Mr. Tripp to Mr. Hay.
Sir: A little more than a month has elapsed since we dropped anchor in this beautiful harbor. It was then filled with the war ships of the [Page 622] three great powers: Three on the part of Great Britain, one German, and two American, including the Philadelphia and the collier Brutus. On the shore soldiers were seen marching and flags of the different nationalities flying from the flagstaffs erected at each prominent point along the coast and over the plantations adjoining the municipality of Apia. Several hundred marines from the ships had been stationed for several weeks at the points of danger. About 700 natives, armed with British rifles and drilled by British officers, had been mustered into service for the defense of Apia, while over 2,000 other natives, adherents of Malietoa Tanu, were occupying the outposts of defense about the town. At a few miles to the west and east the native forces of Mataafa, about 3,000 in number, were resting on their arms behind improvised fortifications, leaving between themselves and the hostile forces of Tanu a neutral zone during the armistice agreed upon between them and pending the arrival of the commission. The country surrounding Apia indeed had much the appearance of a battlefield at the time of our arrival. The shells from the war vessels, fired to dislodge the forces of Mataafa, had left their marks upon the houses and plantations surrounding the town and within a radius of 3 miles from the inner harbor, while the lawless acts of looting and foraging parties from either camp had left behind them a scene of devastation and desolation which always succeeds the invasion of armed forces of savage or civilized men. Great tensity of feeling existed on the part of the white population and the sympathy existing seemed to be about equally divided in favor of the success of Tanu and Mataafa as the rightful claimant to the empty honor of king.
The arrival of the commission, while awaited with some anxiety, was not looked forward to with confidence or satisfaction. The adherents of Mataafa did not believe that anything substantial would result from their visit, and the adherents of Tanu looked upon the commission as inopportunely interfering with their planned and expected victory over the forces of Mataafa. The commission therefore entered upon the work with neither the confidence nor the good wishes of the people it was sent to aid and protect. It set to work, however, with a determined will to restore peace and order and to try to improve the present and future condition of the native and foreigner here. They immediately opened rooms in the town accessible to the people and called before them all persons of long residence and experience in these islands and advised with them as to the government of the past, the cause of the past rebellion against their native chiefs, and obtained from them such views as they might have found in reference to the kind of government best adapted to the character and capacity of the people. The commission were particularly anxious and determined first to disarm the forces surrounding the town, and they directed their inquiries as to the best method of accomplishing this result. They consulted the missionaries, many of whom had been here more than twenty years, merchants whose business life had been spent in Apia, government officers of all grades whose official relations brought them more or less in contact with the native themselves, and naval officers who had become acquainted with native character by the unfortunate experience of actual war, and without a dissenting voice the commission was told that disbanding was possible but disarmament impossible; that next to his cause the native loved his gun; that he would surrender it neither by persuasion nor by force; he would bury it, throw it into the sea, and if need be destroy it, but never surrender it; that [Page 623] disarmament had been repeatedly tried and had resulted only in the surrender of a few worthless guns which were soon replaced by others of modern manufacture and more effective use.
Notwithstanding these discouraging views the commission continued the correspondence with Mataafa, copies of which up to May 18 were sent you in my last, and on May 19 they received Tanu and his chiefs on board the Badger, informed him that they had come to restore peace and tranquillity to the islands, and that this, in their judgment, could not be done without a complete disarmament of all the natives and their immediate disbanding and return to their homes; that the commission would not take up the question of kingship till this was done. After a long interview (fono as they call it) Tanu and his chiefs promised to do so if the disarmament was made general, which the commission told them would be done. On Wednesday, May 20, the commission received Mataafa and his chiefs in the same way on board the Badger, told them what the commission had said to Tanu, reminded Mataafa of “his promise on his return from Jaluit not to interfere with the politics of the islands; that he had not kept his promise, and that the great powers now expected that he would use his influence to obtain a disarmament of every native under his control; that the commission had determined to use all force at their command to accomplish this result; that the harbor was full of war vessels of the great powers, others were coming, and they could summon whatever force was necessary to produce this result; that the great powers were acting only for the best interests of Samoans; that they had tried to let Samoans govern themselves and select their own king, but they could not agree, had gone to war, killed each other, killed and mutilated brave white officers and soldiers, and put in danger the lives and liberty of all; that this must cease, and the surest and quickest way to have it cease was to have them give up their arms at once and prove to the great powers that they wanted peace, and that as soon as peace was restored the commission would give them a provisional government and provide a permanent government for the future. The commission said much more to the same effect, all of which was oral and said to them through an interpreter. Mataafa then replied that his people were tired of war; that they wanted peace; that he believed the commission had come to give them peace, and that he and his chiefs would obey what the great powers told them; that if the commission thought it necessary, in order to restore peace, that the people should give up their arms they would do so, but that the arms belonged to the natives themselves, not to the great governments as did many of the guns of Tanu; that his people were poor and had paid much money for these guns, and he thought the great governments ought not to take away the property of his people without compensation. I then told him on behalf of the commission that the great powers did not wish to take the property without paying for it; that it was peace, not their property, that the great powers wanted, and that if they would immediately give up their guns and ammunition they should be kept until peace was restored and they should then be restored to them or a fair compensation made therefor; that this offer would be held open until June 20, proximo, but that after that date all arms found in the hands of natives would be confiscated and the persons in possession thereof severely punished. Mataafa, after consultation with his chiefs, said the words of the great powers were honest and fair and they would obey, and would send the commission word when and where the guns [Page 624] and ammunition would be given up. I then told him that the commission believed what he told them, but they feared some bad men would keep back their guns, and that some chiefs who were not there then might not consent to what he (Mataafa) had promised. The commission therefore advised that he (Mataafa) call a great fono, or meeting, of all the chiefs, tell them what the commission had told him, and if they all agreed to what he (Mataafa) had promised, then to send word to the commission when and where they would deliver up their arms and the commission would come with their ship, receive the arms, and give to the great chiefs receipts for the same. This pleased them and they left with the promise to held their fono and inform us at once of the result. Several letters were subsequently received—copies of which are herewith inclosed—by which Wednesday, the 31st instant, and Malua were fixed as the time and place for delivery of the arms.
