Historic Preservation in American Samoa
John Enright and the Staff of the American Samoa Historic Preservation Office
This book is a collection of columns written originally for weekly publication in the Samoa News. Their audience was the people who read the Samoa News on Monday mornings, probably with a cup of coffee. Wake up and smell the coffee columns.
In The Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck asked, "Without the past, how do we know who we are?" The intent of these columns was to bring that question home to my fellow citizens of Tutuila ma Manu`a.
I am a story teller, not an historian. Histories are comprehensive; this book is anecdotal. My impulse is to humanize the past, to try to feel how the people who lived it felt.
This is a travel book, but the trip is through time not space. The place never changes: Tutuila ma Manu`a, "American Samoa." Much is left out, but what is here I have tried to get right. The facts are important. The facts are what we share, what we agree upon.
But the existence of different versions of the past, of what is important there, is the life sign of a culture. This is just one read of it. You can add to it. The past should be a loud conversation that sounds from outside the fale like a song being practiced--the shared chorus and separate verses.
Tutuila ma Manu`a will flower as long as they tend those roots.
Teu le va.
American Samoa Historic
Anyone who has spent any time in American Samoa recognizes it as a special place, a place quite unlike any other place they have ever been. What is it that makes American Samoa unique?
There is its physical beauty, of course, its jungle-cushioned volcanic peaks and stretches of dramatic coastline. There is its people, secure enough in who they are as a people to be famously hospitable, with pride in their language and culture. There is a sense of two worlds--a quickly moving commercial mainland world and a slower paced world of traditional village and family life--that somehow occupy the same space and time.
But an important part of American Samoa's special character is the scope of events that shaped what it is today, its special history.
In a very real way, place is history, especially for a place that has been occupied by the same people for three millennia. A place where land and the people who husband it often seem inseparable. A place where every piece of land has its own name passed down through generations, and a story that goes with that name. A place where ancestors have been transformed into legends and legendary sites, like Fatumafuti.
While part of American Samoa's rich legacy is preserved in its oral traditions, customs, and written histories, the physical evidence of the past--the hard copy of what transpired here--is all around us. Just as the traditions and customs of the fa`asamoa need to be honored and preserved, so too do the sites, objects, landscapes, and historic districts that nurtured and contained those traditions need to be maintained.
That is the purpose of historic preservation in American Samoa--to sustain the uniqueness and importance of these islands by preserving, rehabilitating, and promoting the essence and evidence of their human history.
That history goes deep here. The historic resources left behind by three thousand years of human occupation are located throughout the islands of the Territory. They also range across time, from ancient historic village sites like Faga on Ta`u and A'a on Tutuila to World War II sites like the naval gun emplacements at Blunts Point and Breakers Point.
Some sites, such as Government House and the Atauloma Girls School, are visible and easily recognized. Other sites containing prehistoric artifacts and other evidence of early human habitation are often buried beneath the ground and can only be located by professional archaeological surveys. All classes of historic resources are vulnerable to damage and destruction by mechanized landclearing and construction projects. Once a site has been destroyed it can never be replaced, and important information about our past is lost forever.
In recognition of the scientific and cultural importance of these tangible links to our islands' past, the American Samoa Historic Preservation Office was established in 1970. The Historic Preservation Office is charged with the duty to protect important historic, archaeological, architectural and cultural resources throughout the Territory. This protection extends to historic resources located on both public and private lands.
In this series of articles we will take a look at the different types of historic resources that can be found in American Samoa and briefly discuss what has been done and can be done to protect them from unnecessary damage.
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The oldest instances of historic resources in American Samoa are archaeological. The dictionary defines archaeology as the scientific study of material remains (as fossil relics, artifacts, and monuments) of past human life and activities. These material remains are usually found in the earth and must be carefully retrieved.
Archaeology is a painstaking science that relies upon the patient accumulation and analysis of vast amounts of detailed information. It is a slow process. In American Samoa we are still in the early stages of gathering and studying this information. But enough pieces of information have been put in place that we can see part way into the past.
The most recent scientific estimate is that the first Samoans settled in these islands about 3,000 years ago. They were superb seafarers and navigators who had previously occupied islands at least as far west as the Admiralty Islands off the north shore of New Guinea (3000 miles away). We know this from studying the pieces of a distinctive type of pottery they brought with them called Lapita pottery,
The archaeological evidence suggests that these pioneers settled in villages mainly along the prehistoric coastline. Our knowledge of these oldest sites is limited because they can only be examined through deep archaeological excavation, but work at such sites as To`aga on Ofu and `Aoa on Tutuila has revealed the objects these first Samoans used in their daily lives--pottery, stone tools, volcanic glass, shell fishhooks and ornaments and tools for their manufacture.
Closer to the surface most of the prehistoric remains date to more recent periods. From the oral tradition we know that this was a more warlike time, and the archaeological evidence bears this out. Defensive fortification sites, often located high on ridges and mountains, are characteristic of this period. These fortifications were used as refuges to which those individuals not directly involved moved and where warriors retreated when necessary.
