BY inherited instinct the Samoans are lovers of religious observance. Now none can be found that is not a professed Christian, but long before the light of Christianity reached them, and its teachings found a ready response in their kindly natures, they possessed an elaborate, if variable, system of religion. Their mythology and methods of worship, which have been ably classified by earlier missionaries, differed widely from those of Tahiti and other Pacific groups, notably in that the custom of human sacrifice, practised with extensive and horrible cruelty in many parts of the Pacific, did not exist among the Samoans. They had various legends, creative of their Samoan world and of themselves as mankind, and they worshipped many high war and village gods and many lesser gods of the house-hold. These they considered became in most case incarnate in fish and animals or embodied in plants - to which visible object there was then attached a sacred prohibition against user by me under the care (and control) of the particular god. Over all was Tagaloa of the Skies the Samoan Jove, chief of the gods, creator of the universe, progenitor of other gods and of mankind. The office of priesthood was greatly hereditary and the priests had large powers. They fixed feast days for the gods, received the offerings of the people, and even decided the commencement of war. The people lived in great dread of the wrath of the gods, and the priests of their heathenry were exacting and avaricious.
The first knowledge of Christianity came to Samoa from Tonga, it is believed through Tongan preachers of the Wesleyan Mission there, about the year 1828, but the commencement of all missionary "enterprise” in the Samoan group really dates from August 1830 when John Williams of the London Missionary Society, and Charles Barff of the same, having sailed from Tahiti, landed at Sapapalii on Savaii and were there welcomed by the then Malictoa. This Society requires more than a passing notice, for its operations have profoundly affected the lives of the Samoans and therefore Samoan history. It was formed at London in 1795 by men of several Protestant denominations, under the name of “The Missionary Society,” with a short written constitution which states the sole object of the Society to be “to spread the knowledge of Christ among heathen and other unenlightened nations.” Certainly that object has been achieved, for the field of the Society has been world-wide, and the result of its work the institution in many wild places of peace and civilisation. Its first missionaries went out in 1796, bound for the South Seas, and missions were quickly established at Tahiti, Tonga and the Marquesas. Troubles followed, and the Tongan mission had to be abandoned in 1800. But the Tahitian mission later succeeded, greatly through the conversion of King Pomare in 1812. In 1816 the personnel of the mission was much increased from London and among those who then came to Tahiti were William Ellis, the author of "Polynesian Researches," and the famous John Williams. Williams in 1827 went to Rarotonga in the Cook group, and there he built a vessel of from seventy to eighty tons for island work which he called Messnger of Peace, and which, being built almost entirely of local products, was a remarkable effort of ingenuity. In this vessel, after some cruising largely to test its capabilities, he sailed to Samoa, landing as has been said on Savaii. Here by the willing aid of a Samoan chief named Fauea whom with his wife they had given a passage from Tongatabu a good first impression was made with the natives; the white envoys were treated with attention and respect, and two missions, each of four Tahitian teachers, were established, one with Malietoa the other with his brother Taimalelagi. Williams then left the group, but about two years later he revisited it from the Manu'a end, some two hundred miles from Savaii, and was greatly, if agreeably, astonished to find the natives claiming the new religion and clamouring for a teacher. The extraordinary conversions, on Tutuila, Upolu and Savaii were merely a corollary. Williams, after visiting much of the group sailed away with the principal idol of heathendom stowed in his ship, whence he later presented it to the Society's museum in London. Samoa had found its natural doctrine of love.
Williams again visited the group in 1838, by which time British missionaries were settled and the entire population under instruction. He built a house for his wife, intending to make Samoa his headquarters. To the regret of the English-speaking world, however, he was not permitted to do so. In November 1839, while voyaging towards New Caledonia, he was murdered by natives as he landed on the beach at Erromanga, of the New Hebrides. His remains, and those of the young missionary Harris who was killed at the same time, were later partly recovered and now lie buried beneath the Native Church of the mission at Apia - a fitting monument. His family were long settled in Samoa, his son John C. Williams becoming British Consul there in 1858 and holding the office for many years succeeding.
But the progress of the mission continued. Its people did quiet steady work in civilising the natives and many of them prepared and left valuable records of their observations of early native life. Checks on advancement were mainly due to native wars, which not only placed obstacles in the way of mission work but tended to draw the Samoans back into their old heathen superstitions and savagery. In 1839 the first printing press was erected, at Falelatai. In 1840 came Dr. George Turner whose work in Samoa extended over forty years. In 1884 the institution at Maluq, was founded. No history of Samoa can be complete without a short description of this Institution, which has greatly influenced native life not only of Samoa but of other Pacific groups. The territory of the Institution new consists of about three hundred acres, cultivated by the students who usually number slightly over one hundred, many of them married. There is also a High School for boys. The Institution is practically a college for South Sea Islanders, framed on the lines of a Polynesian village community. From it Samoan Pastors have long been trained, not only far Samoa but for the northward islands as far as New Guninea. Here too not a few natives of other groups have received instruction. There is at Malua also an up-to-date printing press which has turned out excellent work. In 1889 a training high school was started at Leulumoega by the Rev. J. W. Hills, still has charge of it. Numerous other schools and churches of the Mission exist throughout the whole group, including two excellent high schools for native girls.
