As some of you may have noticed, I've been reading about New Zealand's occupation of Samoa recently, primarily as research into the sedition case of O F Nelson. But Nelson's prosecution and exile is just one part of the story of gross negligence, poor administration, abuse of civil liberties and outright racism which characterised New Zealand's administration of Samoa. Today, December 28th, is the anniversary of the worst incident of that period: the Black Saturday massacre, in which the New Zealand run Samoa Constabulary machine-gunned a procession of unarmed demonstrators, killing eight people and wounding more than fifty. The official New Zealand version of the incident is reflected in the DNZB entry for Arthur Downes, one of the police involved:
The unresolved conflict between the administration and the Mau came to a head on 28 December 1929, 'Black Saturday', when the authorities sought to arrest a wanted man conspicuously marching in a Mau procession along the main beach road in Apia. The small arresting party was fiercely resisted, and a fracas developed. Downes was in charge of an 18-man support party armed with revolvers. Watching from a nearby vantage-point he quickly summoned their help. These reinforcements were insufficient to restore order and, fearful for their lives, the beleaguered policemen resorted to using their weapons, firing shots into the crowd which may have killed five people and wounded several others.
Under a hail of stones, the police retreated to the police station in the adjoining Ifi Ifi Street, near which one of their number was cornered and killed by the following mob. As the Samoans approached the police station along Ifi Ifi Street, machine-gun fire was directed over their heads from the station's north balcony by the senior policeman present, Sergeant R. H. Waterson, causing them to fall back. While Waterson was on another balcony deterring Samoans approaching from the east, Downes and two companions, who were manning the north balcony with rifles, panicked and opened fire on the crowd itself. They would say later that the Mau had been threatening to re-enter Ifi Ifi Street from the beach road.
The coroner's investigation into the deaths - the only formal inquiry conducted by the New Zealand government - later found that the rifle fire had been "unnecessary". Despite this, none of the police were ever prosecuted.
Among the dead was the Mau leader, Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III, who was shot as he stood in the intersection calling for peace. His final words, as he lay dying in hospital, were
My blood has been spilt for Samoa
I am proud to give it
Do not dream of avenging it, as it was spilt in maintaining peace.
If I die, peace must be maintained at any price
The Mau stayed true to its pacifist values, and refrained from taking the Administrator's head in revenge.
In 2002, the New Zealand government finally apologised for the massacre (and for the colonial occupation in general), but it is still not one of New Zealand's better moments.