When not at war in later prehistory Samoans lived in villages; in American Samoa these were mostly in coastal areas. Many of these villages are still occupied today. In some cases evidence of the prehistoric use is still visible on the surface, while in other places the evidence is all below the ground surface.
The late prehistoric sites at Maloata and Fagatele Bay, both on Tutuila, and Faga on Ta`u are village sites from this time period and are considered sufficiently important and extensive to have been nominated for the National Register of Historic Places. The ideal layout of a Samoan village was a central open space (malae) surrounded by meeting houses, chief's houses, other residences, and cook houses.
The final prominent site type from late prehistory are tia seu lupe, called star mounds in English. These mounds were usually constructed of stone and had one or more rays projecting out from the central mound. Often built on ridge lines where the rays would project into the canopy of the surrounding jungle, the tia seu lupe were used for the chiefly sport of pigeon catching. A large star mound on the Tafuna plain has been preserved at the Tia Seu Lupe Park adjacent to the Fatuoaiga compound and is open to the public. Signs at the park describe the sport and its history.
This has been a very quick view of archaeology in American Samoa. One thing we do know is that after 3000 years of human habitation our islands are rich in evidence of prehistoric cultural activity, and caution must be taken whenever earth-disturbing activities are undertaken,
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The best current scientific guess is that after the first Polynesians arrived in Samoa and Tonga from the west about 3000 years ago, they didn't begin to send out human migratory tendrils further eastward for another 1000 years. They had come quickly and far to find this uninhabited paradise, and they stayed for awhile. But after the aiga eventually did spread out to occupy all of Polynesia, they still stayed in touch as best they could through voyaging.
Samoan legends and proverbs are rich with incidents of travel and contact between the native Pacific peoples who had populated the many islands of Polynesia--an area covering more than 15 million square miles of mainly open ocean. This was contact with people much like themselves--on islands they voyaged to and, on their own shores, with castaway fishermen, traders, wanderers or warriors in sailing canoes much like their own. The castaways were taken in, the visiting parties were also dealt with as was dictated by custom.
Then 28 centuries, one hundred ten generations, into their occupation of these islands, a strange breed of humans, in strange ships, sailed by, then touched on their shores, then came to stay and pray and trade in their beach villages. The papalagi--the sky breakers--had arrived.
The first recorded European contact occurred in 1722, when Dutch navigator Jacob Roggeveen sighted several of the islands. He was followed by French explorers Louis-Antoine de Bougainville in 1768 and Jean-Francois La Perouse in 1787.
On the north shore of Tutuila, in the now deserted village of A`asu, is a monument set up by the government of France to memorialize the dozen French sailors from the La Perouse expedition killed there in the initial hostile meeting of continental and Samoan cultures. "Massacre Bay" they called it. The monument is on the National Register of Historic Places. There is no monument to the 39 Samoan warriors who also died in that first cultural clash.
The first European Christian missionary, Englishman John Williams of the London Missionary Society (LMS), arrived in 1832. Williams and his followers had a profound impact on Samoans and their culture.
Other missions lead by the Catholic Church and the Church of Later Day Saints were later established. A white concrete cross on the shoreline in Leone memorializes the arrival of the Catholic Church on Tutuila.
Two of the oldest still standing architectural structures in the Territory--the Fagalele Boys School (started in 1855) and Atauloma Girls School (started in 1899)--were built by the LMS. Both of these impressive examples of missionary architectural zeal have been entered upon the National Register of Historic Places, though both have been allowed to fall into states of neglect and disrepair by their current owner, the Congregational Christian Church of American Samoa. Other Pacific Islanders came to Samoa as missionaries during this period--Society and Cook Islanders working with the LMS, Tongans working with the Methodists.
From the 1850s on a slowly increasing number of European and American traders set up shop on Tutuila, while the Manu`a Islands remained largely untouched by these events.
Historic structures associated with Euro-Americans, both military (to be discussed next week) and otherwise, are usually distinctive in their use of some sort of concrete materials. Samoan villages after contact, however, remained largely unchanged for many decades, while fortifications, quarries, and star mounds ceased to be used.
* * *
John Enright with Stan Sorensen
America's initial interest in Samoa was one of global balance of influence among competing continental colonial powers. By the 1880s the two major European empire building nations of the time--Great Britain and Germany--had already established "claims" on the "Navigator Isles," centered in Upolu.
In that age, the Pacific islands were like outer space to European powers, the farthest edge of their expanding spheres of economic interest. Copra was cash. Sea trade routes, with strategically placed ports, were still the key to international dominance. Samoa, this place at the very edge of their world and at the center of ours, had taken on a new and foreign significance. It had become a strategic location.
In March 1889 warships of the German, English, and American navies faced off against each other in Apia harbor, ready to go to war for possession of these islands over which they had no earthly or heavenly claim.
An act of god, a late March hurricane, destroyed most of the ships where they were anchored or when they tried to escape to the open ocean. The storm caused great destruction and loss of life among both sailors and Samoans, but it stopped the potential war.
Ten years later, in 1899, Germany, Great Britain, and the United States signed an agreement that--without any say from Samoans--partitioned the Samoan islands, with Germany taking control of the western islands in the archipelago and the United States acquiring the eastern islands of Tutuila, Aunu`u, and Manu`a.
