[ Samoa in the nineteen-twenties. ] Eight letters, Typed and in Autograph, from a Methodist missionary ('Will') to his father in England, describing his impressions on arrival at his post in Western Samoa.

Samoa [ Gagaemalae, Savaii Western Samoa] [ Methodist missionary work; Christianity ]
Publication details: 
The six complete letters dated from Gagaemalae, Savaii, Western Samoa, between May and October 1925.
SKU: 20789

An interesting and informative correspondence, giving the initial impressions of an unnamed nineteen-twenties Methodist minister in Samoa, describing local customs, the state of Christianity in the region (including a denunciation of the Mormons), his view of his duties and the nature of his work, his heavy workload, and other topics including the importance of the coconut and the necessity for every Samoan male to 'destroy fifteen beetles a week'. Eight letters (two incomplete), of which three are in autograph and the other five typed. Totalling 46pp., 4to. (23pp. autograph; 23pp. typed). The final leaves of two letters and the first leaf of a third have suffered damage and loss, and one page of a letter is cropped; otherwise in fair condition, aged and worn. The six complete letters are all signed 'Will', and all but the last of them (to 'Aunt Lizzie') are addressed to the writer's father ('Dad'). ONE: 21 May 1925. Typed. 5pp. TWO: 26 July 1925. Autograph, with final two pages Typed. 10pp. THREE: 26 August 1925. Typed. 4pp. FOUR: 15 September 1925. Autograph. 9pp. FIVE: 6 October 1925. Typed. 4pp. SIX: 11 October 1925. Autograph. 6pp. The last letters are incomplete. SEVEN: Incomplete letter: the latter part, headed 'Sat. 20th.' Typed. 4pp. EIGHT: Incomplete undated Letter. Typed. 4pp., paginated 2-5. The writer a member of a well-to-do family from Tonbridge in Essex, and was decorated for service in the Great War (in the '13th Batt.'?). He has a wife named Effie and two children Ken and Betty. His religious position is a conservative one: he considers the Samoans 'not very many years removed from Heathenism', needing to be led 'from their somewhat childish ideas of Christianity to a more robust conception & higher morality'. The first letter gives an account of the six-day journey to a 'new home', undertaken by the writer's family as part of a group travelling from Sydney, which they left on 22 April 'on board the “Sierra” an American mail steamer'. 'We had to get off at the first stop, Pago Pago in American Samoa. It is an American naval station and has a very beautiful harbour but it rains practically all the time […] It fairly teemed all the time we were […] arriving there the day before American flag day, a public holiday with native sports and dancing and singing competitions. […] First of all there assembled the teachers and the chiefs and orators […] The Samoans are great on ceremony and for these occasions each chief and orator has a special name, first of all these are announced by the speaker who then proceeds in most elaborate terms to welcome the guests and give thanks to God for their coming. This man said that there had never in the history of Pago Pago been such a day, three ministers all arriving at the same time, […] Then the kava was made and with much ceremony was handed round to each guest according to their precedence. They gave it to you in a polished cup made of a cocoanut [sic] shell and it tastes rather bitter and more like soapy water than any thing else. As you are about to drink you say “Manuia” which [means] about the same as good health. After that is done they all clap. When this was over at Pago they made ready the feast, plates were set before us and a fowl between two was provided, also some taro, a native vegetable, and a weird looking pudding of immense size. […] The hut was then cleared and some exhibitions of Samoan dancing given. The ladies were very gaily attired and danced in a weird fashion to the singing of the rest of the company and the beating of a kerosene tin.' A description of sports celebrations, with the 'most interesting events […] dancing contests […] At night there was a singing contest, villages and schools competed. Some of the music was very strange but they are a musical people and the blending of mens' and womens' voices was very fine.' The party leave for Apia 'on a wretched little boat called the “Lady Roberts” […] there were about 90 navite and about 80 whites and the cabin only has accommodation for eight and there is practically no shelter outside.' On arrival in Apia he confronts the doctor who comes on board, telling him that he is 'a swine for staying in bed and leaving women and children wet through on the boat while he had his sleep out'. He describes the welcome at Apia, including the 'brass band from Piula College'. He finds the governor 'a good sort, takes a great interest in anything for the benefit of the Samoans and seems to be well liked by all. He lives in Vailima, Robert Louis Stevenson's old home. […] At night I took the English service which is attended by English residents and half-castes.' He views Piula College, where 'Mr. and Mrs. Blake' are to live, and goes to 'a place called Faleula where Shinkfield lives. Here we have an agricultural school, a girls' and a boys' school, also a boat building establishment where the boys are taught to make “fautasies” as the long boats are called. […] The next day we started for our place, in the afternoon we left in a fautassie [sic] for an island called Manono. We were able to keep inside the reef most of the way so the trip was a very smooth one. For a time we sailed but the wind dropped and the rowers had to get to work again. At Manono we stayed at the native ministers house, a native house divided into parts by curtains. Early next morning we left again for Satupaiten where there i[s] a white minister.' The two undated incomplete letters date from around the time of the writer's arrival. In one ('Sat. 20th.') he writes: 'The people seem to be very quiet and peaceable. We are well up above the village and so we see but little of them. During the first few weeks of our being here we had many visitors. All the different villages in this section of the circuit paid visits in force. With them they brought gifts of tare, a native vegetable which seems to be the staple article of Samoan diet, yams that look like large potatoes and taste like them too, fowls and cocoanuts and eggs. […] The natives are very interested in the war and want to know all about it. I have to show them a map of Palestine and tell them about the fighting and then they want to see all that I brought here in the way of souvenirs and my medals.' He describes 'a great feast' held by the chief of Gagaemalae in his honour: 'This was all set out on the grass in the compound and there was abundance of feast pig, tare etc. An enormous quantity was placed in front of each one who had a boy with him with a basket who gathered most of it up and took it home'. There is also a description of the 'extraordinary' method of a village fishing trip, ending: 'The first day they did this they caught over 1200 fish, some very big and all