Tuiatua Tupua Tamasese Efi
Tuiatua Tupua Tamasese was was elected to Parliament in 1966 and served as Prime Minister of what was then Western Samoa from 1976 to 1982 and as Deputy Prime Minister from 1985 to 1988. Ian Johnstone interviewed him in 1996.
Tupua Tamasese: The New Zealanders - certainly Massey - wanted Samoa to be incorporated into New Zealand, in that you had the beginnings of the citizenship issue. In fact, even before him the New Zealand political leadership and others in other professions - law, business. And they thought New Zealand should extend itself to other places close to New Zealand, Samoa for one. And when they did take over and this is after a fair bit of canvassing. And the New Zealand government thought that Samoa should rightly come under the New Zealand umbrella.
When New Zealand came, in 1914, I don’t think there was any great resistance. In fact there was a very strong feeling for the Brits. And New Zealand was part of the Brit camp. But on the other hand people that benefited from German patronage they sang sad songs about being parted from their ways, after they were ousted by New Zealand. But on the whole Samoa, despite the overwhelming German presence, was very well inclined towards the British world and this was due to British missionaries, and British and American entrepreneurs.
The first significant disenchantment had to do with the flu epidemic of 1918 and that demolished the image of British efficiency, British caring. Here is the situation: in awful circumstances a third of the population got wiped out. I think the image of white man’s superiority was greatly set back in our situation by the epidemic - the negligence, the lack of caring and then the heavy-handedness that followed that during the Mau period, and then on top of that people like Nelson and others were demonstrating they could run businesses and that better than the administration. Now this was most unusual because during the German regime whatever else, the Germans demonstrated that they had the technology and the personnel and the will to show they can run it better than anyone. They ran the plantations well, they ran the stores well and you know Samoa was relatively prosperous.
Now when you compare the German record with the New Zealand record, there is certainly a downturn economically then and there was no matching between the calibre of the people in the earlier and the later. And then on top of that the locals were demonstrating that they could handle these things and run them very well.
IJ: Ian Johnstone: Was there pressure within this country, do you think, for independence? Did you have the kind of movements that were happening through Africa saying let’s get rid of them?
TT: Yes, the thing is you had Nelson and the more enlightened among the independence movement leadership that had links with Evatt in Australia and Sir Stafford Cripps in Britain, and through them they had links with the Irish nationalists and Indian nationalists so that too tended to create an impetus and intellectually a moral impetus.
And this movement, shall we say, permeated the leadership right across the board internationally so that people were united not only because of a legal issue but because of a political issue and because of a vision they shared so that you would have Cripps not only plugging very strongly for us at the League of Nations, but you have the likes of Cripps and others helping the Indians and the Irish.
IJ: How was the Constitution that was eventually accepted in 1961, how was that devised?
TT: I think by and large you know there was a lot of linkage on the British fear not only with the New Zealand Labour Party but also with the British Labour Party. People like Jim Davidson they had ...
IJ: So it was discussed generally? One of the things that Ratu Mara said was "we sent a group off and they had a look at Cyprus and we had a look at various other places and we mixed and matched until we could find something." Was that kind of process going on here?
TT: Well, Mara was more involved. I wasn’t. I was very much looking around. I came in when independence was well established. My father was closely involved.
IJ: Can you recall what that meant for him? Did it mean long arguments or did it just mean hard work and waiting? Did it mean tough dealing - can you recall any of that?
TT: Well, yeah, it was quite problematic because on the one hand you had the commercial sector being very suspicious about self-government and independence - as you would in most other colonies. And then on top of that you had also the traditional rivalries.
The great task that these fellows faced was how do you blend all this in order to find consensus and that was not easy. Bear in mind that we hadn’t run our own affairs since 1900 and even before then it was by the 1880s until the 1900s it was chaos. Where the input from the foreign powers was a critical factor in the political equation. So that even when people talk today about so-and-so is powerful, he won out, when you look beyond the rhetoric you would find that these people would get in power because of patronage, from either Great Britain, the United States or Germany. And they lost because this patronage was withdrawn and given to someone else.
And then we had the New Zealanders. But you develop a bit of a complex because whatever the parameters the fact is that we came out the losers. The big job for these people was to sell the idea to people that we are not born losers, it’s not our fate to keep on losing and in fact there are prospects of doing better. I mean we were taking a plunge that no one else in the Pacific was.
