Pacific Horizons School
THE COMING OF THE PAPALAGI
The Exploration and Settlement of the
Pacific Islands continues
The First People
believe that people settled the Pacific Islands from approximately 600
BC to 1650 AD. During this period the settlers/explorers who were to become
known as Polynesians migrated slowly from South East Asia. Many authors
agree that Samosa a nd Tongans arrived very early with the Maori in New
Zealand shortly afterward. The distant Islands including the Hawaiian
and Marquessas were settled significantly later.
In Samoa, the culture and civilization was more or less well-developed
and stable until about 1200 AD. A small number of aristocratic families
ruled the island nation under the overall rule of the Tui Manu'a.
Although a supreme chief was acknowledged, there was no central government.
Each village was independent. This was to later frustrate the European
visitors. Then, for 400 years, the islands of Savai'i, Upolu, and Tutuila
were part of the Tongan Kingdom. In about 1600, the Samoans defeated the
Tongans and regained control of all of Samoa. But a new type of leader
had emerged. The Maletoa or war chief, had come into a position
of strength because of the wars. There was conflict between the different
rulers in Samoa from then until Samoa was dominated by foreign interests.
At lower levels the political system was run by Matais, or chiefs.
There were two types of matais. The Ali'i was the hereditary
chief and could trace his lineage back to other chiefs. The other was
the Tulefale or talking chief. He was the Ali'i's spokesman
and held power because of his knowledge of the oral tradition and his skills
The social structure in Samoa was an 'open' system. This means
that any member of the society could rise to a position of leadership in
his or her own lifetime. That is, someone born into a low class family
could at some time be accepted into the upper classes. There was a group
of ruling families (the aristocracy), but their was also a very strong
guild system where a person's skill in a trade was recognized. The most
highly regarded trades were house builder, canoe maker, and tattoo artist.
In fact a tattoo, a status symbol was available to anyone who could afford
it, not just the chiefs' families.
The religion in Samoa at this time was polytheistic (a word
from Greek meaning many gods). Each village had its god, and each family.
In fact even individuals had gods called their at which was in some animal
or object. This is similar to the totems of the native Americans. The
god might reside in an animal, a plant or a stone. There was a god named
Nave who was represented by a stone called Maa o Nave or the stone
of Nave. This became Amanave, the name of a village today.
Like the Ancient Greeks, the Samoans believed that their gods
often came to earth and lived as people, marrying ordinary humans and raising
families. They believed a story that the war goddess Nafanua had told
that their supreme god Tagaloa would send someone with light colored skin
to them from the sky. This is why the name papalagi was given to the Europeans.
With their huge ships with billowing white sails, they appeared to have
been sent from Tagaloa, and were named 'sky breakers'.
The First People - Review Questions
Question 5. How could a member of a low class family rise to a
higher class? How could he or she gain status quickly? How might he or
she rise to a position of power?
Question 6. Explain what is meant by a polytheistic religion.
Question 5. Why were the ancient Samoans so ready to believe in
the superiority of the Europeans?
Magellan was the first European
explorer of the Pacific Ocean. Although he was Portuguese, he worked for
Spain. (Remember that Columbus was Italian; he also worked for Spain.)
Magellan wanted to correct the mistake Columbus had made. He wanted to
somehow sail around the vast continent Columbus had discovered and find
the original goal - the Far East. Earlier, Balboa had seen the new ocean
There was also the old legend of the great southern continent.
Since the time of Ptolemy (A.D.150), some men had believed that there
had to be an enormous continent in the south part of the Pacific Ocean.
His legend drove many of the early explorers, who hoped to share in the
riches found in another new land. (Remember that Columbus was supposed
to get 10 percent of all the wealth brought back from the New World!)
Prior to Magellan's expedition (in 1494) Spain and Portugal
had come to an Agreement. In the Treat of Tordesillas, they agreed that
every new discovery of land to the West of a line near the Cape Verde
Islands would belong to Spain. Land to the East would be Portuguese.