big enough to eat. These were all shared out amongst the families of the village. We got our share sent up to us, about twenty I think, while the school boys got a hundred as their share.' In the other fragment the writer describes his arrival at the place, with reference 'Clarke', and the location: 'The house is situated high up on a headland well above the sea. They tell me that it is easily the best position for a house on the island. It is built of stone, the walls being 20 inches thick to help keep it cool. There are no windows but French doors in all the rooms. […]' Also describes the hospital and the school: 'Everything here is worked out on a plan. On Monday the boys have to catch beetles, this is a rule throughout Samoa. Every male has to destroy fifteen beetles a week. Some years ago beetles destroyed the cocoanut crop and of course this meant that the people were practically starved. To the Samoan the cocoanut is gold. He eats it and drinks the milk. He cuts out the nut sells it – copra. From the husk he makes rope and many other things, also uses it to burn. Of the shell he makes drinking cups and blinds for the walls. The timber he also uses for building. | The beetle therefore destroys all things and must be itself destroyed. To make sure of this every man has to deliver to the mayor of his village 15 beetles a week.' In the second letter he continues to describe life in 'this isolated place', after responding to news from back in England ('It is now over 21 years since you bought the old De Dion from Harry Furze'). He describes how his 'school boys have been away for a holiday', the climate, mosquitoes, tea with General Sir George Richardson. 'We are gradually picking up the Samoan language though it will be some time before we shall be able to speak it well. […] On Tuesday I had about 70 children to examine in reading, sums, catechism and many other things.' He gives a list of building materials required for the school.' He describes 'the May meeting', which is 'the great event of the year here as far as the Church is concerned': 'The collection is a most extraordinary affair. Heads of families are most important people and when the family name is called the head of it comes to the front of the Church and puts his money in the plate making as much noise as possible. A tin plate is used so that it rattles well and a handful of silver is much preferable to notes.' Added to the letter is a note by 'Effie', commenting on her husband's 'abominable' handwriting. In the third letter he describes problems with the roof and the use of a Samoan carpenter. 'All the men here now are having trouble with their buildings. […] Clarke at Satupaiten has a tremendous problem to deal with, an unfinished school. It will take years to do it and cost at least another £1000 and then will not be as suitable as a building one could put up for about £500.' He turns to the 'peculiar state' of the Christian religion in Samoa: 'All pioneering work is done and Christianity is firmly established. The Church is quite the biggest thing in the life of the people but their conception of Christian ethics is a low one. The beggars tell lies all the time. When I asked my boy about this he told me that it was a Samoan custom. As a people they are careless and unreliable though quiet and inoffensive. How quiet can be seen from the fact that we have no policemen on this side of the island. A man in each village acts as native judge and a chief is appointed a government representative in each district.' He continues with references to employment and government organisation, and discusses home news and politics ('Churchill has not had an easy time with his budget. I do not think that he will be remembered with the great chancellors'), and urges his father to visit. In the fourth letter he describes how he has no time to himself: 'The variety of things one has to do is annoying. Any Samoan who wants anything from the Govt seems to come to the missionary. Today my catechist told a man who had been telling me a lot of lies about a marriage that he had better be careful as I had great influence with the Resident Commissioners.' Following this he received 'a deputation of chiefs who asked me to use my influence with the Commissioners'. He gives a long description of his involvement in an incident beginning: 'Last Sunday night a man came along in a state of excitement about 10 o'clock to tell me that a girl had just come to his house in the village, having run away from a place about 10 miles away in order to get married to one of our catechists, at a village about 20 miles further on'. In the fifth letter he complains: 'If I am to stay here for long there will have to be some alteration made in the constitution of things. At present this is a circuit in name only. All financial matters are in the hands of a committee appointed by Synod. This means in the end that the chairman has control of things. My circuit is financially very strong but nearly all its money is spent in the chairman's circuit. Last year over £1000 went in that way and things that we need badly we are not able to get.' He continues on the same subject, and states that he has 'framed a series of amendments to the constitution and will move them at the next Synod […] We may be able to overawe the natives into voting against their own interests. If this is so my resignation goes in straight away. […] But I think that the amendments will carry all right as the people of Savaii are getting tired of paying all the time and getting too little in return.' He describes how he has been 'visiting a number of places for Baptism. I was at one place last Sunday where they gave me and my boys a great reception. After the service they provided a great feast for all those who had come with me. | It was sacrament Sunday and on such an occasion the men like to get into a black or at any rate a dark coat, the longer the better – one chief was there in a fine blue melton overcoat. Where he got it I have no idea.' Writing to 'Aunt Lizzie' he discusses the state of the Christian religion in Samoa, stating that the Samoans 'all take the Church services very seriously & go frequently. Unfortunately they would rather sit in Church than work but we have to remember that the people are not very many years removed from Heathenism. Our task now is a big one as we have to lead them from their somewhat childish ideas of Christianity to a more robust conception & higher morality. […] Here in Samoa we have only three denominations, L.M.S. the strongest, & the Roman Catholics & ourselves. In a new village all three are found but in may cases all the people belong to one church. | The Mormons have come in in recent years & have churches in some villages. They are like the Seventh Day Adventists, they do not go to the places where no other missionaries are. They come in after the people have been evangelised & seek to establish themselves. There are many untouched places in the Pacific but they leave the pioneering to others & when heathenism has been banished & the conditions are comparatively easy they come in with a flourish.'