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

Consular reports, Issues 188-191 online

. (page 90 of 102)
Online LibraryUnited States. Dept. of Commerce and Labor United States. Bureau of Foreign CommerceConsular reports, Issues 188-191 → online text (page 90 of 102)
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to be devoted to the same crop.

In 1888, a blight, known as the Ceylon disease, from the fact that it first
made its appearance in the coffee plantations of that country, attacked the
trees of Utumapu, putting an effectual end to the future of Samoa as a coffee
producer. As the trees, one by one, in spite of all precautions and the ap-
plication of every known remedy, became infected, they were destroyed,
while the disease slowly but surely continues its advance to this day, with the
same progressive certainty that extinguished the coffee industry of Ceylon.
Some coffee was in a small way planted by private individuals on other parts
of Upolu, but no encouraging result has followed, although in one instance
the few trees escaped the blight.

As the trees of Utumapu have been irregularly cut* away and burned as the
blight appeared, it is difficult to estimate the area still covered by the scat-
tered, surviving trees, if it were consolidated into a single tract, but it is
believed to approximate 50 acres, which every year grow less. The only
export of coffee from these islands is from the survival of that plantation.
The land upon which the venture of coffee growing was made is apparently
upon well-selected lands, situated from 1,000 to 1,200 feet above the level of
the sea. Like everything else, the future of coffee and the origin of the
disease are matters of many conflicting opinions. Some hold that the same
conditions produced the blight here that gave it origin in Ceylon ; others
hold to the not improbable belief that the infection was imported already fixed
upon the young plants. In this state of opinion, there are some who believe
that, when the last of the existing trees shall have been destroyed and a
period of a few years shall be allowed to extinguish the germs of infection,
Samoa will again present an inviting field for the coffee planter. In this
connection, it is noticeable that the large corporation by which this consider-
able planting and experiment was made, and one having such extensive in-
terests at stake in these islands, which it has sought so earnestly to make
profitable, are content, apparently, after one trial in this direction, to let the
lingering trees die away, harvesting such a remnant of a crop as they
produce, without effort to eradicate the infection, preparatory to a second
planting. That corporation seems satisfied with its experience, without en-
countering the risk of future loss.

As said before, opinions are many and widely different as to the origin
of the blight. It is more than probable that, while in every such general
result, many causes combine, the elevation of Utumapu was not sufficient
and the annual rainfall too great. Again, the average temperature of this
country is considerably in excess of that of the more favored coffee -producing
districts; for while such districts are, in many instances, as near to the equator
as are these islands, the intensity of the temperature is overcome by the
altitude of the planting districts. For instance, in Costa Rica, the coffee
plantations are, in nearly all places, situated more than 3,500 feet above sea
level, while 68° and 76° F. represent the usual extremes of temperature, the
No. 191 7.

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annual rainfall being from 40 to 60 inches. In Samoa, the range of the ther-
mometer is from 70° to 93*^, and the yearly precipitation much more than
double that of Costa Rica. While the coffee districts of Brazil differ con-
siderably in temperature and rainfall from those of Costa Rica, the differences
are not so great as those found to exist between the latter country and Samoa.
On the whole, these differences taken into account and the result of the
complete and well-sustained experiment of Utumapu remembered, it is diffi-
cult, even under the promptings of a contrary desire, to resist the conclu-
sion that Samoa is never likely to take a place in the category of coffee

The trees planted have borne very fairly average crops in quantity, of a
well-colored, somewhat small, but well-formed and compact berry. The flavor
is excellent, and, as an after-dinner coffee, is equal to the best Java, but,
withal, is very deficient in strength and body, requiring almost double the
quantity to produce a beverage of the same strength as good Java. This
fact alone, were it found to be true of all varieties that might be grown in
these islands, would leave the Samoan article without a place in the general

It follows from what has already been said that the production and export
has steadily declined. In 1887, it amounted to 90,000 pounds; in 1891, the
export value was 15,145; in 1892, 11,890; in 1893, ^2,125; and for the past
year it fell to 17,920 pounds, valued at 11,242. While the decreasing rem-
nant of a crop will no doubt continue to be marketed, so long as the scat-
tered tenants of the plantation shall survive, the quantity has ceased to be
worthy of account, and the figures of last year may be considered as point-
ing a period to another of the many bright theories not long since indulged
in connection with these beautiful, but little favored, isles.