That same year a dock and coaling station were constructed by the U.S. Navy in Fagatogo, and Commander Benjamin Tilley, USN, became the first Officer in Charge of the U.S. Naval Station Tutuila.
Commander Tilley was responsible for the construction of Navy Building Number 1, Government House, on Togotogo Ridge in Utulei, as a suitably impressive residence for future Naval Station Commandants. The Navy Department appropriated $15,000 for the purchase of necessary materials. Government House was entered on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, and was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1990.
Other historic buildings completed during this period were Navy Building 21, the Administration Building (now the High Court), and Navy Building 31, the Fita Fita Barracks (now the Public Safety Headquarters). Both of these buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places. Federal funds have been made available for their rehabilitation, and repairs should soon be underway.
Thirteen years later, as America drew closer to involvement in World War I, Congress appropriated $23,491 for improvements at the Naval Station. These funds were used for the construction of a radio station (Navy Building 38, now used by the Territorial Registrar's Office) and a commissary (Navy Building 43, now occupied by the Jean P. Haydon Museum). These buildings are also now on the National Register and along with the Fita Fita Barracks, the High Court, and several other buildings in Fagatogo and Utulei comprise the "U.S. Naval Station Tutuila Historic District."
A photographic exhibit of these and other historic sites on Tutuila is currently on display at the National Park Visitors Center in Pago Plaza.
Next week--World War II.
* * *
John Enright with Stan Sorensen
Being on the farthest edge of the European world, Samoa felt only the distant shock waves of World War I. In August 1914, the armed forces of New Zealand, acting on behalf of Great Britain, seized Western Samoa from Germany without meeting any armed resistance, and German ceased being taught in the schools there. In American Samoa, the U.S. Naval Station Tutuila underwent some wartime expansion.
World War II, however, brought a different scenario for Samoa and a much more major role in the war in the Pacific.
At the beginning of the war, American Samoa was definitely a front line station. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 left the Japanese navy in potential control of the western Pacific. Japanese scouting planes appeared over Tutuila for some time, and on 11 January 1942 shells fired from a Japanese submarine fell in the Pago Pago Bay area. One of the shells struck the house of Frank Shimasaki in Utulei.
During World War II, the U.S. Naval Station Tutuila was the headquarters of the Samoa Defense Group, which included Tonga, the Wallis and Ellice Islands, some of the Cook Islands and French Polynesia. It was the largest of the Pacific defense groups.
The most prominent survivors of this period are the two 6-inch naval guns at Blunts Point and their siblings across the harbor at Breakers Point. All were emplaced in 1941. The lower Blunts Point gun is a National Historic Landmark.
Other historic structures of the World War II era include concrete fortifications, of which many survive. Over fifty small pillboxes ring Tutuila, with larger examples inland. The largest of these structures is a Marine Corps communications bunker in "Happy Valley," above Pago Pago village.
One of the the largest military complexes on World War II Tutuila was the U.S. Navy's Mobile Hospital Number 3 ("MOB 3"), which was located at Mapusaga immediately west of where the American Samoa Community College now stands. MOB 3 was the first hospital of its kind to go overseas and treated many wounded from the campaigns on Guadalcanal and other Solomon Islands. Today, the only remnants of MOB 3 are a few scattered concrete foundations and a reservoir above the Apiolefaga Inn.
Located near the hospital, In Malaeimi Valley, was the Marine Corps' Advanced Jungle Warfare Training Center, which opened in 1942, but closed in 1943, due to the high incidence of filariasis among the trainees. There are several large bunkers in the valley. Malaeimi also housed a communications bunker with supporting barracks. The bunker and foundations to the barracks remain to this day.
Two airfields were built during the war. The Tafuna Air Base was completed in April 1942. It eventually evolved into the Pago Pago International Airport.
A Marine Corps fighter strip, located along the strip of land where Leone High School and Midkiff Elementary School are today located, was completed in 1943. Only two F4F "Wildcat" fighter planes took off from and landed on the strip. It was then decided that the winds there were too dangerous. (Why this was not known prior to construction remains a mystery.)
The islands were not safe until the Battles of the Coral Sea and Midway threw the Japanese back on the defensive. As the war moved north and west, to the Marshall, Mariana, and Philippine Islands, American Samoa became a strategic backwater. Its military population continued to decline.
Our remaining historic properties from this era serve as reminders of the important role that American Samoa played in history's greatest war.
* * *
John Enright with David J. Herdrich
In recent decades, archaeologists and historians have been able to assemble some of the pieces of a story that greatly enhances our understanding of the importance of Tutuila in the centuries before the arrival of the papalagi. This story starts high on the jungled ridge lines of the island, extends down to our shoreline, and stretches out to other far-flung islands in the Pacific. It is the story of the stone quarries of Tutuila.
Metallurgy was not practiced by traditional Pacific island cultures. Until the arrival of metal implements brought by Euro-Americans, Pacific islanders fashioned what nature provided into tools and weapons.