IJ: But isn’t it true that in quite a profound way Samoans had run their own affairs no matter what the colonial administration, that Samoans had run their own affairs always. The intricacies, the subtleties, the efficiency of your social order, the depth of the system of representation through matai was a most stable of societies in that sense.
TT: Yes and no. Yes in the sense that once the government was set up then the people had a genius for operating a system that would ensure that by and large the power would still rest with them. Now that was tolerated up to a point. As soon as that independence or movement or decision impinged on the interests of the imperial powers then you had a scuffle.
IJ: You have spent most of your life making the Constitution work in different ways. Was it a good one? Did it do its job? Does it still?
TT: Well, I think it served our purposes, although I wonder whether like any other Constitution it requires a bit of refurbishing. I think it was envisioned that the Constitution needed a review in twenty or twenty-five years and I don’t think we have really had that as yet. Maybe we should do that.
IJ: It did seem to be put together with perhaps more generosity of spirit and support than the colonial administration before it might have suggested.
TT: By and large I think the Samoan Constitution was a pattern that people accepted as something that’s worth emulating. Okay, people are going to put in things that suit your own peculiar conditions but by and large it was something it was accepted as a good example that was worth looking at.
IJ: And popular - the plebiscite figures in 1961 were five to one! This is confidence of a considerable order, when you are taking a step of that size. Was that just because it was well ‘sold’ to people?
TT: Yes, I think at that stage people were quite wanting to take on independence.
IJ: We’ve just seen a film of you on the day, carrying a spear, as it were. Can you recall your feelings on Independence Day?
TT: Well, it was certainly a feeling of pride, of expectancy. A feeling of achievement. And I think that these were the feelings that were generally shared by people.
IJ: The challenges then that faced your father and the others who were in charge with the responsibility, were they major ones, were they economic? Were they to do with holding this internationally unusual Constitution?
TT: Well the challenge was, considering our record, can we ensure that it would not come unstuck, with people going their disparate ways, provoking internecine strife. Judged from that standpoint I would say it was very successful.
IJ: Was that always understood that a head of state could say, "well right, now I think I could go and have a go at the open field of politics"?
TT: Well if you look at our history in the later part of the 19th century you will find that in a number of cases Samoans suggested that the honours of the top, that at least the ritual head of government should be shared. Particularly if you have a political stalemate and you are trying to get the whole country to rally, that was a more suitable thing to do and it was recommended and was accepted by the big powers for a while. It didn’t last for long, but by and large… I think in two significant instances it was accepted by the big boys.
IJ: How well would you say that this country was prepared for independence by its colonial masters?
TT: Well, I think it’s fashionable for people to say our patron could have done better by us. There was a deliberate attempt by the administrators, which was not unusual, to keep the level of education of the indigenous people at a certain point which is relatively low. The reason why they did this was to ensure that you did not invest in potential revolutionaries or potential disruptive elements. There is always a supposition that if you educate a subject race, potentially you are creating a challenge or a threat to your own authority.
IJ: There was the classic statement that came from Verwoerd in the Bantu Education Act, which precisely defined as you say...
TT: It was actually government policy that natives were not supposed to go beyond a certain standard in education. I think that fitted in with the traditional Tory mindset. And in fact even for a long time after even the Labour people got in we still had this standard imposed on schools.
IJ: Which fitted a ceiling on - this is as far as you go?
TT: Yes, if you were native and you didn't have a European name or whatever it is, you were supposed to be educated at a different school or you were supposed to reach a certain standard and no more. In fact the only people who resisted that government edict was the Marist Brothers. Just about everybody else went along including the Marist Sisters.
IJ: How have you done? How has Samoa managed with the equipment that it was given or put together itself at Independence?
TT: Well one has to acknowledge not only people who were brought in from the United States or from the United Nations because their input was quite considerable. But the most significant contribution came from the people who were directly involved, in this case the New Zealanders and the Samoans.
On the New Zealand side you had prime ministers and Foreign Affairs people and then you had… people, people like Sir Guy Powles, Colin Aikman, Jim Davidson.
When you read what I wrote about the New Zealand and Samoa relations there’s the temptations to de-emphasise or underestimate the contribution of these people. All these guys, they had the very practical task of trying to build or construct a blend that is acceptable to people. Now that's not easy.
IJ: So you’ve got to mark it quite highly I would have thought.
TT: Yes indeed.
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