Story: Samoans

Chief Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III lies in state

Chief Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III lies in state

Activism by the Mau (a non-violent movement for Samoan independence from colonial rule during the first half of the 20th century) challenged the New Zealand takeover of Samoa. 

In 1918 New Zealand authorities allowed the trader Talune to dock, leading to a devastating outbreak of ‘Spanish’ influenza. In 1929, Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III, a high-ranking chief, was arrested by New Zealand authorities, brought to Mt Eden Prison in Auckland to serve a prison sentence for his refusal to pay taxes to the New Zealand government, and stripped of his chiefly matai titles. Sir Māui Pōmare, Māori leader, politician and doctor, visited him in prison in 1929 and wrote to the Samoan people of his visit:

To-day I saw Tamasese in gaol. I greeted him in his own tongue. We sat and talked of many things. I said, Tamasese, I am sorry to see you here, and yet I am glad. I came to see your face…

And so I looked into the countenance of a Tama – an Ariki – a prince indeed. The lineal descent of kings whose genealogical lines reach back into the twilight of fable, and yet withal I looked and saw the face of a martyr – a patriot. He has given his all in the cause of his people – the emancipation of his race.

I thought, and asked myself this question. What have we – New Zealand – done? In our blind blundering party wrangling and political humbug we put this man in gaol. That is what we have done. This man was deprived of liberty, hereditary titles, degraded, deported and imprisoned. Yet those titles will continue till the last drop of Tamesese blood ceases to flow.

Degradation? An honour. Deportation? A privilege. Imprisonment? A crown of glory. And so we have made it! ‘Ia malosi, Tamasese’ (Be strong in heart Tamasese’.)

Shortly after his return, he and at least seven other Samoans were shot dead during a demonstration in Apia in December 1929. 

In this image, Tamasese lies in state (displayed in a public space so people can pay their respects) surrounded by his family and supporters, including, from left: Faumuina Fiame Mulinu‘u I (seated in foreground), Tamasese’s son (above Faumuina, with folded arms), Tuimaleai‘ifano (with arm in a sling), Mrs Ala Tamasese (seated, in profile) and two European Mau supporters, Alfred Hall Skelton and Alfred G. Smyth.

Four members of the Polynesian Panther Party – Wayne Toleafoa, Alec Toleafoa , Ariu Sio and Melani Anae – are members of the Tamasese family.

Using this item

Alexander Turnbull Library
Reference: PA1-o-795-16

Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

Quote: Letter from Sir Maui Pomare printed in the New Zealand Samoan Guardian, 1939, reproduced in Maui Pomare, Legends of the Maori II, Wellington, 1933.

All images & media in this story

How to cite this page:

Lupematasila Melani Anae, 'Samoans - History and migration', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 18 July 2024)

Story by Lupematasila Melani Anae, published 8 Feb 2005, reviewed & revised 7 Sep 2022 with assistance from  Lupematasila Melani Anae