TALES OF TIME: An Arresting Day in Samoan History - 24 February 1928
A traumatic incident in Samoan history occurred on 24 February 1928 when 400 members of the protest movement, the Mau, were arrested on Beach Rd, in Apia, in a round-up by marines from the Royal Navy who had been called in by a panicky New Zealand Administration.
The Mau had been pressuring the administration and its supporters for concessions on a greater degree of self-government by enforcing a boycott by Samoans of Beach Rd stores. The Administrator, General George Richardson, had urged “…force here at once,” in a telegram to NZ. The cruisers ‘HMS Dunedin’ and ‘HMS Diomede’ were despatched to provide armed manpower.
“At 9 a.m. on 24 February,” writes author Michael Field, in his book on the Mau, “landing parties of marines and naval officers headed out from the cruisers to the Customs and Tivoli wharves in a pincer movement to round up the 400 Mau on Beach Rd. Somewhat surprisingly, given Richardson’s panic stricken messages, the Mau were ‘docile’ and made not the slightest attempt to resist arrest.”
The men were corralled into a lane at the eastern end of town which separated the Alcazar Garage and the LMS Mission building, from whose balcony a few of these pictures were taken. A line of lorries and trucks were ordered in to take the men to the Vaimea Prison, a departure for captivity that seems to have been marked by a carnival atmosphere.
The Vaimea jail predictably proved inadequate for the numbers arrested and a temporary camp was set up at Mulinu’u, which also proved impossible to guard effectively. Many men went round the barbed wire and walked through the water at low tide to attend to their personal affairs or kill time in town. Michael Field wrote: “The Mau often went to the movies in the evening in Apia and [Naval Commodore George] Swabey told of one of his officers finding a chief weeping because he had been stopped by the marines from going out to the pictures. ‘A curious people,’ Swabey commented, ‘hard to understand.’”
Two weeks after the Beach Rd round-up a bamboozled NZ Administration threw in the towel. Administrator Richardson remitted all the prison sentences (6 months) and the men were released.