July 2013 Volume 10

Fortis from the Land of Your Breadfruit Ancestors – Massacre Bay in American Samoa

Michael O. Walters
Text Size
  • -
  • +
  • reset

As a bunch of us hiked down the steep hill to the bay (see photo), I thought:  “So serene, so beautiful and so peaceful.  This is paradise.  No crocodiles or alligators to chomp on you.  No snakes to inject poisonous venom.  No tigers or lions to jump you.”  Yet, this idyllic paradise in American Samoa was the site of bloodshed. 

Wind the clock back to December 11, 1787.  This is the story as told by James, who recently returned to live in the village with his wife Maria.  These two residents are 100 percent of the population, falling from 200 people in its heyday.   James (see photo) is a Palangi (non-native) who came from Pittsburgh.  His wife Maria is Samoan, a descendant of the people occupying the village in 1787. 

The French Military had landed their ship so they could obtain water and food to restock their on-board provisions.  As was the norm in those days, through curiosity or other reasons Samoans boarded the ship and one Samoan boy was accused by the French of stealing something from the ship.  Well, in those days stealing from a ship was a very serious crime and the French dealt harsh punishment.  The lad died in their custody.  That was bad enough for the Samoans, having to watch the foreigners kill one of their own for a crime that they did not consider worthy of capital punishment, nor did they know if the accusation were correct. 

The Samoans were restless over the situation but it was when the French displayed the body publicly that the restlessness intensified and turned to fury.  Armed men were summoned from this and nearby villages and the French were attacked with clubs and stones, the Samoan weaponry of the day.   The French responded with their guns and the ensuing melee resulted in 26 Samoans and six Frenchmen dead.  To the Samoans, that was massive victory, considering the differences in arms, and the fact that they got the French to flee the area.  The French survivors carried back their own stories to France but it took them another five years to even know what happened to the bodies of their fallen comrades. 

Five years later, the village had a Catholic priest and it took that long for the inhabitants to trust him enough to tell their story and reveal the burial site.  According to James, the French are buried beneath a monument (see photos) which was constructed by the French, in 1883, to commemorate the event.  However, the site of the monument was based on the Samoan’s account, so who knows if they are actually there?

Maria (see photo with me) is a descendant of the villagers of 1787.  James is retired from the US Navy and is well versed in historic naval equipment that the French used during the time.  He acknowledges that the Samoans had no written documents at the time because it was an oral society, but the story he is telling has been passed down from generation to generation.  Maria was born in the village in 1966 and only a remnant of the house she was born in is left.  The house was destroyed by a cyclone (hurricane).  James also showed us remnants of a catholic church which fell into disrepair when the village was abandoned.   It is not the original church at the time of Catholic priest who lived in the village five years after the bloodshed.   

You can read the French version at http://www.tamug.edu/samoa/a_asu/history.htm.  Both sides confirm that there was bloodshed on that fateful December day.

Top of Page