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  • Tautai: Sāmoa, World History, and the Life of Ta'isi O. F. Nelson by Patricia O'Brien
  • Brian Alofaituli
Tautai: Sāmoa, World History, and the Life of Ta'isi O. F. Nelson, by Patricia O'Brien. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2017. isbn 978-0-8248-6653-2, xxviii + 399 pages, epilogue, notes, bibliography, index. Cloth, us$72.00.

Samoan nationalism is put on display with Patricia O'Brien's latest book, Tautai: Sāmoa, World History, and the Life of Ta'isi. The historiography of Western Sāmoa, as the first Pacific Island nation to gain independence in 1962 from a colonial power, has been dominated by the events that led to the historic Mau movement, which helped galvanize the Samoan people's vision for self-determination in the 1920s and 1930s. The term mau is defined as "opinion," and more specifically, the opinion of the Samoan people. This captivating read is centered on the life of Mau leader Ta'isi O F Nelson and his dedication to Sāmoa's cause during a tumultuous period in Samoan history. O'Brien describes the Mau leader as a tautai, a navigator who helped Sāmoa traverse "immense and troubled waters" during Sāmoa's push for independence (306).

What O'Brien has given us is a detailed and intriguing narrative of Sāmoa during the Mau movement against the New Zealand colonial administration. The reader is immersed in Sāmoa's political and colonial history and the commitment of Ta'isi to further Sāmoa's cause at the international level. Naturally, during the colonial era, New Zealand leadership represented Ta'isi in a negative light as an exploiter of his own people and a power-mad capitalist. O'Brien addresses these characterizations and challenges how the body of work based on Ta'isi "has given us an incomplete picture" of one of Sāmoa's most revered and respected leaders (xxvii). Not only does Tautai enlighten readers about the Mau movement and Samoan efforts toward self-determination, but this book also chronicles the evolution of Ta'isi's patriotism, and, for the first time, provides an intimate look into his private world as a father and husband. Family members helped to flesh out "paper sources," including "previously untapped letters and documents and other archival data" (xxviii), allowing O'Brien to reexamine how Ta'isi became a central figure in Samoan history.

At the start of the First World War in 1914, the western Samoan islands transitioned from German to New Zealand colonial occupation. Resistance against colonial rule in Sāmoa also took place against Germany under the leadership of Samoan orator Lauaki Namulau'ulu Mamoe from 1908 to 1909. Lauaki's Mau a Pule resistance movement received support mainly from the island of Savai'i. Later, however, it grew into the national Mau movement, ultimately supported by thousands (165). The Mau had multiple complaints against the New Zealand administrators, but a few principal reasons behind the movement were the lack of representation of native Samoans in leadership positions, the authority of the administrators to banish or deport Samoans and Europeans without a proper trial, and the denial of rights of Samoans to properly put forward their complaints before the New Zealand Parliament or the League of Nations. Ta'isi also challenged any notion of Samoan racial [End Page 560] and cultural inferiority. As a result, the Mau practiced civil disobedience by refusing to pay taxes, participating in peaceful marches, and preparing signed petitions. In addition, the Mau sponsored newspapers in both Sāmoa and New Zealand to help promote the Samoan cause.

In this book, Ta'isi is portrayed as a global man and a refined individual with merging identities and deep connections as a matai (chief), 'afakasi (person of European-Samoan ancestry), businessman, staunch Methodist, national leader, and father. The Mau leader's affiliation with other political figures and his travels throughout the world connected him to an international exchange of opinions and philosophies that spanned seven countries: Sāmoa, New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Sweden, and Switzerland (xxviii). The Samoan Guardian Mau newspaper tracked the fate of other...


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