Much has been written of Samoan woods, their beauty, abundance, and
variety, but in the cold light of fact there is but little foundation for the
visions "that this mass of developed vegetation, if properly utilized, would
be a source of great wealth," as one writer hypothetically puts it. There
can be no question but that the variety of woods is very extensive, and that
a limited proportion may in time, under some peculiar use, or meeting the
demands of some fancy of fashion, become valuable ; but for practical lumber-
making purposes none of it is adapted, nor will it ever find a demand. It
is a common assertion that the mountains are covered and the deep gorges
filled with fine timber, were it accessible. In a practical sense, this is incor-
rect in the first place, and if the present inaccessibility precludes its use for
lumber purposes to-day, the same cause will, at least to a very remote period,
stand in the way, unremoved and insurmountable. The limited extent of
these islands, to say nothing of the ever-rising, ever-piling masses of moun-
tains, must for all time limit their production of any article, all other con-
siderations left aside.

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No production within the range of probability can ever be so great as to
induce the construction of good or passable roads to leach the timbers in the
mountain fastnesses in such a broken country. As a matter of fact, the tim-
ber on new lands is regarded as an obstruction and a hindrance, since it in-
volves large expense in clearing, and in the abundance of its kinds is abso-
lutely worthless. It is in the dry season slowly and laboriously gotten rid
of by burning, after being felled, a sufficiently slow and difficult work in a
damp climate of frequent showers.

Most of the woods are very soft and light, which, after becoming well
dried, lose not only a great proportion of weight, but become brittle and of
no practical worth to sustain lateral strain.

In addition to these there are several varieties of hard wood, such as the
ifelele, talia, pau, toi, nisla, tau, and the ifi {Inocarpus edulis), which can
scarcely be said to be abundant. Several of these are beautiful, very hard,
and susceptible of a high polish. One or two varieties grow to a fine size
and are in request among the natives for making kava bowls — wide, shallow
vessels hollowed out from cross sections of the butt of the tree, generally from
18 inches to 2 feet in diameter and sometimes reaching 3J4 feet in width.
Woods employed for this purpose would doubtless cut into veneers were
there a demand for their peculiar color and grain by the fancies of fashion ;
but such does not at present exist, and there is no probability that the mere
eccentricity of taste will ever take a direction to create a demand.

A large amount of hard woods are used in making the common canoe of
the natives. These are mere logs hollowed out, and the largest, with rare
exceptions, would not require a log of more than 2 or 3)^ feet in diameter.
These canoes are hollowed laboriously out of the log on the ground where
the tre6 is felled, being hewn away until the boat is a mere shell of from i
to i^ inches in thickness, except at the bow and stern. When thus light-
ened tb a minimum, they are dragged and carried to the water.

While large trees are numerous — in abundance, one might say — yet they
are not in proportion to the extent covered by the forest or to that common
in a country of merchantable timber, plentiful or found close together. The
dense character of the tropic forest, the deep shade, moisture, and heat has,
naturally, in such a climate the influence of s<) thickly crowding the surface
with shoots and young trees that the forest is a mass of slender saplings,
overcrowded and dense, all under the stimulus of the need of light and air,
towering to reach the open space above. In such a bush, the large trees hav-
ing attained size on some principle of survival of the fittest, abound in neces-
sarily limited abundance.

These large trees of nearly all varieties flare out at the butt in ribs or
inverted brackets until they cover a space at the surface of from 1 2 to even
20 feet.