That is why Brazil was a Portuguese colony and Mexico and Florida belonged
to Spain. The Portuguese established trading ports and colonies in Africa,
India and China. Magellan was sent west to find the Spice Islands, hoping
to prove that they were in Spains' part of the world.
The expedition was a terrible ordeal. With five small old
ships, Magellan left Spain and sailed
for thirteen months before even coming to the south end of South America!
He sent one ship back to Spain with the news that he had found a passage
to the western sea. Then, in the stormy straits between South America
and Terra del Fuego, Magellan met almost impossible sailing conditions.
It took 37 days of determined sailing to finally enter the new ocean.
By this time the ocean looked so calm in comparison to where he had been
that Magellan called the ocean he had discovered 'Pacific' or calm. He
would find that the name Pacific wasn't always appropriate.
After finally breaking free from the storm-tossed Straits of
Magellan, the expedition sailed North and West on the trade winds. Amazingly,
he traveled all the way to Guam without ever finding an island inhabited
by people. He discovered the Mariannas and claimed them for Spain. Later
he sailed to the Philippine Islands and claimed them too. During his expedition,
he had met native peoples who treated him like a god. As he visited more
islands, he became more and more convinced that he had great powers. As
a result he became more foolish in dealing with the original people. He
was killed in the Philippines because of his foolishness. The remnants
of his expedition returned to Spain and Ferdinand Magellan is credited
with the first circumnavigation of the earth.
The Annual Galleon
1565, a Spanish colony was firmly established in the Philippines. Manila,
the capital, began in 1571. As happened in New Spain (North America),
there was a regular movement of treasure from the colony to Spain. In
the case of the Philippines, this was the Annual Galleon which sailed from
Acapulco early in the new year and sailed on the Northeast "trade
winds" for about 80 days. On the return, the ship left Manila in
early June, sailing as far as the Mariannas on the monsoons. Then it sailed
in a northerly arc, an swung down the California coast on the current.
In this way the trip could be made in about six months. For all this
time the Pacific Ocean was regarded as a "Spanish Lake".
The First Europeans - the Spanish - Review Questions
Question 5. Explain why Brazil was a Portuguese colony and most
of America was Spanish.
Question 6. What is the name of the passage Magellan sailed through
when going around the tip of South America? Explain why.
Question 7. Why were Europeans so eager to explore the Pacific?
The Dutch were late arrivals
into the Pacific. It was only 1581 when the Netherlands finally became
independent of Spain. As it turned out, the Netherlands were getting stronger
and more important in the world at the same time as Spain and Portugal
were becoming weaker. As Their country became stronger, more Dutch merchants
sought trade goods from around the world. The soon became the leading
explorers of the seventeenth century (the 1600s). They explored the islands
where the Portuguese had been in power, and in 1602, formed the Dutch east
India Company. What had been the "Spice Islands" became the
Dutch East Indies. The purpose of the company was to give a monopoly
to the owners of the company. This meant that as far as the Netherlands
was concerned, no one but the Dutch East India Company was to conduct trade
in the areas it (the company) controlled. This was good for the company,
but discouraged other individuals or companies.
The Dutch were very different from the Spanish. The Spanish
set out to deliberately Christianize everyone they met and to set up new
colonies all over the world. The Dutch were interested only in trade and
did not want to change the Pacific Islanders' lives. Most importantly,
the Dutch ships were not full of soldiers.
Shortly after the Dutch East Indies Company was formed, there
was a flurry of activity as the Dutch searched for the huge southern continent,
hoping to profit from the discovery of another New World. Early on, they
decided that the route around the Horn and through the Straits of Magellan
was too risky. They chose the safer route around the Cape of Good Hope
in Africa. They established Dutch ports in Madagascar, Ceylon and India,
and regarded the route their own, and held it as the key to the Pacific.
They explored the coast of New Guinea and the northern and western coasts
of Australia, which they dismissed as being too barren to be of any use.
