German colonisation of Western Sāmoa

Western Sāmoa was formally annexed to Germany in March 1900. Colonialism was orientated towards preserving Sāmoan culture and customs as it was in that moment.

Wilhelm Solf was appointed Governor of the colony and remained so until he was succeeded by Erich Schultz in 1911.

Partnerships, albeit unequal, continued to be created and negotiated. Culture similarly was seen to be capable of revision and codification in ways that worked or made sense with the German colonial order.

The Imperial Flag

Ensign (German Foreign Office State Flag, 1892-1919), 1914-1918, Germany, by J.E.W. Hellgardt. Gift of Dr Alex M Rutherford, 1954. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Te Papa (FE002793)

This flag is a Foreign Office State Flag or Imperial German Flag, used by the authorities of the Reich in the German colonies which did not have their own flag.

This design was in use from 1892 but was only in force in Sāmoa from 1900 after Germany’s formal colonisation of the western islands. It was made by J. E. W. Hellgardt at the Königsberg Sailcloth and Flag Factory, in Königsberg, Prussia.

The manufacturer was often employed to produce flags as well as other fabric equipment and the business continued to operate in World War II. J. E. W. Hellgardt was the official supplier to the Emperor for a time.

War Trophies

This flag one of several examples in Te Papa’s collection which constitute war trophies taken from Sāmoa and brought to New Zealand. This flag was collected by Donald Alexander John Rutherford, the headmaster at Leififi School in Sāmoa from 1919 and who became the Superintendent of Schools there from 1923.

He returned to New Zealand in 1936 and it is thought that this particular flag was on display at a talk held by Rutherford. The flag was later gifted to the Dominion Museum, Te Papa’s predecessor, by his son Dr Alexander Rutherford in 1954.

Scene at Mulinu'u Peninsula, Upolu, hoisting the German Imperial flag, 01 March1900, Upolu, by Thomas Andrew. Te Papa (C.001571)

Defining Culture with a Different Kind of Stamp

Hand-held stamp (German colonial Sāmoa), about 1900, maker unknown. Purchased 2010. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Te Papa (FE012581)

This object’s production sits on the 1900 border of formal German colonisation of Sāmoa. The rubber stamp with wooden handle is made to print the words MALO KAISALIKA, APIA SAMOA. 100 MARK, and depicts the imperial eagle in its centre.

It was used by the colonial government to mark the perceived monetary value of traditional woven mats, resulting from the struggle by German officials to distinguish the different class of mats.

As the object’s description points out: ‘This intervention aimed at turning ambiguous Samoan customs into manageable procedures defined according to the value system of capitalist commerce and trade, while preventing Samoans from mixing monetary and sacred systems of value in ways which were incomprehensible to Germans.’

The stamp reveals the attempts made by the colonial government to control and commodify culture within a German frame of understanding, yet the administration desired to preserve Sāmoan tradition and “authentic” ways of living.

Dissatisfaction with how the German government handled affairs and their increasing attempts to encroach and restrict on Sāmoan titles and authority resulted in the development of the Mau a Pule. Led by Lauaki Namulau‘ulu from 1908, the movement was initially successful, but factionalism caused it to struggle and Lauaki was taken into custody and exiled along with his supporters.

Sāmoans in Germany: Völkerschau

Postcard (Talofa Samoa), 1903, Germany, maker unknown. Te Papa (FE013615)

The postcard promotes a Völkerschau, an ethnic showcase which took different groups of Sāmoans to perform on a tour around Europe. Three shows were organised by the German brothers Fritz and Carl Marquardt. Fritz had settled in Sāmoa as a young man while Carl continued to live in Berlin. From 1895 they arranged several tours of Sāmoan men and women to tour the continent.

This postcard was produced in 1903, likely made for the 1900–01 show which was titled Unsere neuen Landsleute. Ausstellung Samoa, or Our new fellow countrymen: Samoa exhibition. This significant title that equates Sāmoans with countrymen makes up the most striking element of the postcard which also refers to the group as “Unsere neuen Landsleute”.

The postcard depicts Sāmoan women in a dance scene in front of traditional fale alongside the phrase “Talofa Samoa”. It was acquired for Te Papa’s collections in 2019 as part of the co-collecting project Materialising German-Samoan Colonial Legacies. The handwriting on its front reads: “8/9/03 Thank you for your postcard greetings.”.

The Importance of Meaning

The postcard exists in a period where the German colonial administration was navigating where Sāmoans now fit in. As “countrymen” or “compatriots” seems to imply they were perceived to have a similar but not equal status. Racial ideology was not clearly defined but developing and changing.

The Marquardt Brother organised a third show in 1910 but were unable to advertise the tour in the same way as the 1895 and 1900 tours. A ban had been placed on recruiting Sāmoans to be part of ethnic shows from 1901 and a special permit had to be granted by the German Foreign Office in order for the 1910 show to go ahead.

Perspectives of the show varied between the organisers and performers; the matai and those involved often viewed their role through a political and diplomatic lens rather than for purely entertainment purposes. This view could also be at odds with what German spectators took away from the shows.