Bearing in mind that by far the greater proportion are of soft, porous
kinds, soon going to decay and fitted but for fuel, the remainder are worth-
less for ordinary merchantable lumber, as may be readily understood, remem-

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bering that they are the product of the tropics. The exceptions are so few
that it may be asserted as a comprehensive fact that if the greater part of all
the timbers of a marketable size were of a material equal to pine, poplar,
or redwood, they would still be unfit for building and lumber purposes.
They are not of straight grain, as is required for boards or framing timber,
but are so twisted, knotted, gnarled, and contorted in shape that, if made
into an ordinary board, the grain would so often be cut, so often pass
through, that the board would be of little value.

This bent and knotted quality in the hard and tough varieties produces,
however, a most excellent material for knees in small and medium size wooden
vessels, for which it is much used. In a general sense, It is, perhaps, in this
employment that Samoan woods find their greatest value.

A sufficient contradiction, it appears to me, to all assertions as to the
great abundance and adaptability of the woods of these islands, is found in
the fact that, after more than half a century of white settlement, not a saw-
mill of any character or capacity has ever been introduced. Indeed, while
such may have been the case in isolated instances, I doubt if a Samoan tree
has ever been converted into boards.

All the lumber used for all the various building and unnumbered domes-
tic purposes is imported. Redwood and the pines from the Pacific Coast of
the United States are most generally used, but a good deal of kauri, or the
pine of New Zealand, is also employed; but the American article can be sold
at a less price, because of the lower cost of manufacture, through the employ-
ment of machinery in manufacturing and in handling, as compared with the
primitive methods in vogue in the Australasian colonies.

The freight on lumber is from $7 to Jtio per marine ton. Lumber is sold,
according to the supply on hand in Apia, at from ^^45 to $60 i^er 1,000 feet,
board measure; but $^0 may be taken as the general price. Lumber is sub-
ject to a duty of 2 per cent in common with all commodities, save a few
under specific duties. These prices are strangely in contrast with the often-
repeated representations as to the good quality of the native lumber, and
little penetration is required to arrive at the conclusion that where the trees
could be had for a trifle, if not for the mere removal, such prices would,
before this time, have stimulated lumber manufacture, if it were possible.


Much was expected in years gone by from the production of fibers, and
an array of plants was cited producing fibers of a merchantable character.
The intervening years have allowed the shipments of various samples to
Europe for experiment, but the experiments were such that no encouragement
or demand followed. The fiber obtained from the covering of the cocoanut
is practically the only one produced in these islands. This article is well
known to commerce, and long ago took a place in the manufacture of mats,
and, to some extent, as a substitute for hemp in twines. In all cocoanut-
growing countries it is, of course, abundant in proportion to the production

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of mats. In these islands, it is used by the natives in making all the twine
and small rope their needs require and does not enter into export. From
its abundance in many countries where labor is reliable and can be had for
a greatly less price than in Samoa, it can not be expected to become even a
small factor in trade.


Tea has never been experimented with in Samoa on any scale. The
country is not regarded as adapted to its growth, and some good reason must
be behind the fact that, in the search for plants likely to yield a profit, tea
has not been taken into account. From what is herein said of soil and cli-
matic conditions, there is no room to account tea as suited to the country,
and the results of the large, thorough, and disastrous experiments in tea
planting in Fiji, which was for a long time regarded as peculiarly well suited
to tea culture, may be accepted as conclusive of the prospect of tea growing
in these islands..

Some years ago, tea was introduced into Fiji, after some favorable ex-
periment in a small way, on quite an extensive scale. The variety grown
and believed best adapted to the country was that known in America under
the general classification of black tea.

Two very large plantations were set out and equipped with the most ap-
proved appliances in every department, the best practicable superintendence
to be had, thoroughly acquainted with every detail of culture and cure, being
provided, and for some years the result was regarded to be a financial as well
as a physical success. The latter it may be fairly said to have been, for the
tea was excellent in flavor, ample in production, and Fiji tea became to a
considerable extent a favored kind in many markets. The labor question
in Fiji, while much more favorably disposed than in Samoa, is still not on
the satisfactory basis of civilized communities, and this, with other things,
notably too great a rainfall, combined to produce the Fiji teas at too great
a cost and in the face of other obstacles as compared with other and better
adapted tea-growing countries, where labor is to be had for a low price.