Then, in 1642, Abel Tasman discovered New Zealand, and thought he had
discovered Tonga and Fiji. On his way home he found Tasmania and added
to the map of Australia, determining that it was not as large as they thought
the great southern continent should be. A few other Dutch explorers ventured
round he Horn to try to trade in the Pacific without interfering with the
Company's monopoly. They found the Islanders generally unreceptive to
the idea of trade. One of them, named le Maire, may have had more trouble
that necessary because he refused to drink kava, thinking it was poisoned.
Since the Dutch were interested only in trade, and not in the people themselves,
they found little of interest to them away from the Spice Islands and restricted
their trade and their travel to that area. The Company would support no
But much later, it was Jacob Roggeveen, again trying to break
the monopoly, who sighted Samoa, possibly the first time by a European,
in 1722. Roggevven saw the islands, did a little trading and left simply
making notes in his logs and on his charts.The First Europeans - the Dutch
- Review Questions
Question 5. What was the difference between the Dutch and the Spanish?
Question 6. Why did the Company stop paying for exploration of
Question 7. The Netherlands is still well known for its chocolate
products and how the people like chocolate. Explain how this may have
started way back in the seventeenth century.
During almost this entire period, Britain was
at war with Spain. Because the Annual Galleon was so regular, (and such
a rich prize), British privateers were drawn into the Pacific Ocean. Privateers
were ships commissioned by Queen Elizabeth to capture Spanish ships, then
sell the ship and cargo. To any other nation, they were pirates. There
are records of galleons being seized by Sir Francis Drake in 1578-80 by
Thomas Cavendish in 1586, and by Commodore Anson in 1745. Most of these
activities were too far north to have any effect on Polynesia. But William
Dampier sailed to the northern coast of Australia, New Guinea and discovered
New Britain. He wrote a book A New Voyage Round the World. Generally
the British were infrequent visitors, and spent most of their time in India
and Africa. But in 1767, Samuel Wallis and Philip Carteret were sent out
in two British Navy ships to find the Southern continent. Carteret's ship
was separated from Wallis in a storm, and each captain thought the other
had been sunk. The expedition carried on in two parts. Wallis called
on Tahiti, and gave good reports. Carteret discovered Pitcairn Island,
New Ireland and visited New Britain. This was the beginning of real interest
by Britain, who sent Captain James Cook on his first scientific voyage
Much of Wallis' report was based upon his own misunderstanding
of the Tahitians. Like other Polynesians, they did not understand private
ownership. If an outsider came to the village in peace, he gave all that
he had with him (canoe, spear, food, clothing) to the village and became
a member of it. When the time came to leave, he took what the village gave
him. When Wallis' ship landed, he was treated as a friend. But when Tahitians
started taking from the ship things like nails which no one was using,
the British sailors called it 'theft', and fights broke out. The British
did not hesitate to use muskets on the Tahitians and cannons on their canoes.
The Tahitians were afraid of the Palagi, but wanted their goods,
especially metal tools. They found ways, especially by using their young
girls, to convince the British that they were friendly and willing to trade.
But the Tahitians never could understand the reason why taking things
made the Palagi angry. They considered the Europeans rude and uncivilized.
Captain James Cook had served several years in the British
Navy after working on the coastal coal trade in Britain. While in British
North America, he established a good reputation as a navigator and a mapmaker
(cartographer). At this time, science was becoming very popular. Sir
Isaac Newton (who discovered gravity), had published two important books
early in the 18th century (the 1700s), and the study of science was growing
quickly. Astronomers had predicted that there was to be a transit of Venus
across the sun in 1769, and the British wanted several widely separated
sites from which to make observations. Scientists hoped that these observations
would help them calculate the sun's distance from the earth. Capt. Cook
was chosen to lead a scientific expedition to Tahiti to let astronomers
make observations from there. .When the transit was finished, Cook acted
on his secret orders and began a systematic exploration of the Pacific.
