The murder of a chief, a disputed title, or a desire on the part of one, two, or more of the districts, to be considered stronger and of more importance than the rest, were frequent causes of war in Samoa. Hostilities were often prevented by such acts as giving up the culprit, paying a heavy fine, or by bowing down in abject submission, carrying firewood and small stones used in baking a pig, or, perhaps, a few bamboos. The firewood, stones, and leaves, were equivalent to their saying, “Here we are, your pigs, to be cooked if you please; and here are the materials with which to do it.” Taking bamboos in the hand was as if they said, “We have come, and here are the knives to cut us up.” A piece of split bamboo was, of old, the usual knife in Samoa. If, however, the chiefs of the district were determined to resist, they prepared accordingly. The boundary which separated one district from another was the usual battlefield; hence the villages next to that spot, on either side, were occupied at once by the troops. The women and children, the sick and the aged, were cleared off to some fortified place in the bush, or removed to some other district which was either neutral, or could be depended upon as an ally. Movable property was either buried, or taken off with the women and children. The wives of the chiefs and principal men generally followed their husbands wherever they might be encamped, to be ready to nurse them if sick or wounded. A heroine would even follow close upon the heels of her husband in actual conflict, carrying his club or some other part of his armour.
It was common for chiefs to take with them a present of fine mats when they went to another district to solicit help in war, but there was no standing army or regularly paid soldiers anywhere. When the chiefs decided on war, every man and boy under their jurisdiction old enough to handle a club had to take his place as a soldier, or risk the loss of his lands and property, and banishment from the place.
In each district there was a certain village, or cluster of villages, known as “the advance troops.” It was their province to take the lead, and in battle their loss was double the number of that of any other village. Still they boasted of their right to lead, would on no account give it up to others, and talked in the current strain of other parts of the world about the “glory” of dying in battle. In a time of peace the people of these villages had special marks of respect shown to them, such as the largest share of food at public feasts, flattery for their bravery, etc.