Archaeological research has provided evidence of shell, bone, obsidian, and stone implements, all carefully crafted for specific purposes. Highly prized for the manufacture of stone tools (to`i ma`a) was a hard dense, dark volcanic rock called basalt. A variety of adzes (matau), chisels, and scrapping tools were made from basalt.
Here and there on the ridges, ridge spurs, and steep mountain sides of Tutuila can be found outcrops of a particularly high-grade, fine-grained basalt. Samoan ancestors found, developed, and quarried these outcrops. Thus far we know of ten such basalt quarry sites on Tutuila. The four largest of these quarries are located in the mountains behind the villages of Leone, Faga`itua, and Tula and on a ridge spur in Fagasa.
To the trained eye, these sites tell a story of hundreds of years of continuous use and millions of man hours of arduous toil. The more we learn about these sites, the more a scenario of long-term, intensive industry emerges, And this scenario affords us a rare opportunity to envision the day-to-day activities and lives of people long gone and unable to tell their story in any other way.
From the dense scatter of basalt "flakes," "cores," "blanks," "preforms," and pieces of tools that characterize these sites, and from the stone and earth-work, man-made platforms, foundations, and fortifications that have been excavated in association with the largest site--Tatagamatau in Leone--we can reconstruct an ancient manufacturing industry that also speaks of prehistoric social organization and economic relations. No other such quarries have been found on any other islands in Samoa. These were special, export quality basalt tools.
Tatagamatau. Leone Bay is far below you when you can see it through the jungle canopy. The footing can be treacherous. This is the site of the largest basalt quarry found--50 acres of once intensely occupied land, now mainly bush. Because of its significance, Tatagamatau has been entered upon the National Register of Historic Places.
Here is where it all begins, at a large basalt outcrop, where "blanks" were rock hammered out of a core boulder. Downslope, the way the basalt pieces were discarded at various steps of manufacture allows us to reconstruct the stages needed to make each type of tool.
A sense of the social order of the manufacturers takes shape when we realize that tools were made in an assembly line fashion with different stages of tools completed at different areas in the quarry. And what is the meaning of all those fortifications guarding the quarry? Why such extensive defenses?
Down at Sogi, on the Leone coast, are hundreds of foaga in the black lava flow, hand-worn bowl-shaped depressions, where the basalt adzes went through the final sharpening and polishing step in their production. Why so many? How many people sat here at the high-tide line putting the final touches on the island's major prehistoric export? How many voyaging canoes from different islands pulled at their stone anchors in the bay?
For many of Tutuila's prized adzes did leave the island as trade items. Thanks to recent developments in the elemental analysis of basalt rock, we can trace adzes uncovered on the islands of Manu`a, Western Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, the Solomon Islands and the Cook Islands to Tutuilan quarries. This examination of precontact trade relations has just begun, but already Tutuila has assumed an historic role at the center of a great regional trade in fine stone tools.
The exciting thing about this story from the past is that it is still unfolding before us as we explore it.
* * *
John Enright with David J. Herdrich
It is pleasing when we discover something frivolous about our ancestors, it humanizes them. We usually view history in terms of battles and genealogies, heroics and legendary leaders. We seldom think of what those past people did to lighten their lives, their entertainments, their sports. On Motu o fiafiaga we know they must have been doing something for fun.
As it happens we do know from Samoan oral history, early written European accounts, and archaeological evidence of a Samoan sport of chiefs from the time before missionaries--pigeon catching.
Deep in the steamy rainforest and along the nearly inaccessible volcanic ridgelines of Tutuila ma Manu`a can be found ancient man-made structures called tia seu lupe. Overgrown and forgotten by most contemporary islanders, the sheer number of such structures already discovered and the obvious difficulty of their construction attest that these tia seu lupe were once of some importance in Samoan culture.
Constructed of earth and stone and faced with rock or coral slabs, tia seu lupe are basically level-topped platforms of various sizes and shapes. They can be as large as 30 to 40 meters in diameter and as high as 5 meters. In English they are commonly referred to as "star mounds," because of their distinctive projecting arms or rays. There are usually five to eight such projections.
On Tutuila alone more than 80 star mounds have been discovered.
The English translation of tia seu lupe is "platform for netting lupe."Lupe is the Pacific Pigeon (Ducula pacifica pacifica), a large, fruit-eating forest bird whose succulent flesh has always been prized by Samoans. In the past it was a delicacy reserved for matai and was included as an important gift in ritual exchanges. Once numerous, today they are so reduced in numbers that their is a ban against hunting them. Before the arrival of shotguns, the most common (and far more sustainable) method of hunting the lupe was with decoy pigeons and long-poled nets from atop a tia seu lupe.
The accounts of early European visitors to the islands report a pigeon-catching sport that was performed on such raised earthen platforms. In addition, many Samoan proverbs refer to the activity as a chiefly pastime. The tia seu lupe platforms, however, were probably of greater social significance than just locations for chiefly sport hunting.