Although Cook was very junior in the Royal Navy, he carefully
chose the type of ship to be used (a shallow draft vessel designed for
coastal use) and made several innovations. These included changes to the
sailors' diet to prevent scurvy and more humane treatment of the crew:
At first his sea dogs spat it (the sauerkraut) out, claiming it spoilt
the soup. Cook, who knew seamen, simply stopped their kraut for a week,
said nothing, and increased the amounts served in the officers' mess, with
quiet instructions that all there should eat the stuff with obvious gusto,
even if feigned (acted). This "favoritism" toward officers being
duly reported to the seamen by the officers' servants, the idea grew that
perhaps the infernal kraut had something after all, and soon the mariners
were shouting for it.
In three voyages, he circumnavigated New Zealand, determining
that it was made up of two islands, discovered the coast of Australia,
traveled the north Pacific, and discovered the Sandwich Islands (now Hawai'i),
and explored the Pacific coast of America. Many of the British Pacific
possessions were the result of Cook's work. He anchored off Samoan Islands,
but never came ashore, since the Samoans had a reputation of being savages
who would kill the Europeans. On his third expedition, he was killed in
Hawai'i after attacking a chief. He died because he did not understand
the cultural rules and values, and thought that he could deal with the
Hawaiian as he would Britons.
Another interesting part of the British history in the Pacific
is the story of the Bounty. The Bounty was a Royal Navy ship sent under
Capt. Bligh to collect breadfruit trees from Tahiti and take them to Jamaica.
It was hoped that they would grow well enough there to become cheap food
for the slaves. Bligh was a taskmaster, and the crew led by Fletcher Christian,
mutinied. They put Bligh and those members of the crew who did not mutiny
loose in one of the ship's open boats, and returned to Tahiti. After a
short time, the mutineers and their Tahitian wives left Tahiti and settled
Pitcairn Island, where their descendants live today. Bligh's party of
castaways managed to navigate to the Dutch West Indies, then got back to
England, where the mutiny was reported and a search party sent out. Some
of the mutineers were captured and hung in London.
The First Europeans - the British - Review Questions
Question 5. Why were the Spanish galleons a likely target for the
Question 6. Explain why the two ships of the Wallis expedition
thought the other ship had sunk. Why didn't they get together again?
Question 7. Why would Capt. Cook have had secret orders?
The Missionaries -Part I
the missionaries were among the first Europeans to actually move onto the
southern islands of the Pacific. While the earlier explorers had stopped
to trade, they did not intend to stay. The few whites who were there before
the missionaries were 'beachcombers' who had mutinied or deserted (that
is, run away from their ships), had been shipwrecked, or were escaped prisoners
(from Sidney, Australia). Until the missions took an interest, the British
and Dutch ships which called on such places as Tahiti were interested only
in trading with the islanders, not in actually living on the islands.
The missionaries then, were the real beginning of white settlement.
Why did the missionaries come? Just as the last half of the
eighteenth century (the 1700s) had been well known for advancements in
Science, [a period called the Enlightenment] the beginning of the Nineteenth
Century (the 1800s) was to be known as a period of religious revival [the
Second Great Awakening - the first was in the 1730s and 1740s]. During
the years dedicated to science, anyone and everyone who had money either
set up their own laboratory or project or sponsored someone else. Science
was in fashion, and the writers and philosophers were saying that man was
capable of anything now that such high technology advancements had been
made. At the opposite pole were other famous people such as Jean Jacques
Rousseau in France and Daniel Defoe in England. They said that 'civilization'
had ruined people, and that the real values were to be found in a more
primitive life. This is well illustrated in Defoe's novel Robinson
Crusoe in which the hero, a 'civilized' gentleman, improves his life
by being forced to live by his own wits and labor.
