known as the Polynesian Land Company, had bought large tracts of
land outright; it had taken options on yet larger areas, it claimed in all^

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by option and otherwise, not far from 400,000 acres, slowly gotten together
through years. It had paid out in all probably as much actual money as
had the German firm for its lands. It had made no improvements, had no
trading station to buy lands for guns, cartridges, and goods.

The treaty, which, in one section, so sedulously protected the foreign
purchaser by enshrouding him in the shining halo of good faith, suddenly
turned its face in the other direction and provided that all claims based on
mere options to buy or promises to sell should be held void.

The American company, out of its claim of about 400,000 acres, estab-
lished it to about 20,000. On this point, the treaty is explicit; there was
no room for construction. The land commission held that it was authorized
to deal only with claims as between the native and the foreigner. If land
was claimed by two foreigners in conflict, wholly or in part, as between
themselves and a native, the commission could deal alone with the claim so
far as it concerned the native, and the foreigners must be remitted to the
court to settle their conflicting claim. The American company, as against
the native, established claim, as has been stajted, to about 20,000 acres, of
which the German firm lays claim to some 3,000 acres in round numbers.
The controversy is in the court, and not yet decided. I am without infor-
mation as to its merits and therefore express no opinion.

The German trading and plantation company, fortunate in so many ways,
like everything else, met its difficulties and disappointment. Its hope of
monopoly was never realized. The splendid scale of its operations was
of itself a constant invitation to other large operators to enter a field where
so much was to be realized, judging by the extent of the German plant.
Half a dozen great concerns, at different times, entered the market, as mer-
chants and buyers of copra. Each in turn withdrew, crippled or bankrupt,
but if they had met defeat and loss, they had kept up the market price of
copra, had limited the business and profit of the firm, had defeated its mo-

Competition sprang up on every side in many small hands, but active
and aggressive. The frequent mail steamers calling at Apia soon made the
small trader and storekeeper independent of the great brown warehouses of
the firm. Labor nominally free, slave in fact, became more difficult to pro-
cure, consequently more expensive. The improvements, the planting of
the plantations, the building of great mansions, the construction of the miles
and miles of fine roadway leading through the groves of cocoanut were
commendable, but expensive and nonproductive. Coffee proved a failure ;
cotton, although it required to be planted but once in half a decade, in the
stony soil, failed at last to return the cost of production. Every added exper-
iment dispelled an illusion, blighted an expectation. Copra, the great staple
product, year by year declined in price until it reached a point but half that
which it commanded when the groves were planted; gradually, its little fleet
of vessels became smaller, as did its little army of imported labor; its great
warehouses were no longer gorged with imported goods^ a depot lor all the

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South Seas; its business in other island groups was disposed of until the
Samoan and Tongan islands alone remained; its influence visibly declined.

If the **firm'* has many things charged against it, much should, in jus-
tice, be set down to its credit. In its sphere of improvement, development,
and experiment, it has stood and stands without a competitor. It has cleared
and planted, built and improved, developed and experimented on a splendid
scale. It has poured out its money by thousands of pounds. Nothing in
its operations have been conducted on a niggardly scale. It has employed
scientists, naturalists, experimenters in numbers. It has entertained and
aided all such as came of their own accord. It has introduced variety after
variety, analyzed soils, tried methods, rotation, fertilization, and grasses.
What the greater part of all the world knows of Samoa's adaptability to agri-
culture is from this single source. If this is to be a land of wealth and plenty,
the credit belongs to the "firm.*' If its disadvantages have been made
known, if its chimeras dispelled, its small value demonstrated for the benefit
of others, all has been done at the expense of the **firm.*'

What its real financial condition may be is a matter of uncertainty. No
more is known to the public than it chooses to give out. It paid a small
dividend in 1893, claiming to have passed a larger sum to the reserve fund.
In 1894, it paid no dividend, claiming again to have turned the entire profit
into its reserve. The net profit in 1893 ^^ published, in round numbers, at
^63,682; in 1894, at $53,762. The value of the plantations is placed at
$622, 222; uncleared lands, $442,222; buildings and lots in Samoa and
Tonga, $67,410; total, $1,141,854. The capital stock is stated at $687,000;
liabilities, at $420,000. Its business is conducted on primitive lines and with
almost the formality and secretiveness of diplomacy, with which it has long
been so closely allied. It is understood to be open to purchase as an en-

Such is the **firm; " such is the main — nineteen-twentieths — of the Ger-
man interest in Samoa.


The British interest is far less. Indeed, the American interest and stake
in these islands is but little less than that of the British, while the number
of those claiming the protection and citizenship of the last-named nation-
ality greatly exceeds that of either of the other two, perhaps is larger than
both together. But it must be understood that in these islands of many
governments all are not British who are accounted as under that protection.
The same is true of American and German citizenship. A large proportion
under either head are half-castes and castes of all fractions. They are the
children of white fathers; that is all it means. Very many have worn
lavalavas all their lives and could with difficulty be understood in English,
if at all. All the Chinese are British subjects.

The possessions of the Polynesian Land Company taken into account,
the British ownership exceeds the American. As a matter of fact, if lands

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belonging to the estate of a British subject lately deceased and those of the
Polynesian Land Company be not considered, the holdings of either of
the two nationalities would in quantity amount to but a trifle. What the
British ownership on the basis last supposed would foot up, I am without
data to state; but the American would but little, if any, exceed 1,000 acres
in all.

The American share of the cost of the land commission from its begin-
ning has amounted to a greater sum, in all probability, than the total value
of all American property in the islands.

Online LibraryUnited States. Dept. of Commerce and Labor United States. Bureau of Foreign CommerceConsular reports, Issues 188-191 → online text (page 86 of 102)