From the journal of William B. Churchward, British Consul to Samoa, in 1887: "Pigeon catching is the oldest and most cherished sport in all Samoa, and until lately, partook much more of the nature of a fixed ceremony than a mere amusement. It was made the occasion for feasting and junketing in a high degree, and whilst it lasted all sorts of irregularities could be indulged in without comment."
Presumably because of these accompanying indulgent "irregularities," the first Christian missionaries took an early and virulent dislike to the sport and suppressed it.
One of the more impressive star mounds is the centerpiece of American Samoa's Tiaseulupe Park on the Tafuna plain near the Fatuoaiga Catholic Church compound. This tia is unique because rather than being just a simple platform with rays projecting outward in a circle, it is also composed of two large sections at different elevations. The combined length of the two sections is 34 meters and it rises more than 3 meters above the surrounding rocky terrain,
The Tiaseulupe Park exists thanks to the generosity of the Haleck family, who spared the site from commercial development. It offers interested members of the public easy access to this window on old Samoan pastimes. Leveled paths, informative signs, and a raised viewing platform allow the visitor to study this impressive site with ease. And the adjacent stand of virgin lowland rainforest gives one the feeling of what being there was like when the festival of seu lupe was on and the jungle was alive with birds to be caught.
The fate of other tia seu lupe has not been so kind. Many lowland tia have already been destroyed, and others are threatened. The Historic Preservation Office would like to preserve or study as many as possible of these historic features special to Samoa and asks the public's assistance in saving these sites once dedicated to the Samoan sport of kings.
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Occasionally in these articles we have referred to a building or a site as being a "National Historic Landmark" or as being included on the "National Register of Historic Places." What exactly does that mean?
Basically, these are official designations established by the federal government to recognize significant historic properties.
In this instance, Tutuila ma Manu`a are considered fully part of America, with the assistance of both Federal laws and funding.
The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation's cultural resources worthy of preservation. Authorized under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Register is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect our historic and archaeological resources.
The National Register is administered by the National Park Service under the Secretary of the Interior. Properties listed in the National Register include districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects from all the States and Territories of the U.S. that are significant in American history, architecture, archaeology, engineering, and culture. These resources contribute to an understanding of the historic and cultural foundations of the Nation.
National Register properties are distinguished by having been documented and evaluated according to strict uniform standards. The same Secretary of the Interior's National Register criteria are used by every State and Territory to identify important historic and archaeological properties worthy of preservation and of consideration in making planning and development decisions.
The American Samoa Historic Preservation Office has been nominating local historic sites to the National Register for more than 25 years. There are currently 20 properties in American Samoa entered upon the National Register of Historic Places. Fourteen of those properties are government buildings included in the U.S. Naval Station Tutuila Historic District in the villages of Fagatogo and Utulei. Four additional sites will soon be added, and nominations for another five have been prepared.
Two of our National Register sites--Government House (Mauga o Ali`i) and the World War II Blunts Point Gun Emplacement--have been additionally honored by the Secretary of the Interior with the official designation of National Historic Landmark, recognizing their significance to all Americans.
What does it mean to have a site listed on the National Register aside from the official recognition of its historic and cultural importance?
It means that the property's significance must be taken into consideration in the planning for Federal or federally assisted projects. However, listing in the National Register does not interfere with a private property owner's right to alter, manage, or dispose of the property.
In the States it also means that the property owner is eligible for Federal tax benefits for money spent on the maintenance or rehabilitation of a listed property. However, the ASG tax code does not currently include such benefits.
Perhaps it should. Perhaps even more can be done locally to protect these islands' historic specialness. Why leave the oversight responsibility for our cultural continuance up to the Feds?
History grows as time passes. Each generation has its own story to pass on along with those of the deeper past. By the time our grandchildren are our age we too will be history. What story will we have left for them to read on the land we tended for them?
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Sites in American Samoa currently listed on The National Register of Historic Places:
The U.S. Naval Station Tutuila Historic District includes the following buildings in Fagatogo and Utulei (present uses are indicated in parentheses):
Navy Building 1. Government House (National Historic Landmark)
Navy Building 20. Duplex Officers' Quarters (District Court)
Navy Building 21. Administration Building (High Court)
Navy Building 26. Deuplex Officers' Quarters (Lt. Gov.'s residence)
Navy Building 31. Fitafita Barracks (Dept. of Public Safety)
Navy Building 38. Radio Station (territorial Register's Office)
Navy Building 43 & 24. Commissary (Jean P. Haydon Museum)
Navy Building 45. Bakery (Western Union)
Navy Building 67. (Customhouse)
Navy Building 72. Jail (Archives)
Navy Building 78. Ammunition Magazine (behind Public Safety, used for storage
Navy Building 131C. Old Rainmaker Hotel (South Pacific Mini-Games)
Navy Building 133. Nurses' Quarters (Pago Pago Yacht Club)
Navy Building 140. Enlisted Men's Club. (Triplex apartments, southeast of Public Safety
Parade Grounds (Fagatogo malae)
Blunts Point Naval Gun Site, Gatavai (National Historic Landmark)
Fagalele Boys' School, Sogi
Atauloma Girls' School, Afao
Massacre Bay Historic Site, A`asu
Tatagamatau Fortified Adze Quarry Complex, Leone
A`a Prehistoric Village, Pa Cove
Additional sites that have been nominated for the Register:
Fagatele Bay Archaeological site
AS 31-72, Defensive Wall, Faleniu
Tulauta Histyoric Village, Tula
Maloata Historic Village , Maloata Valley
* * *
Overheard on the ASCC campus:
"I don't know why I'm studying history, man;
that stuff has already happened."
