New Zealand in Samoa

Page 4 – Sowing seeds of discontent

Like most colonial powers, New Zealand developed paternalistic policies towards Samoans. In the words of one Administrator, they were 'a splendid but backward Native race', with 'no thought for to-morrow, and no vision as to the future of these islands'. It was an attitude deeply resented by Samoans.

Officials felt a duty to control and civilise Samoans for their own good, believing they could not adequately provide for themselves in the modern world. Health, education, and economic development were immediate priorities. Building programmes focused on district hospitals, nursing stations and schools, while attempts were made to promote community order, cleanliness and productivity.

Of the early Administrators, Major-General George Richardson (1923-28) was the most passionate in his attempts to modernise Samoans. Richardson was initially well-received because he tried to learn the language and listen to local opinion. But, supported by the newly empowered Faipule, he began to impose regulations in a tactless and authoritarian manner without the agreement or understanding of the people.

Richardson's attempts to increase productivity intruded into daily life and custom. He proposed to individualise land holdings and remodel villages to make more effective use of the available land. ‘Time-wasting’ customs such as malaga - travelling parties for the distribution of fine mats - were prohibited, and the popular pastime of village cricket was restricted.

Most of all, Samoans objected to interference with traditional authority and rights over titles. The 1922 Samoan Offenders Ordinance caused particular resentment. It gave the Administrator powers to banish chiefs and remove their titles, powers previously reserved for matai. By 1926, the legislation had been used against more than 50 matai for offences that often seemed trivial.

Local Europeans and 'half-castes' such as Olaf Nelson had their own grievances. They objected to their poor representation on the Legislative Council and their exclusion from the New Zealand Parliament. Many were related to Samoans by birth or marriage, and they resented suggestions that they placed their own interests before those of Samoans. A ban on importing alcohol, and a proposal for its complete prohibition, further roused European anger.

By 1926, anti-New Zealand feeling was strong throughout Samoa. Despite very different aims, a shared sense of dissatisfaction reinforced by memories of the 1918 influenza pandemic united local Europeans and Samoans against the administration.

How to cite this page

'Sowing seeds of discontent', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 2-Sep-2014