As a result, the day of tea growing in Fiji has already waned and de-
parted. It could not be continued save at a loss, and after an expensive
struggle, sustained by the hope of an improved market and price, one of the
great tea plantations has been within the present year abandoned. Its ex-
pensively reclaimed and planted fields of great extent have been surrendered
again to the overgrowth of the original bush.


Many who have looked in vain for the adaptation of some plant remuner-
atively productive of an export staple, which might bring wealth and pros-
l^erity to this country, are turning their attention to the growing of cacao
(theobroma), the nut forming the basis of chocolate. In the countries where
it is indigenous, or the culture well established, it has proven to be very prof-
itable. It was introduced into these islands several years ago and, so far.

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it has not been a success. The results have been discouraging; but in this
connection it may be remarked that its cultivation has been in the hands
of mere planters, experimenting with a peculiar article without the guide of
experience, and dependent wholly upon books for directions both as to cul-
ture and cure of the nuts. It is said that the young trees were in some cases
too little protected by shade ; in others, allowed to be too densely overgrown
in the effort to give shade enough. Again, the small harvested crops, for
lack of expert manipulation, during what is termed the fermentation or
curing of the nuts, have been more or less damaged or wholly spoiled.

The appearance of the, as yet, small trees, which are thrifty and sound ;
the appearance of the nuts and sufficiency of the yield, would lead to the
belief that under proper management there should be no reason why this
article might not be largely produced. The culture of this plant was much
more methodically introduced into Fiji many years ago, where great expec-
tations were formed of it which have met with but small realization. That
country was believed to be better suited to cacao than Samoa, and yet, after
a rather general distribution and warm expectations, it fails to figure to an
appreciable extent among the exports.

As with every variety introduced, the most extensive experiment and
culture was had on one of the German plantations. They are satisfied that
they have not succeeded in attaining the technically correct process of cur-
ing. I am told by one of the managers that the crop of last year amounted
to perhaps i ton ; but no such encouragement has been met as to induce
a further planting, and this interest, in common with most others, may be
said to be, for the present at least, at a standstill.


The single exportable staple for which Samoa is eminently adapted, and
the one upon which all its business to-day rests, and must for the future
be predicated, is the cocoanut {Cocos nucif^rd). It is to Samoa what cotton
and corn are to the United States; all that grain, meats, and wool are to
the Australasian colonies. The export of the copra — the dried meat of the
cocoanut — alone, save with trifling and inappreciable exception, represents
the entire agricultural productive capacity of Samoa, and through, this source,
every dollar that trade and commerce bring into these islands finds its way.
Were the cocoanut crop an absolute failure for a single year, the entire
volume of export of this Kingdom for that year would not amount to more
than {6,000. This illustration will adequately represent the prime importance
of this single article to the country and its needs.

The cocoanut, if not indigenous, maybe so regarded, to avoid unprofita-
ble discussion, for no tradition reaches back to a time when it did not hold,
as now, a conspicuous place. As has been said, it was the cocoanut and
cotton — chiefly the former — which induced the large purchase of lands by
the German firm and the planting of its extensive plantations. Twenty
and thirty years ago, when the oil of the cocoanut began to be more largely

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employed in the manufacture of soaps, copra commanded in Europe, where it
found its only, and still finds its principal, market, very remunerative prices,
which in these times of decreased values in everything are looked back to as
phenomenal. These high prices stimulated the planting of these thousands
of acres of tossing palms which reach on before the eye in unmatched beauty.
But the same stimulus which induced this manifestation of enterprise was
felt on every tropic seashore. Millions of trees were planted on the measure-
less shores of tropic Africa, America, and Asia. All the shores of India, of
the contiguous countries, of the unnumbered islands that form the archipel-
agoes of the vast western Pacific were transformed into stately groves in the
keen search for large profits.

