1889 Hurricane - Political Solutions

The time the Brothers came to set up their school again in Samoa, was a time of tense political uncertainty which had been simmering since the 1870’s.

The three super-powers at the time Germany, United States and Great Britain, were each supporting one faction or the other of the Samoans who were at war over who should be the Paramount Chief or King of Samoa - Tamasese, Mata’afa or Malietoa.

Warships of the three powers were anchored in the Apia harbour in readiness for action to support each one’s respective claimant to the paramount title. In order to give an overall picture of the conditions prevailing at the time, it is necessary to know how a solution came about.

ln early March 1889, feeling between the warring factions was tense and war involving the super-powers seemed imminent, till nature intervened. On March 15th, the great hurricane struck Apia with gale force winds and mountainous seas pounding the harbor. No powér wanted to risk leaving Apia harbour for fear that it might put them at a disadvantage.

The only British warship, the “Calliope”, steamed out to sea in the teeth of the gale and it was the only one to escape destruction. Three German ships and three American ships were all wrecked. In all 155 sailors lost their lives, while hundreds of others were saved by courageous Samoans and cared for irrespective of nationality, for feuds and war were forgotten in the crisis.

This disaster brought the whole Samoan question before the world. A meeting of the super-powers took place in Berlin, and it was decided to partition the Samoan Islands. The Treaty, known as The Berlin Decree, decided on giving to Germany, Upolu and Savaii known as Western Samoa; and to the United States, Tutuila and the Manua Islands, known as Eastem Samoa or American Samoa. Great Britain withdrew any claim for she was too busy fighting a war in South Africa.

The German flag was officially raised over Western Samoa on March 1st, 1900, and the Stars & Stripes over American Samoa on April 17th, 1900.


Source: 1988 Marist Centennial Magazine