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Some Niggers
by [?]

Look at those niggers! Whose are they?” (An American Suffragist lady on board S.S. ‘Ventura,’ entering Pago-Pago Harbour, Samoa, October 1913. Apropos of the Samoans.)

I suppose that if news came that the National Gallery was burnt down, one might feel, while hearing of the general damage, the rooms gutted or untouched, the Rembrandts and Titians saved, harmed, or lost, a sudden disproportionately keen little stab of wonder: “The Pisanello St Hubert,” or “The Patinir Flight into Egypt–What’s happened to that?” So now there must be a handful of wanderers here and there who, among all the major conflagration and disasters of nations and continents, have felt the tug of the question, “What of Samoa?”

The South Sea Islands have an invincible glamour. Any bar in ‘Frisco or Sydney will give you tales of seamen who slipped ashore in Samoa or Tahiti or the Marquesas for a month’s holiday, five, ten, or twenty years ago. Their wives and families await them yet. They are compound, these islands, of all legendary heavens. They are Calypso’s and Prospero’s isle, and the Hesperides, and Paradise, and every timeless and untroubled spot. Such tales have been made of them by men who have been there, and gone away, and have been haunted by the smell of the bush and the lagoons, and faint thunder on the distant reef, and the colours of sky and sea and coral, and the beauty and grace of the islanders. And the queer thing is that it’s all, almost tiresomely, true. In the South Seas the Creator seems to have laid Himself out to show what He can do. Imagine an island with the most perfect climate in the world, tropical, yet almost always cooled by a breeze from the sea. No malaria or other fevers. No dangerous beasts, snakes, or insects. Fish for the catching, and fruits for the plucking. And an earth and sky and sea of immortal loveliness. What more could civilisation give? Umbrellas? Rope? Gladstone bags?…. Any one of the vast leaves of the banana is more waterproof than the most expensive woven stuff. And from the first tree you can tear off a long strip of fibre that holds better than any rope. And thirty seconds’ work on a great palm-leaf produces a basket-bag which will carry incredible weights all day, and can be thrown away in the evening. A world of conveniences. And the things which civilisation has left behind or missed by the way are there, too, among the Polynesians: beauty and courtesy and mirth. I think there is no gift of mind or body that the wise value which these people lack. A man I met in some other islands, who had travelled much all over the world, said to me, “I have found no man, in or out of Europe, with the good manners and dignity of the Samoan, with the possible exception of the Irish peasant.” A people among whom an Italian would be uncouth, and a high-caste Hindu vulgar, and Karsavina would seem clumsy, and Helen of Troy a frump.

The white population of Heaven, as one would expect, is very small; but, as one wouldn’t expect, it is composed of Americans, English, and Germans. About half Germans, for it has been a German colony for some fourteen years. But it is one of the few white ‘possessions,’ I suppose, where a decent white needn’t feel ashamed of himself. For, though it’s proper to deny that Germans can colonise, they have certainly ruled Samoa very well. In some part, no doubt, the luck has been with them– with the world–in this success. Samoa was one of their later and wiser attempts in colonising. The first governor was Herr Solf, the present Secretary for the Colonies, who is reputed to have started the administration of Samoa after a careful examination of our method of ruling Fiji, and with a due, but not complete, regard for the advice of the chief English and American settlers in Samoa. Certainly he started it very ably and wisely. By luck and good management those various forces which might destroy the beauty of Samoa are almost ineffectual. The fact that the missionaries are nearly all English puts a slight sufficient chasm between the spiritual and civil powers, and avoids that worst peril of these places–hierocracy. The trade of the islands is largely a monopoly of the ‘German firm,’ a big affair which pays a few people in Hamburg fabulous percentages. So smaller traders aren’t encouraged to flourish unduly; and the German firm itself is too well fed to bother about extending. The Samoans, therefore, aren’t exploited, spiritually or commercially, as much as they might be. By such slight chances beauty keeps a foothold in the world. The missionary’s peace of mind may require that the Samoan should wear trousers, or the trader’s pocket that he should drink gin and live under corrugated iron. But the Government has discovered that these things are not good for the health of the Polynesian, so the Samoan wears his lava-lava and drinks his kava, and lives in his cool and lovely thatched hut, and is happy. And–final test of administration–the population is no longer decreasing.