The London Missionary Society, known to the Samoans as the Tahitian church. claims some 28,000 members throughout the whole group.
There are two other mission, which though possessing much fewer adherents than the London Mission, have yet played a not unimportant part in the civilisation of the group. The Wesleyan Mission (the Methodist Missionary Society of Australasia) today numbers nearly six thousand members, and the Roman Catholic Mission (now controlled by the Société de Marie) slightly more. The Wesleyan Mission, early established in Tonga, and known to the Samoans as the Tongan church, was, as we have seen, the first to gain converts in Samoa. As a mission they commenced work in 1835 and in 1839 they claimed some 13.000 adherents. The withdrawal in that year, however, of the agents of the Society lost its church many members and much local advantage denominationally. In 1857 the was resumed. No record of the work of this mission is complete which fails to make mention of Dr. George Brown, late president of the Methodist Church of Australasia, who was appointed to Samoa in 1860 and spent fourteen years there in mission work, and who ended in 1917 a life of long activity in southern seas.
The Catholic Mission, known to the Samoans as the Church of the Pope, commenced its Work in Samoa about the year 1845, and is today firmly established throughout the whole group. One of its most famous adherents was the great Mataafa. In 1905, the construction of a beautiful cathedral in Apia, which had occupied over twenty years, was finished. The building is a landmark of white purity, and the sweetness of its bells will be remembered by all who have lived in Apia. The mission now controls numerous schools in Apia and elsewhere and an institution for instruction in tropical agriculture at Moamoa, three miles or so inland of the little capital.
Two further missions came later. The Mormon Mission (the Church of Latter-Day Saints) established itself in 1885 and is doing good educative work on Tutuila and Upolu. The Church of Seventh-Day Adventists came to the group in 1890, for a time confining itself to medical work. Owing to sickness among the missioners this had to he given up. In 1908 a fresh start was made, and the mission now possesses a good church and a school, both near Apia.
The foregoing chapter is merely an indication from an historical standpoint of the important and useful work missionaries have done in Samoa. The civilisation of the group was originally directly due to them. "At present,” says John Williams, writing in 1837, “the Samoan islanders have nothing to dispose of but a little cinet, and small quantities of tortoise-shell. In a few years, however, should our labours be successful, they will be taught to prepare hundreds of tons of cocoanut oil, and large quantities of arrow-root. annually; to manufacture sugar; to cultivate their land; and to supply our shipping with provisions. Thus, wherever the Missionary goes, new channels are cut for the streams of commerce; and to me it is most surprising that any individual at all interested in the commercial prosperity of his country can be otherwise than a warm friend to the Missionary cause." The outlook of Williams has been justified. The missionaries were the pioneers in all native matters. In later days their influence with the natives has been enormous. They first reduced the spoken Samoan language to writing, and arranged its syntax they taught the Samoans how to read and write their own language and gave to them a basis of literature in the translated English Bible - the native knowledge of which puts a government official completely to shame. They have preserved and sweetened in very great measure native ways of life and health. Almost the whole of the native education, even today, is received at their hands. Curiously enough their chief opposition and no small disparagement came from white residents. This depreciation has found its way into the minds of too many people outside; such absurd accounts of Samoa as that of a certain noble earl in the 'seventies have done much to increase it. The writer after no little research takes upon himself to say that nearly all this opprobrium has so far as Samoa is concerned been undeserved. It is true that the Samoans contribute large sums for missionary purposes, that many Samoans are sent as missionaries to other islands, that a considerable amount of the Samoan contribution is expended outside the group. But who is the poorer? Not the trader who thereby receives increased supplies of native copra; and not the native who but healthily adds to his not over-charged activity. The white residents of the group long paraded themselves as a species of remarkable daredevils living as a Bohemian handful amid thousands of naked savages, and cheap novels added their contribution to the tale. Nothing could hare been more absurd or further from the truth. From the 'thirties the white residents among the natives of this group were safer and better looked after than most of their calibre in large European cities, and the persons who made it possible for many of them to carry on their businesses of beggar-my-neighbour were undoubtedly those whom they persistently endeavoured to disparage. Happily most of this nonsense has long since passed away.