On the 31st of May we proceeded on board the Badger to a point opposite Malua, where we found native boats about thirty in number containing about one thousand natives and high chiefs with some 1,830 rifles and a small amount of ammunition awaiting us. Mataafa and his 13 high chiefs came on board and announced that they had collected the bulk of all the guns of his people and now brought them to the commission; that some of his people had gone to the distant islands with their guns but that these would be subsequently obtained and surrendered. We received and receipted for the arms, thanked the chiefs and admonished them to immediately return to their homes and to make peace with those who had been adherents of Tanu and against whom they had been waging war. They left us apparently very happy and we returned to Apia where we commenced the same night the disarmament of the forces of Tanu. This was continued on Thursday, June 1, until all were disarmed. The British rifles, except 100 which we retained as a precaution in the hands of the native police for a few days, were returned to the British ships and the native guns were receipted for to the chiefs as in the case of Mataafa. We obtained from the Tanu forces, exclusive of the British rifles, about fourteen hundred guns, and since the disarmament every day guns and ammunition have come straggling in from both the Mataafa and Malietoa factions, so that now we have on board in all at this date about three thousand five hundred guns, a small amount of ammunition, as well as some miscellaneous weapons of defense, and it will be necessary for the treaty powers to take some early action as to the disposition of the guns in accordance with the promise of the commission. They are not very valuable, and it would be better in my judgment to have them appraised and destroyed or packed away than to have them ever again returned to the natives. Everybody, of course, including ourselves, was much gratified and somewhat surprised at the fortunate result of our experiment. It was not of course a total, but substantial, disarmament. It is estimated that perhaps 500 guns are yet in the hands of natives and some of these we may never get, but we hope before the 20th of June arrives to have obtained the larger part of the guns still remaining in their hands. I sent you with great pleasure on the 31st ultimo by the Auckland steamer, which kindly waited a few hours to learn the result of the Mataafa disarmament, the following cablegram:
“Mataafa disarmed. Over 1,800 guns surrendered,” which I presume you received in due time.
Immediately after the disarmament we get to work to restore the [Page 625] civil government of Apia and Samoa and get the people out from under military rule, of which everyone had become extremely tired. We issued at once a proclamation as to surrender of arms yet remaining in the hands of natives, a copy of which is herewith inclosed. We gradually directed the officers of the ship to withdraw sentinels from the public streets, called a city election in the West Ward of the city in which the offices of councillors was vacant, and then commenced consideration of some of the difficult questions involved in our mission. Without going into details of discussion it will suffice to say that after long discussion and in a fair spirit of compromise the commission was unanimous in their conclusion that the decision of the chief justice declaring Malietoa Tanu king, was valid and binding upon the commission, and that we must so recognize him. But we further came to the conclusion, after much discussion and many interviews with business men, missionaries, and natives themselves, that no permanent government could be maintained with an elective king. The title itself is of recent origin, the grandfather of Tanu being, in fact, the first chief crowned and anointed king. Every election or appointment of king has been followed by a revolution. A number of chiefs have always been in rebellion against the reigning king. It is at best a mere bauble, of value only as a prize for competition. It was believed that the succession had been provided for and could always be determined by the decision of the chief justice, but the history of that now former trial shows that it is always possible under the “laws and customs of Samoa”—according to which the king must be elected—to elect two or more kings at the same time, so that the decision of the court is no safeguarded against rebellion. The Samoans recognize no fixed principles of heredity; might, at last, determines not only the right of succession but the maintenance of it. I shall go into this question more at length in my final report accompanying the form of government, but for the present will only say the commission are quite unanimously of the opinion that if a tripartite government can be sustained here at all it can only be through a strong central government so guarded by checks and balances as to remove it from the petty intrigues that arise from international jealousies which are always developing under the reign of a weak native king. Having reached this conclusion we took occasion to have the new king informed of our views as to the permanent government we should recommend to the great powers. He thereupon asked an interview and orally said to us that if the kingship was to be abolished under the permanent government it would please him better, since he was anxious to resume his studies at school, if we would accept his resignation at once. We informed him that he could advise with his friends and chiefs and address us further in writing, which he subsequently did. A copy of his letter and of our reply being herewith inclosed. We therefore issued a proclamation, a copy of which is herewith inclosed, announcing our decision sustaining the decision of the chief justice, the resignation of the king, and investing the consuls of the three powers provisionally with the official duties of the king, continuing the office and duties of the chief justice and installing Dr. Solf as president of the municipal council until the further order of the commission, which facts I announced briefly to you in my cablegram from here of the 12th instant, as follows:
“Provisional government established; Tanu resigns; kingship abolished; [Page 626] commission sustains decision;” which I presume was received in due time.