This philosophy grew into what became known as the 'Cult of
the Noble Savage'. As reports from Tahiti by such people as Wallis came
back, Europe came to know of the blissful life of the South Sea Islanders.
at peace with the world and in harmony with nature. Such stories had special
appeal for upper-class Europeans of the eighteenth century. Theirs was
an age of powdered wigs and frills, elegance and courtly manners. As they
were accustomed to city life and to the rigidity of a social scale, they
yearned for the freedom that seemed to be enjoyed only by primitive people.
The Polynesians were envied above all. Those who studied such wild cultures
became members of a cult in which the native was not looked upon as a simple
primitive, but as a "noble savage."
This was carried so far that painters showed Captain Cook being greeted
by men and women dressed in the flowing costumes of the ancient Romans
or Greeks. Only a little later, it was this attitude which drew Robert
Louis Stevenson to Apia and Paul Gauguin, a famous artist, to Tahiti.
In this way, the missionaries were both pulled and pushed to the South
Pacific missions. The Second Great Awakening produced a great feeling
of evangelism in Protestant churches such as the Calvinists and the Methodists.
Young people felt pushed to convert more people to their religion, bringing
them to salvation. They were also pulled by the myth of the Noble savage,
and the innocent purity the natives of the South Seas offered.
Most of the early evangelical missionaries conformed to a fairly uniform
and almost predictable pattern of experience (at least before they left
their homelands). A typical missionary was quite young, often in his early
twenties, and came from the 'lower middle and mechanic ' classes. Often
he was a carpenter or had similar mechanic skills. Usually he came from
the city, although a large proportion of Wesleyans came from the country.
. . . In his teens he was usually involved in church activities, such as
teaching Sunday school and doing charitable work. Somewhere in his late
teens or early twenties he experienced a Calvinistic conversion ... First
came a sudden realization that no matter what good works he had been doing,
he was still a sinner. This was a stage where he made much of his sins
- which probably never amounted to very much - but it was necessary to
highlight sinning because only by being sinful could one experience salvation.
... he (now) felt that God called upon him to save others.
He was called not only to 'save the heathen' but in many cases was
consciously or unconsciously motivated by the desire to improve his own
position. He could improve his social position and perhaps even make money.
The young missionaries felt so divinely inspired that the could not
possibly fail. They were working for God. So now the stage is set. The
Polynesians believe that their god will send them new leaders. The Missionaries
believe that they have been sent by God to lead the heathen Polynesians
The Missionaries -Part I
Question 5. What were 'beachcombers'?
Question 6. Explain the 'Cult of the Noble Savage'
Question 7. Why were only men allowed to be missionaries?
The Missionaries -Part II
missionaries brought much more to Samoa than Christianity. They brought
technology, trade, disease, and different cultural values.
Because the missionaries were also tradesmen (or 'mechanics'
as they were called then), they brought their tools and skills and expected
to work at their trade. The tools they used and the products they made
were what they knew. They built houses that looked like British or American
houses and churches to match. What they could not make they imported from
'the old country'. They worked, of course, with metal tools and machinery,
things which were new to the islanders.
The missionaries were willing to go into an unknown world to spread
the word of God, but they were unwilling to give up their lifestyle. In
fact the few who did were said to have 'gone native', and were dismissed
from their churches. So the missionaries kept their heavy clothes, and
imported building materials, books, household goods, and furniture to make
life among the 'heathens' more bearable.
In Europe and in North America, there had regularly been plagues and
epidemics. The whites living in that part of the world had developed a
resistance or an immunity to some or all of these 'common childhood diseases'
such as measles, mumps and chickenpox. Vaccination for smallpox was becoming
common. The Pacific Islanders however, had not been exposed to these germs,
and easily caught the white man's diseases, and got sick. Many of them
died. In Hawai'i, these diseases nearly wiped out the original population.
