Skip to main content
Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.


Related Images



Western Samoa is about 1,800 miles north-east of Auckland, New Zealand. The total land area of 1,090 sq. miles comprises two large islands, Upolu and Savai'i, and two small islands, Manono and Apolima. Apia, the capital and main port, has a population of 25,000 and stands on the northern coast of Upolu. The Samoan islands have rugged volcanic cores, the highest mountain peak rising to 6,094 ft. The tropical climate is equable, the mean daily temperature being 80°F and the average annual rainfall 112 in. Hurricanes are rare, but severe storms occasionally occur in the wet season between October and March.

The Samoans are Polynesians and of the Christian faith, most being adherents of the London Missionary Society. At the most recent census (25 September 1961) the population was 114,427, of which 82,479 lived in Upolu, Manono, and Apolima, and 31,948 in Savaii. There are no towns, apart from Apia, the majority of the population living in 400 foreshore villages. The basis of Samoan society is the “aiga” or extended family. The family head is known as the “matai” and is selected by members of the family.

Western Samoa has an agricultural economy, the three main export crops being bananas, copra, and cocoa. The value of these exports (£N.Z.) in recent years is shown in the following table:

1954 1957 1961
Bananas 300,259 370,316 644,495
Copra 954,284 806,471 672,899
Cocoa 937,681 648,562 597,592

In 1961 exports totalled £1,962,531 and imports £2,536,188. The main imports included cotton piece goods, meat, sugar, and motor vehicles. With assets totalling £1,000,000, the Western Samoa Trust Estates Corporation is the most important agricultural project in the country; copra, coffee, and cocoa are produced on 40,000 acres, which also support over 9,000 cattle. Some of the profits are devoted to the social and economic welfare of the Samoan people. Village life is based on subsistence planting and fishing, the principal subsistence crops being taro, yams, breadfruit, and pawpaws. There is little millable timber and no valuable minerals in Western Samoa. Manufacturing is very limited in scope.

The Apia Hospital and 15 out-station hospitals and dispensaries are the focal points of a comprehensive free health service. There are over 120 Government primary schools and several secondary, vocational, and mission schools. Education is free, but not compulsory. About 100 Samoans are studying in New Zealand under New Zealand Government scholarship aid.

Steps to Independence

New Zealand's association with Western Samoa dates from 29 August 1914, when she supplanted the German administration by military control. During New Zealand's military occupation the ordinances and policy of the former German administration were continued under a military administrator. A civil administration was established in May 1920 and New Zealand's mandate was confirmed by the League of Nations Council on 17 December 1920. A New Zealand Administrator was appointed, charged with the executive government of the territory. An advisory Legislative Council consisting of six official, four Samoan, and two elected European members was established. Two “fautua” (official Samoan advisors, representatives of the traditional high chiefly lines of Samoa) and a “Fono of Faipule”, a body of 41 Samoan district representatives, also acted as advisers to the Administrator.

Between 1926 and 1936 a programme of civil disobedience was organised and became known as the “Mau”. (Part of its origins may be traced to Samoan discontent over the loss of certain high titles.) It took the form of an “unofficial opposition” to the Administration and was allowed to wax and wane. Rather than being a Samoan Nationalist movement, the Mau has been regarded as a reflection of factionalism, or a traditional Samoan lack of national unity.

In December 1946 the United Nations General Assembly approved of a new trusteeship agreement for Western Samoa. In the terms of this agreement New Zealand was charged with promoting “the political, economic, social and educational advancement of the inhabitants and their progressive development towards self-government or independence”. In November 1946 a Fono of all Samoa was convened and from it emerged a petition to the United Nations that Samoa be granted self-government and that New Zealand would see fit to act as protector and adviser to Samoa, as England was to Tonga. As a result of this petition a United Nations Mission visited Western Samoa in July-August 1947. In its report of the same year the Mission concluded that the Samoans were not at that stage capable of assuming, without outside help, the full responsibility of the government of their country. It recommended, however, that New Zealand should make an immediate start in training Western Samoans for self-government by setting up the necessary institutions. Thus modern political activity began in Western Samoa.

