As the Samoans supposed disease to be occasioned by the wrath of some particular deity, their principal desire, in any difficult case, was not for medicine, but to ascertain the cause of the calamity. The friends of the sick went to the high priest of the village. He was sure to assign some cause; and, whatever that was, they were all anxiety to have it removed, as the means of restoration. If he said they were to give up a canoe to the god, it was given up. If a piece of land was asked, it was passed over at once. Or, if he did not wish anything particular from the party, he would probably tell them to assemble the family, “confess, and throw out.” In this ceremony each member of the family confessed his crimes and any judgments which, in anger, he had invoked on the family or upon the particular member of it then ill; and, as a proof that he revoked all such imprecations, he took a little water in his mouth, and spurted it out towards the person who was sick.
In surgery, they lanced ulcers with a shell or a shark’s tooth, and, in a similar way, bled from the arm. For inflammatory swellings they sometimes tried local bleeding; but shampooing and rubbing with oil were the more common remedies in such cases. Cuts they washed in the sea, and bound up with a leaf. Into wounds in the scalp they blew the smoke of burnt chestnut wood. To take a barbed spear from the arm or leg they cut into the limb from the opposite side and pushed it right through. Amputation they never attempted.
The treatment of the sick was invariably humane, and all that could be expected. They wanted for no kind of food which they might desire, night or day, if it was at all in the power of their friends to procure it. In the event of the disease assuming a dangerous form, messengers were despatched to friends at a distance that they might have an opportunity of being in time to see and say farewell to a departing relative. The greater the rank the greater the stir and muster about the sick of friends from the neighbourhood and from a distance. Every one who went to visit a sick friend supposed to be near death took with him a present of a fine mat, or some other kind of valuable property, as a farewell expression of regard, to aid in paying native doctors or conjurors, and to help also in the cost of pigs, etc., with which to entertain the friends who were assembled. The following story illustrates the ideas and doings of the people at such a time:—
Tuitopetope and Tuioleole were two brother conjurors belonging to Upolu who had been on a visit to Tutuila. On their return they landed at night at Aleipata just as messengers were running from place to place to inform the friends of the dangerous illness of the chief Puepuemai. The two looked into the house, and there they saw a number of gods from the mountain called Fiso sitting in the doorway. They were handing from one to another the soul of the dying chief. It was wrapped up in a leaf, and had been passed by the gods inside the house to those sitting in the doorway. One of them said to Tuitopetope, “You take this,” and handed the soul to him. He took it. The god mistook him in the dark for another of their god party. Then all the gods went off, but Tuitopetope remained in the village and kept the soul of the chief.