When John Williams arrived in his ship, the Messenger of Peace,
an epidemic of influenza broke out and killed several people. In some
cases, the chiefs blamed the diseases on the white man's mana and
The missionaries could not separate their religion from the other parts
of their culture. To them, the way they lived in America or in England
was the way Christians lived. To them, Christians lived in small houses
broken up inside into small rooms, with solid walls, glass windows and
locked doors. Christians went to church in an enclosed building, sitting
on benches in rows. They wore many layers of dark colored clothing (especially
the women), and thought that it was unhealthy to bath too often. Modesty
was a virtue, and to be seen naked was a sin. Night air and 'night damp'
was a cause of disease. A good Christian worked hard for a salary, and
through his own effort and with God's help could get rich. They went to
church and bible school and didn't dance (especially after dark). All
these customs were, of course, not part of fa'a Samoa. Many of
there customs were directly opposed to the custom of living in harmony
with nature and respecting it. But the Bible of the Palagis told
All wild animals and birds and fish will be afraid of you ... for I
have placed them in your power, and they are yours to use for food, in
addition to grain and vegetables. ... Man-killing animals must die ...
So as the missionaries preached, they preached not only of their God
and of Christ, but of their own lifestyle. Some missionaries told the
people that if they became Christians, they would become rich and powerful.
This may have been a simple mistake by the islanders who didn't understand
that the preacher meant rich and powerful in spirit, but when the
missionaries found more people coming to their church, they didn't try
to correct the mistake. In the process of turning the Samoans into Christians,
the missionaries tried to turn them into copies of themselves.
To teach them to read the Bible, the missionaries had to invent a written
language, translate the Bible into it, then teach reading. They taught
that good Christians wear clothing. Cloth and clothing could be imported
from the Palagi homeland, but it cost money. The missionaries
taught the Samoans to trade for money, and then to work for money, since
after all, working for money was a Christian thing to do.
In time the missionaries had the Samoans so busy working that the funds
to support the church could come from the people instead of the mission
societies. In order to get the Samoans to contribute more, they announced
who had given how much money to the church. This practice continues to
this day in some churches.
Because they believed that their own religion was the only
true one, the missionaries were zealous and competitive. But they couldn't
afford to compete with one another and decided to 'split up' the Pacific
between them. The Americans got the North Pacific, the Methodists got
Tonga, the London Missionary Society (LMS) got Samoa and Tahiti, etc.
The only common goal was to prevent the Roman Catholics from getting a
foothold on the islands.
The first recorded missionary in Samoa was John Williams. Sponsored
by the LMS, he arrived from Tahiti in 1630 with a Samoan Christian. By
1850, he had moved on to another island where he was killed by the islanders
because disease broke out on his arrival.
The Missionaries -Part II Review Questions
Question 5. What things did the Samoans do that the missionaries
would consider sinful?
Question 6. What things did the missionaries do that
were wrong according to fa'a Samoa?
Beaglehole, John Cawter. The Exploration of the Pacific
Stanford, CA Stanford University Press; 1966
Crawford, David and Leona. Missionary Adventures in the South Seas
Tokyo Charles E. Little; 1967
Day, A. Grove They Peopled the Pacific New York Duell, Sloan,
and Pierce; 1964
Day, A. Grove Pirates of the Pacific New York Meridith Press;
Goldman, Irving Ancient Polynesian Society Chicago University
of Chicago Press; 1968
Graton, Charles Harvey The Southwest Pacific to 1900 Ann Arbor
University of Michigan Press; 1963
Gray, J.A.C. Amerika Samoa and its Naval Administration Annapolis,
United States Naval Institute 1960
Howe, K. R. , Where the Waves Fall: A new South Sea Island history
from first settlement to colonial rule. (Honolulu: University of Hawaii
Press, 1984), 115-116.
Turner, George Samoa, a hundred years ago and long before
Papakura, N.Z. R.McMillan; 1983 (Reprint of 1884 ed)
Villiers, Allan "The Man Who Mapped the Pacific," National
Geographic, September 1971.
Warner, Oliver Captain Cook and the South Pacific New York
American Heritage; 1963