For more than 50 years now Samoa has basked in an era of historic tranquility, the Pacific Pax Americana brought to us by the A-bomb. There have been hurricanes, of course, random acts of god, and the constant tug and jar of petty politics; but for two generations we have been essentially and leisurely at peace.
War is now something somewhere else, on CNN, involving smart bombs and red and green lights on computer control panels, and casualties in places with strange names half the world away. "Stuff that has already happened," and to other people.
It wasn't always so. Once not so long ago, within living memory, the people of Tutuila ma Manu`a blacked out their homes and villages at night for fear of enemy ships and planes and worried over where to go, what to do with the children when the Japanese fleet arrived, as planned in Tokyo, off their shores and the shelling that promised invasion began. People just like us, living where we live, seeing the same sea, walking these same streets.
The following is from a document stamped "Secret" on every page by the U.S. Navy (declassified in 1972):
"The Japanese strike at Pearl Harbor came as a surprise to the people in American Samoa and the entire defense program was speeded up in order for the island to be as well prepared as possible against any attack that might come. Tutuila was one of the few armed garrisons in the South Pacific and would probably act as a base of operations in protecting the vital supply lines which lead to Australia, New Zealand and later New Caledonia, the New Hebrides and Guadacanal.
"Some of the Naval personnel and contractors had their families with them who were immediately evacuated to less dangerous areas. When the Samoans heard that the United States was at war they came in from all the sections of the island armed with bush knives, volunteering to do anything necessary for the defense of Tutuila.
"There was no longer any time to worry about expense or approval in construction. Time became the valuable factor and the race against the Japanese was of prime importance. Priorities on jobs and materials were changed again and again with the main objective of installing all defenses possible against attack. Six-inch guns that had been laying on the docks for weeks were prepared for installation immediately.
"All able bodied Samoans were called in to assist in building defenses. The women and children were encouraged to work on their land so there would be no food shortage. At this time the Commandant was authorized by the Bureau of Yards and Docks to utilize all civilian personnel and equipment for any defense purposes that he desired."
The Second Marine Brigade, consisting of approximately 5600 officers and enlisted men, landed on Tutuila 20 January 1942. That same month the approaches to Pago Pago Harbor were mined.
The Historic Preservation Office is interested in hearing your story about life on Tutuila ma Manu`a during World War II. Call us at 633-2384 or stop by our office in Faga`alu. Your life is your children's history, tend your memories well. Don't let a proud legacy become just stuff that has already happened.
* * *
Dates and numbers are the precision parts of history. Without them the understanding-the-past machine could not move forward. While for many of us the task of remembering the facts and dates may have made History one of our less favorite school experiences, for many historians the facts and dates seem to be the major fascination. Sometimes cold chronology and statistics can help us flesh out our understanding of our foreparents' lives.
Although Tutuila ma Manu`a were saved in the end from the tremendous physical destruction that was the fate of many sister Pacific islands during World War II, the war effort's cumulative impact upon these islands changed them forever.
Before WWII, the American presence was primarily confined to the Naval Station in Fagatogo and Utulei. Although for 40 years the rest of Tutuila ma Manu`a had been offically administered by the U.S. Naval Governor, in fact Samoan custom and governance continued largely unchanged, and the lives of villagers removed from the Naval Station remained essentially apiece with the lives of those in their gafa.
In 1940, as the continental clouds of war began to gather on the horizon, 10,311 people lived on Tutuila, with another 2,597 in Manu`a, and 147 on Swains Island. Of all those, 31 were palagi, 4 Japanese, and 1 Chinese. Additional Naval Station personnel numbered 263.
By May 1942 there were 7,995 U.S. Navy and Marine Corps personnel on Tutuila, with another 5,074 in Upolu and Savai`i. Seemingly overnight the world had totally changed. The island's ageless serenity was blasted into the past as the Naval guns in the batteries at Blunts Point and Breakers Point boomed out practice rounds over the bay, heavy machinery reshaped the landscape, and squadrons of military flights filled the sky where in all previous history only a handful of sea planes had been seen. Tens of thousands of armed strangers passed through.
Marshal law had been declared. All able-bodied Samoan men had been put to work building military installations and defenses. (By June 1943 there were 141 U.S. Navy buildings and structures on Tutuila.) Tutuilans lived in an armed camp. Four "enemy aliens" (3 Japanese and 1 German) were taken into custody, then released but kept "under observation."
As opposed to before, now all of Tutuila felt the impact of the military presence, as all 52 of the widespread coastal pillboxes were manned by Marines quartered in nearby villages and other contingents were stationed in camps all over the island. (A 1945 Western Samoan census would estimate that 1,600 children there were "afamalini", had American military fathers. There is no count for Tutuila.)