These groves are but a few years past their early maturity. Every year,
with favorable season, they yield an increasing crop. The usual reaction
has followed. The same result in these latter times of increased output in
everything has been reached, and overproduction is steadily bearing prices
downward. In addition, came the introduction of cotton seed as an oil
producer. This tells upon Samoa in more than a direct way. No planta-
tions are being laid out. What has been said before in regard to other pro-
ductions and the great distances of the markets on either side, is applicable
to the situation of Samoa with reference to its single staple in redoubled
force. Distance, to repeat, is synonymous with freight rates. Other copra-
making countries are situated nearer to the markets, A lower freight means
a lower cost to the purchaser. Again, a small and semicivilized population,
indulging few artificial needs, offers a small market for imported goods.
Consequently, ships to larger countries can carry a cargo out, to return with
a cargo of copra. Vessels can not, save in exceptional, rare cases, find a
charter to Samoa. As a result, the Sanioan shipper of copra must pay the'
high rate of steamers regularly calling or pay sucTi a price for transportation
as will justify a sailing vessel to come, perhaps partially in ballast, to carry
away a cargo of copra.

In this respect, the German firm enjoys an advantage, as it does in many
other things, for, doing for the country a rather large business, and supply-
ing the German men-of-war with coal, it can so adjust its shipments as to
offer a vessel a charter both ways, to the great reduction of freight charges.
It follows that these advantages of the larger concern tend greatly to con-
tinue in a measure the monopoly it once conspicuously enjoyed, to the dis-
advantage of smaller shippers.

Copra is simply the meat of the cocoanut, dried in the sun, generally by
being spread on mats, until the greater part of the watery juice is evaporated.
For this purpose the nut is left to thoroughly ripen — that is, until the white
flesh, or kernel, which lines the inside of the shell, to the thickness of three-
fourths of an inch or more, reaches that degree of hardness found in cocoa-
nuts sold at the fruit stands in the United States. At this state all the
clear, palatable water which completely filled the interior in the green stage
is absorbed.

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When a commercial demand for cocoanut oil first sprang up, and ship-
ments were small, it was customary to ship the pure oil in casks, free of the
wood or fibrous residuum. It was then bought by the traders direct as oil
from the natives, who secured a separation of the oil by allowing the green
copra to stand exposed to the sun in canoes — troughs, as it were — until the
heat and decay set the oil free to collect at the bottom, to be afterwards

No oil has been so shipped for a great many years and the one mill set
up for extracting the oil mechanically was not a profitable venture. Coop-
erage could not be had here, and the importation of casks was found too
expensive. Then the leakage in a long voyage in wooden i)ackages was
found to be very great. For many years the oil cake obtained from cocoa-
nuts met a ready demand from dairymen and small farmers in Europe, as
a food for cattle, but latterly it has fallen into disfavor, the opinion obtain-
ing that it is productive of derangement, if not of disease. The decline of
this use has to some extent affected the price of copra. It was formerly
estimated that the sale of the oil cake paid the cost of the freight on the
bulk copra.

Marseilles is the principal manufacturing point of cocoanut oil, but large
quantities are shipped to Liverpool, to ports on the Baltic, and to San Fran-
cisco. The oil is used to some extent by admixture, as a lubricant, but its
chief use is found in the manufacture of common and medium grade soaps.
Its tendency to become rancid — an objection which has not been entirely
overcome — is a serious hindrance to its employment in many things, and
precludes its use in the manufacture of the better grades of soap, for, free
of odor as it may be at first, its pungent rancidity is apt to become soon
manifest. The odor of copra, especially when stored in bulk or on shipn
board, is of the most disagreeable and nauseating character.

The accepted method of latter years is to plant the cocoanuts in rows 40
feet apart, setting the trees 30 feet in the row. The early planters placed

Online LibraryUnited States. Dept. of Commerce and Labor United States. Bureau of Foreign CommerceConsular reports, Issues 188-191 → online text (page 90 of 102)