The provisional government has now been in force for some days and seems to be working smoothly. Great Britain has recalled her consul, Mr. Maxse, and Germany has recalled Mr. Rose, which is undoubtedly wise, since all of the officials here, more or less, have taken sides in the bitter personal and political matters which have formed a part of the recent unfortunate history of Samoa. Mr. Maxse’s place will be supplied from the colonies and the vice-consul, Mr. Grunons, will act as German consul-general for the present. It is our purpose to preserve the best parts of the Berlin treaty, to have a governor or president sent here to take the place of the king, with a council having some legislative power so as to make the government somewhat more elastic than at present; to separate the municipality from the general government, making it purely local, and to give to the natives in their own districts the power of local self-government according to Samoan laws and customs. The Samoan makes a good chief, but is not broad enough to extend himself over numerous tribes and districts as king. It is believed here that this plan, when elaborated, will work harmoniously, and in theory it is even now popular with the natives. They say, “We want chief, no king.” The question of kingship, in fact, seems to be popular only with those families who deem themselves eligible thereto. When we get our plan of government perfected we shall submit it to a great fono or meeting of the leading chiefs for their approval before we present it to our own governments.
We hope to be able to perfect the draft and to be prepared to submit it to the people here in time to leave for home early in July, proximo.
Everything is now peaceable and quiet in the islands. The chiefs and warriors have returned to their homes. The smoke is now seen ascending from the native cabins and plantations in every portion of the islands. The war song is discontinued, the war camp abandoned, and the happy, joyous nature of this unrevengeful people manifests itself in the ready forgiveness of their enemies and their glad welcome of returning peace.
I hope this will last until we can get the permanent government in force. They are amiable, confiding people. They still trust the white man, who has so often deceived them. They admire greatness and strength. They trust the white man because he is great and strong. One government could control them without murmur or complaint. Three may do so while unity exists, for the weakness of a tripartite government does not consist in its form but in its administration. The fever of international strife prevalent with the white people of Apia has spread into official life and become epidemic with the natives themselves. I shall dwell more at length upon these questions in my final report. I may say, however, in confidence that I have not an abiding faith in a government by three great powers over a people of a composite origin. It was Napoleon, I believe, who said, when it was desired to associate Kellermann with him in command of the army, “Better one bad general than two good ones,” and I fear the rule applies with too much force in the government by three great powers. As everyone can but believe that such a government must be temporary in character, it is to be hoped that an opportunity may soon be afforded us by which we can retire from this entangling alliance and reserve to [Page 627] ourselves the benefit of our original treaty with the Samoan Government. I shall visit Pago Pago next week and shall give you my further impressions of the harbor and of the islands outside of Upolu and Apia. The engineer and men are here for the construction of a wharf and coal sheds at Pago Pago and were taken there by the collier Brutus, they having arrived on the mail steamer from San Francisco and their vessel with supplies not having yet reached this port.
I inclose herewith concluding correspondence with High Chief Tanu and Mataafa and copies of proclamations to which I have already made reference. You will find also inclosed a photograph,1 taken at the time of the disarmament of Mataafa, showing a portion of the native boats delivering their guns on board the Badger, also a clipping1 from the Herald, the only newspaper in Samoa, just issued, commenting upon the work of the commission.
Should anything important further occur, I will cable you when the next steamer goes to Auckland, about June 30, instant, otherwise you will perhaps hear nothing further from me until my return to America. Any communications you desire to make will intercept me at Honolulu, in care of our consul, or at San Francisco at the Palace Hotel.
I remain, etc.,