But the major long-term historical impact was economic and social. Men were pulled from their plantations to do defense construction work. Cash salaries began to replace subsistence farming and fishing. Capitalism entered the fale of self-sufficiency. Faifeau were now supported with dollars not the substance of life. A new factor--American wealth--was now part of the fa`aSamoa.
In 1941 the Government of American Samoa's total revenues from all sources was $87,330; four years later at the end of World War II those revenues were over $1 million. War had brought not devastation but Westernization. A new die was caste; a new era of struggle for cultural survival had begun.
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Buildings make statements. Public buildings make public statements. Think of the Pentagon, for instance, or any cathedral. Typically, they are proud statements. "I am power." says the Pentagon. "I glorify God." say the cathedrals.
The buildings speak for the people who built them, and the people who built them spoke from a particular place in thought and time. An historic building raises the questions: What was its builder proud of? What does that pride tell us of his thought and time?
Government House was built in a turn-of-the-century architectural style called Tropical Victorian Military Greek Revival. It was built by the U.S. Navy in 1903 for $15,000. It was built by Samoan workers under the supervision of Naval architects and two skilled mainland carpenters. It was built to be the residence of Commandant of the U.S. Naval Station Tutuila (USNST). It is a proud house.
Even by turn-of-the-century mainland standards it was a rather grandiose residence for a Naval Station Commandant (with 10,400 square feet of floor space). Its conceiver, the first Officer in Charge of USNST, Commander Benjamin Tilley, wrote to his superiors in 1902 that if he were to be appointed governor of American Samoa, he should be given the proper establishment, with servants, etc., that should properly go with such a position. That's proud.
Togotogo Ridge in Utulei (already renamed Observatory Point by the Navy) was leveled and graded from eighty-five feet to sixty feet in elevation as a site for the residence. Completed, the building dominated the harbor. While all other buildings stood on low-lying ground near water level, this large, airy, white house stood high above the rest.
Commander Tilley never got to live in the house; his successor Commander E.B. Underwood was its first resident. In the 94 years since, another 31 U.S. Naval governors, 7 civilian appointed governors, and 3 elected governors have occupied the residence. One of them, Commander W. J. Terhune, USN, committed suicide there (see sidebar).
Government House was entered on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1991. The building has required constant maintenance, but it has thus far weathered all the earthquakes and hurricanes thrown at it. Its Naval architects conceived an ingenious method of screwing the foundation into the ground with giant knurled steel shafts. Recently the residence received an extensive interior and exterior face lift and paint job.
Although in recent times Government House was largely hidden from public view by thick tropical vegetation--which has just been cut back--in earlier Naval Station times, to judge by surviving photographs, the views of the house were kept unobscured. After all, part of the symbolic statement the building was meant to express was that this impressive edifice was the seat of governance, or, as a recent letter to the editor put it, "American Samoa has its own White House."
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The Tragedy of Commander Terhune
Commander Warren Jay Terhune, originally of New Jersey, was commissioned as American Samoa's 13th Naval governor on March 18, 1919, and took office on June 19. He was immediately beset by many difficulties involving taxes, prohibitions and restrictions on palagi-Samoan marriages, and demands by an emerging Mau (some reasonable and some not).
His ordeal was worsened by declining health, by his apparently puritanical nature, and by a disloyal executive officer, Lt. Commander C.S. Boucher who sided with the Mau and conspired against him. Governor Terhune sought (and got) Boucher's relief. His replacement, Commander A.O. Kail, proved to be a carbon copy of his predecessor, siding with the Mau and with other dissidents and intriguers.
Hearing of these difficulties, Secretary of the Navy Joesphus Daniels appointed a court of inquiry, headed by Captain Waldo Evans, and ordered it to proceed to Samoa aboard the battleship USS Kansas. While the court was en route, Terhune shot and killed himself on the second floor of Government House, in "a room commanding an unobstructed view to the south through the entrance to the bay." Seven days later, Captain Evans was designated as his successor.
Warren Terhune was the only Governor of American Samoa to die in office. His ghost is rumored to stroll about the grounds of Government House.
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This chapter of our historic preservation story is a painful one to relate. My family and I called Atauloma home for 14 years before it was condemned in 1995, and we were forced to leave. As I wrote in a poem at the time:
Homes are like parents
who linger long after they're gone
filling a space that should
never be empty neither in dreams
nor in memory -- the wind
through her rooms is a voice
that narrates my life but
the stillness has also been mine.
But Atauloma's story is told not just by its final lament but by a chorus of voices stretching back to its inception almost a century ago..
Although the first palagi Christian missionary, John Williams, arrived on Tutuila in 1832, by 1892 the local London Missionary Society (L.M.S.) mission had fallen into a "backward condition." (This account is drawn from the official British history of the L.M.S.) "For some years prior to 1892 there had been no resident L.M.S. missionary on Tutuila.... In 1892 a new start was made when Ebenezer Vicesimus Cooper took up residence on the island.... Progress was slow. During the next decade, the number of communicant members of the Church who were removed from the church roll for immoral practices in most years equalled--and sometimes exceeded--the number of new communicants. Atauloma was one of the influences which contributed to the improvement of this situation."
