'Black Saturday' in Samoa

28 December 1929

Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III lying in state, 1929 (Alexander Turnbull Library, PAColl-0691-1)

New Zealand military police fired on Mau independence demonstrators in Apia, killing 11 Samoans, including the independence leader Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III.

After the First World War, the League of Nations granted New Zealand a mandate to administer the territory of Samoa, a former German colony (see 29 August). The undermining of Samoan culture by New Zealand authorities, and their inept handling of the 1918 flu epidemic, which killed 8500 in Samoa, led to the rise of an independence movement – the Mau.

In 1929 the Administrator of Western Samoa, Colonel Sir Stephen Allan, decided to crack down on mounting civil disobedience. When the Mau paraded through Apia in December, he ordered police to arrest one of their leaders. Violent clashes broke out and 11 Samoans and one policeman were killed. Mau supporters disappeared into the bush. They came out of hiding in March 1930 and agreed to disperse.

Some closure regarding this dark phase of Samoan history occurred in 2002 when New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark apologised for wrongs committed by the colonial administration.