In its Samoa Amendment Act of 1947 New Zealand laid down the first constitutional steps which eventually took the territory to full internal self-government. A Council of State was established, consisting of the New Zealand High Commissioner and three Samoan Fautua, who met informally for discussions in which the Fautua advised the High Commissioner on executive government.

A Legislative Assembly was also set up under the Act. The Assembly consisted of the Council of State, 11 members nominated by the Fono of Faipule (which had been established under German administration and consisted of “matai” or Samoan title holders from 41 districts, and which was retained under this Act), five elected European members, and six official members – a total membership of 26. The official membership consisted of the Secretary to the Government, the Secretary of Samoan Affairs, the Treasurer, the Crown Solicitor, the Chief Medical Officer, and the Director of Education. The new Legislative Assembly assumed control of the territory's finances and was given wide legislative powers.

In March 1953 an Executive Council was established to assist and advise the High Commissioner and the Administration in the routine problems of executive government. The Executive Council met weekly and consisted of the High Commissioner and the Samoan Fautua, three Samoan members of the Legislative Assembly, one European M.L.A., and three official members (the Secretary to the Government, the Treasurer, and the Attorney-General).

The New Zealand Government White Paper of 18 March 1953 became a blueprint for the accelerated political development of the country. Known as the “Development Plan”, the paper recognised three bases for sound future political development:

  1. “A strong, responsible and representative central government whose authority is accepted by the community, and which is Samoan in outlook, personnel and in the basis of its power.

  2. “A united population, comprising all Samoan citizens regardless of race.

  3. “The administrative machinery, the institutions and the knowledge necessary for the solution of the political, social and economic problems that will come in the next generation.”

The White Paper called for a constitutional convention representing all sections of the Samoan community, to consider a constitutional plan for the future self-governing State. It also included a frame work for future economic development (with emphasis on economic, aerial, and soil surveys), local government, vocational training, and accelerated education. An important part of the paper provided for the transfer to the people of Western Samoa as a going concern the New Zealand Government's business and plantation organisation, viz, the New Zealand Reparation Estates, whose assets were the greatest in the territory. The Western Samoa Trust Estates Corporation was thus established under the control of a local Board of Directors. In 1954 Executive Councillors were allocated portfolios and this introduction of an “associate member” system served as a training ground for future government on a full ministerial basis.

The Constitutional Convention was held in November-December 1954. Its recommendations laid down a realistic policy for accelerated political, social, and economic development, leading to full internal self-government five years later. The New Zealand Government's future policy was set out in a memorandum of 26 December 1955. Commenting on both, the then High Commissioner stated: “Western Samoa's course is now charted clearly for her to follow, while New Zealand will always be watching and guiding, and willing to listen to any suggestions for change. This course protects the interests of all whose home is in Western Samoa, regardless of their race… these proposals for Constitutional Development constitute an act of faith on the part of New Zealand — faith that Western Samoa will rise to meet her destiny and thus justify the hopes of those who wish her well”. By an amendment to the Samoa Act in 1957 New Zealand increased the powers of the Executive Council to enable it to function as a Council of Ministers, and added one Samoan and one European member. Samoan membership of the Legislative Assembly was increased to 41 out of a total of 47, and the Fono of Faipule was abolished. The Council of State was withdrawn from the Legislative Assembly in 1958 and the Minister of Economic Development became the first leader of Government business. In January 1959 a Working Committee on Self-government was established to work out a draft constitution. In October of that year full cabinet government was inaugurated, the Hon. Fiame Mata'afa F. M. II becoming Western Samoa's first Prime Minister.

The constitution of the new State was adopted by a Constitutional Convention which met in August 1960. The results of a United Nations plebiscite, which was held in May 1961, revealed that an over whelming majority of the Samoan people had voted in favour of adopting the new constitution and of Western Samoa's becoming a fully independent State. The Sixteenth Trusteeship Council of the United Nations agreed with the wishes of the Samoan people and on 1 January 1962, under the New Zealand Independence of Western Samoa Act of 1961, Western Samoa became a fully independent Polynesian State. On 1 August 1962 a Treaty of Friendship was signed between the Governments of Western Samoa and New Zealand.

by Selwyn Digby Wilson, B.A., Department of Island Territories, Wellington.


Selwyn Digby Wilson, B.A., Department of Island Territories, Wellington.