In other words it helped revive the church which is today known as the CCCAS (Congregational Christian Church of American Samoa), which is the present owner of the condemned building.
Basically, what the Rev. Cooper did was get all his far-flung Samoan pastors and parishioners in Tutuila ma Manu`a engaged in a joint construction project, to build a missionary school for girls at Atauloma, on the edge of the village of Afao, near Leone in the western district of Tutuila. It would seem he put it to them as a competitive challenge, because upon the completion of the school in late 1900 he was able to tell his L.M.S. directors that enough money (1,500 English Pounds, a rather large amount of money for that place and time) had been raised locally by the people to build the structure and he did not have to spend any of the Church funds previously set aside for the purpose.
In 1855 the L.M.S. had established Fagalele Boys' School in Leone, the sole secondary school in Tutuila ma Manu`a, to train future Samoan pastors. But given the established realities of social order in Samoan village life, a pastor's wife was of parallel importance to himself, and the Church realized that it must choose and train fiatua as well as faifeau.
Before the establishment of Atauloma in 1900, girls from Tutuila ma Manu`a chosen for such training (usually daughters of higher chiefs) were sent to Upolu, to Papauta School, near Apia. This was unpopular because the long absences of the young women (often taupou of their aiga) disrupted family ties and functions. Also, their families feared for the girls' safety in Apia--a port then famous throughout the South Pacific for its waterfront wildness--which since the lat 1880s had been torn by international rivalry and sporadic warfare. There was good reason for the matai of Tutuila ma Manu`a to want their prize daughters closer to home.
This new school was modelled upon Papauta, and an English missionary administrator, Elizabeth Moore, came from Upolu to launch the venture. There is something so Anglo missionary correct about having the two schools--one for the boys, one for the girls--facing each other across a mile of choppy ocean, something so shoving-the-discipline-into-your-face about it.
The Historic Preservation Office welcomes your family's stories about Atauloma and other aspects of Samoan history. Call us at 633-2384. Next week, the rest of the Atauloma story.
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To the extent that ghosts represent the past, history is haunted. And indeed unattached spirits are most often associated with places that carry some antiquity. A touch of strangeness helps, some aspect of the place that sets it aside from other places. Ghosts are cross-culturally universal, but they seem to congregate in special places.
Like Atauloma, a most renowned haunted house.
After its completion in 1900, Atauloma assumed its intended role as a secondary school for girls. The young women, primarily the daughters of high chiefs, came not only from Tutuila ma Manu`a but also from Tonga, Tokelau, Fiji, Tuvalu, and other islands. They came to a place unique in these islands, a building that deserved to be proud.
The building is massive, set on a concrete slab 70 by 116 feet laid into the face of a ridge 40 feet above the beach where roughly half an acre of a natural tableland had been cleared and leveled and broadened. The bottom floor cement walls are 20 inches thick. The second floor and peaked-roof attic are a sturdy wood frame construction, with beams of California fir and redwood.
The first floor rooms have fourteen-foot ceilings; the second-floor ceilings are only slightly lower. There are many high windows and double doors leading out to wide verandas that completely surround the building on both floors.
An open interior courtyard is planted with bamboo and is also ringed by verandas. The slender, graceful concrete columns, with arched capitals, that form the periphery of the building, supporting the second-floor veranda and the overhanging roof, give the white-washed school a colonial elegance. It stands alone--a building of impressive size and pleasing algebraic politeness hovering rather incongruously on the jungled ridge.
Atauloma continued to serve as a church girls' school until the early 1960s. Most of the many stories about Atauloma's ghosts have their roots in the girls' school years. In spite of the fact that the traditional Samoan superspook Tuiatua is rumored to still visit the premises on his tour of favorite places, most of the reported apparitional occurrences fall into the category of girlish tricks and revenant curiosity.
These aitua encounters could result in possession and subsequent strange behavior. A common theme in these accounts is that Western medical practice was powerless in its attempts to cure the effects of possession. Only traditional Samoan healers could be successful.
In the bush, a short distance up the ridge behind Atauloma, is an old overgrown cemetery with twenty-some coral slab graves. The graves range in size from those of small children to those of adults. Tradition has it that some of these graves hold the victims of an epidemic, whose quarantine precluded their being returned to their native villages for burial. It is believed that their restless spirits still roam Atauloma.
In 1970, the then vacant building was leased and restored by the Government of American Samoa, who converted its use to apartments for off-island contract workers. But the spirits of the girls remained, and over the years many palagi contract workers learned to believe in ghosts. During the last ten years of its lease, ending in 1995, the government allowed the building to deteriorate, leading to an eventual condemnation as unsafe and unfit for (human) habitation. The CCCAS canceled the lease and took back Atauloma, but perhaps too late.
A rule of thumb for historic buildings is that proper maintenance is eight times less expensive than restoration. The Historic Preservation Office is working with the CCCAS to find ways to save this once regal monument, the site of so many tales. If you would like to help, give us a call at 633-2384. The girls thank you.