Samoa, A Hundred Years Ago And Long Before eBook

George Turner (writer)
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 189 pages of information about Samoa, A Hundred Years Ago And Long Before.

CHAPTER XVI.

GOVERNMENT AND LAWS.

A hurried glance, from a European stand-point, has caused many passing visitors to conclude that the Samoans had nothing whatever in the shape of government or laws.  In sailing along the coast of any island of the group, you can hardly discern anything but one uninterrupted mass of bush and vegetation, from the beach to the top of the mountains; but, on landing, and minutely inspecting place after place, you find villages, plantations, roads, and boundary walls, in all directions along the coast.  It is the same with their political aspect.  It is not until you have landed, lived among the people, and for years closely inspected their movements, that you can form a correct opinion of the exact state of affairs.  To any one acquainted with the aborigines of various parts of the world, and especially those of the Papuan groups in Western Polynesia, the simple fact that the Samoans have had but one dialect, and free intercourse with each other all over the group, is proof positive that there must have long existed there some system of government.

A good deal of order was maintained by the union of two things, viz. civil power and superstitious fear.

I. As to the first of these, their government had, and still has, more of the patriarchal and democratic in it, than of the monarchical.  Take a village, containing a population, say, of three to five hundred, and there will probably be found there from ten to twenty titled heads of families, and one of the higher rank called chiefs.  The titles of the heads of families are not hereditary.  The son may succeed to the title which his father had, but it may be given to an uncle, or a cousin, and sometimes the son is passed over, and the title given, by common consent, to a perfect stranger, merely for the sake of drawing him in, to increase the numerical strength of the family.  What I now call a family is a combined group of sons, daughters, uncles, cousins, nephews, nieces, etc., and may number fifty individuals.  They have one large house, as a common rendezvous, and for the reception of visitors, and four or five other houses, all near each other.

The chiefs, on the other hand, are a most select class, whose pedigree is traced most carefully in the traditionary genealogies to the ancient head of some particular clan.  One is chosen to bear the title, but there may be other individuals, who trace their origin to the same stock, call themselves chiefs too, and any of whom may succeed to the title on the death of the one who bears it.  A chief, before he dies, may name some one to succeed him, but the final decision rests with the heads of families as to which of the members of the chief family shall have the title and be regarded as the village chief.  In some cases the greater part of a village is composed of parties who rank as chiefs, but, as a general rule, it consists

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Samoa, A Hundred Years Ago And Long Before from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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