Conflict over Samoa

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The conflict over Samoa occurred around 1889 between the great powers Germany , Great Britain and the United States . Samoa was an important base on the sea route to China and was claimed by all three. At the Berlin Samoa Conference, these colonial powers were able to temporarily agree on a tri- condominium .


Map of the Samoa Islands with the capital Apia, around 1890

In 1830 the English missionaries John Williams (1796–1839) and Charles Barff (1791–1866) from the London Mission Society at Sapapalii on the island of Savai'i, together with Tahitian Christians, founded a mission station. The conversion of Chief Malietoa Vainupo on the island of Upolu turned out to be very beneficial for the missionary endeavors that followed.

American, British and German consulates were opened in the island kingdom of Samoa between 1839 and 1861. In the trade with Samoa, the Hamburg trading house and shipping company JC Godeffroy & Son of Johan Cesar Godeffroy (1813–1885), nicknamed the "South Sea King", was in the lead . However, the three great powers ( Three Powers ) tried , each for itself, to achieve the greatest possible position of power on the island.

The first German coconut plantations existed on the freshwater and fertile Pacific island from 1865. The great powers imported Melanesian workers for their cultivation. The first Chinese contract workers were not recruited until the German colony of Samoa was founded in 1902.

In 1878/79 the USA, Germany and Great Britain had concluded trade agreements with Samoa and tried a few years later to help their preferred candidate Malietoa Talavou to the royal crown. Various tribal chiefs fought for control of the archipelago for decades. Meanwhile, the USA received the port of Pago Pago on Tutuila , an island in Eastern Samoa, and the German Empire received the important port of Apia on Upolu in Western Samoa.

In 1884 German marines occupied the city of Apia and a treaty was signed between Germany and the Malietoa, which should secure the German Empire even greater influence over Samoa. A year later, a diplomatic conflict developed with Great Britain after Germans around the Special Commissioner for Samoa, Gustav Travers , with the support of the gunboat SMS Albatross, hoisted the German imperial flag on the neutral municipal area in front of Apia.

Samoa files

As early as July 26, 1887, a Samoa conference between the German Empire, Great Britain and the United States in Washington, DC had failed because the other powers refused to recognize a German mandate over Samoa. In 1889 the tensions between the inner power groups and their imperial protective powers in the so-called "Samoa War", triggered by the German consul Wilhelm Knappe , came to an end.

After a cyclone off Apia from March 13 to 17, 1889 destroyed the warships of Germany and the USA anchored in the bay off the Samoa Islands, the long power struggles of 1889 were brought about by the Samoa Acts in the Berlin Samoa Conference initially enclosed. A formally independent Kingdom of Samoa was created under the joint administration of the Three Powers . The Berlin conference was the first in which the traditional diplomatic language of French was not used, but instead, based on a suggestion by Otto von Bismarck, English was agreed as the language of negotiations .

The installation of Malietoa as king took place with the support of the Bismarck under the command of Korvettenkapitän Karl August Deinhard .

In 1887–1889 and 1893/94 there were civil war-like conflicts on the islands.


Historical map (1920): "Overview of the German possessions in the Pacific"

With the death of King Malietoa Laupepa (the first and only king of Samoa) in 1898, the conflict over Samoa flared up again. Again there were more than two aspirants to the throne and there was another battle and confrontation between the three “protecting powers”. As opponents of the Germans, the Anglo-American powers jointly supported the son of the recently deceased. The Germans brought his rivals from exile in the Marshall Islands and installed him as “their” King Mataafa in Samoa. British and American ships shelled the capital Apia in March 1899 as it became clear that Mataafa would prevail as his successor.

In 1899 an agreement was finally reached on the abolition of the monarchy and the division of the archipelago between Germany and America. Britain waived all rights to Samoa in the Samoa Treaty , but was compensated by other Pacific islands such as Tonga and parts of the Solomon Islands .

In 1900 the islands east of the 171st degree became American (still today: American Samoa ). Western Samoa (mainly the islands of Savaiʻi and Upolu ) became a colony of German Samoa (later Western Samoa ).

On August 29, 1914, British, French and New Zealand naval troops occupied German Samoa.

After the First World War , New Zealand received the former German West Samoa as a League of Nations mandate in 1920 .

Western Samoa became sovereign in 1962 as one of the first archipelagos in Oceania .

The German colonial era is glorified in parts in Samoa. This is due, among other things, to the clumsiness of the subsequent New Zealanders in exercising the League of Nations mandate.


  • Robert Louis Stevenson : A Footnote to History. Eight Years of Trouble in Samoa. Cassell & Co., London et al. 1892 (In German: A footnote on history. Eight years of unrest in Samoa. Translated from English by Wolfgang Schlueter. Achilla-Presse, Hamburg et al. 2001, ISBN 3-928398-76-8 ).
  • Steffen Raßloff : Wilhelm Knappe (1855-1910). Statesman and ethnologist in the focus of German world politics. Glaux-Verlag, Jena 2005, ISBN 3-931743-86-1 .

References and comments

  1. It was the gunboats Olga of the Carola class , Eber and Adler
  2. ^ USS Trenton , USS Vandalia and USS Nipsic ; the only British warship, HMS Calliope , was able to escape from the harbor bay due to its powerful engine. Several civil merchant ships were also lost.

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