A Learning Resource-Imperialism in Samoa

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By the end of this topic, students will be able to:

  • define the relevant concepts
  • identify and explain the reasons for Imperialisn in Samoa
  • identify and explain the effects of Imperialism on Samoan society

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This topic introduces students to an important part of Samoan history. However, students who use this should have some knowledge of colonial rule in Samoa, e.g. the year Samoa became a formal colony of Germany and the year Samoa gained its independence. Students at Form Five level will find out and understand:

  1. how and why colonial rule was established in Samoa
  2. the impacts of colonial rule on Samoan society

Significant Years and Events during Colonial Rule

1830 Arrival of John William Marked the establishment of LMS as well as the introduction of Christianity
1835 Arrival of Peter Turner Marked the formal establishment of the WMS in Samoa
1840 Arrival of Father Violette & Father ... Marked the formal establishment of Catholic Mission in Samoa
1857 Establishment of Godefroy und Sohns German plantation company was also merchant, bank, etc
1889 Civil War The three factions involved were each supported by the three superpowers in Samoa
1889 The Berlin Act Superpowers met and decided the fate of Samoa
1899 The Tripartite Treaty It resulted in the partitioning of Samoa into Eastern/ American Samoa under USA, and Western Samoa under the Germans
1900 German Annexation of Samoa Samoa became a German colony
1905 O le Mau-o-Pule established Group of Samoans and part-Europeans joined forces against German rule
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These are the key terms which students should be able to define at the end of the topic.

  1. Imperialism-
  2. Colonialism-
  3. Annexation-
  4. Industrial Revolution-
  5. Direct Rule-
  6. Indirect Rule-
  7. Superpowers-


Imperial rule in Samoa started in the late 19th centruy. The Industrial Revolution in Europe had such a great impact on why and how the areas outside of Europe were taken over. The need for raw materials to facilitate the manufacturing processes in Europe led to the establishment of informal and then later, formal colonial rule. Thus, Samoa was inadvertently taken over as a colony. Imperial rule impacted greatly on Samoan society, that Samoa was never the same afterwards.

The Reasons for Imperialism in Samoa

There were many reasons why Samoa was taken over by Germany and then New Zealand. However, the four main reasons which will be explained include:

economic, strategic, political, and social reasons

Economic Reasons

The superpowers needed for raw materials to facilitate the production of goods. However, most of the raw materials needed could not be found in Europe. So, Europeans started to look overseas for raw materials. Areas made popular for their raw materials included- Malacca (Spice Islands) for their herbs and spices, and China for silk, porcelain and tea. The Pacific Islands offered many raw materials which the Europeans used to facilitate their trade with other societies, such as China. For example, the European traders took sandalwoods and beche-de-mer (sea slugs) from the Pacific and traded these goods for goods from China because they had limited resources to give to the Chinese. Samoa had an abundant of coconuts which eventually were cultivated and harvested to make money for the companies that owned coconut plantations. For example, the German based company, DHPG, owned and operated several plantations in Samoa. Thier interests influenced the decision which resulted in German annexation of Samoa.

Strategic reasons

The superpowers needed to ensure that their borders were protected, hence it led to the establishment of ports, and/ or facilities for military purposes. The issue of security became significant because of increasing competition between imperial rulers. For example American interest in Samoa led to the acquisition of Tutuila because of it natural harbour at Pagopago. It was there that the Americans established their military post. The rest of Samoa was not part of American designs.

Political reasons

The superpowers competed against each other in the race for colonies. Their need to acquire overseas colonies was prompted by the belief that gain prestige, wealth, and power could be gained if they were able to establish overseas empires. For example, the Germans believed that they had to have overseas colonies if they wanted to be just as powerful as the British. Because of this belief, the Germans started what became known as the Scramble for Africa, which literally means the rush for colonies in Africa. In the rush for colonies, Samoa was drawn into Germany's plans because there were already German residents in Samoa.

Social reasons

The religous reasons were quite significant in the push for imperialism throughout the Pacific. For example, the Anglican missionaries in New Zealand played a significant role in translating the Treaty of Waitangi, from English to Maori, which resulted in the annexation of New Zealand by Great Britain. The evengelical work of the Protestant and Catholic missionaries in Samoa also influenced decisions to establish formal rule over Samoa. Samoans were considered civilized people once they had been converted, thus they followed European ways of doing things. For example, imperial rule was made easier because Samoans were able to read and write. They could also understand and follow European instructions/ regulations.

The Effects of Imperialism on Samoan society

There were/ are many effects of imperialism on Samoa. Some can say that imperialism continues to impact on Samoa today. All the changes which were introduced by the Europeans cannot be accounted for, but some obvious changes include:

economic, eg- monetary system replaced the barter system, political, eg- introduction of centralised political/ governing model, and social changes, eg- establishment of formal education, improvement in health services, establishment of Christian churches

Economic effects

Imperialism in Samoa had significant economic impacts. The economic actitivities of people in Samoa before imperialism can be characterized as subsistence. This means that people were only involved in economic activities to sustain families, and usually for the daily needs of people. For example, a farmer in Samoa would only farm for the needs of his family, and not for anything else.

Also, the barter system operated fairly well in Samoa long before the introduction of the monetary system. Under the barter system, a farmer would trade his agricultural produce with a fisherman's catch and the fisherman would receive the farmer's agricultural produce in return for his fish. Money did not exist, and people's needs were fairly basic. However, imperialism resulted in the intrduction of the monnetary system, which eventually replaced the barter system. In a broader sense, commercial-based activities became prominent, and


eg- introduction of centralised political/ governing model, and

social changes

eg- establishment of formal education, improvement in health services, establishment of Christian churches


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The following key questions should guide discussions on the topic- Imperialism in Samoa

  1. Why was Samoa taken over by Germany?
  2. Why was Samoa annexed by New Zealand?
  3. When was formal annexation of Samoa established?
  4. What were some of the social, economic and political impacts of imperialism on Samoa?

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