10 Mar Stories of Samoan Women and Marines during wartime – “This is our history. All of us. It’s part of who we are.”
Samoan women had a wide range of wartime experiences during the Second World War and their stories are being researched and explored by Saui’a Louise Mataia Milo in her doctorate thesis, ‘O Keige Samoa ma a lakou kamai maligi’ Reconstructing Samoan women’s wartime lives.’ For some, these experiences included consensual sexual encounters, and rape.
Saui’a gave highlights of her research today at a seminar presentation hosted by the Social Sciences department at the National University of Samoa. The research is part of her thesis through Victoria University in New Zealand.
Saui’a explained that the stories of Samoan women during the wartime period were not recorded anywhere and so her goal was to explore various aspects such as their wartime roles, popular culture and sexual encounters – as a way to “allow more historical visibility of [their] wartime agency during a disruptive episode of their lives”.
The title phrase for the presentation came from an interview Saui’a conducted with a 95 year old woman, who, like many others in Samoa, spoke “with whispers and great sarcasm” about the children that were the offspring of Samoan women and Marines. Saui’a said hearing of the stigma and shame often associated with “kamai maligi”, – “it created a fire in me. This is our history. All of us. It’s a part of who we are.”
‘”O Keige Samoa ma a lakou kamai maligi – women and their little marines’, is the specific feature of Samoan women’s lives that is emphasised in Samoan memories of the Second World War.”
Saui’a extensively interviewed 32 people for her research – 28 women and 4 men – born between 1905 and 1932. The youngest participant in the survey was 82 at the time of meeting, and the eldest was 109. This gave Saui’a’s study an interesting range of perspectives on the wartime period because some were children aged 10 when the war started, and others were about 32 years old.
Saui’a included the American Samoa islands in her study.
Some key highlights from her presentation:
Saui’a spoke of the war as being ” a profound moment of rupture and social transformation”. While we did not see war battles take place here, Samoa (and the Cook Islands) were forwarding bases for U.S solders and so it was a strategic space. Saui’a explained, “Samoa was used to send troops through to Guadalcanal and also they brought troops back out here for their furlough.”
A few interviewees spoke of the Japanese bombing of Pago Pago Harbour, 10 January 1942.
There were many different responses to the military presence in Samoa.
Saui’a recounted how one interviewee from the village of Solosolo had memories of the marines as being visitors to fear. Solosolo were staunch supporters of the Mau movement and they were accustomed to being ‘raided’ by the colonial power.
With the coming of the Marines, a curfew was introduced – especially for those of mixed German descent.
For many Samoan women, it was common practise to wear no covering on the top half of their body, especially when going swimming, bathing or to do laundry. Saui’a spoke of some of the soldiers disturbing responses to this.
Due to wartime security measures, people were not allowed to own cameras. According to Saui’a’s research, “the Americans raided homes, taking people’s cameras. Samoans weren’t allowed to take photos, but the Marines were taking photos of our people. Especially our women.”
As time went on, Saui’a said that the military officers began telling Samoan women they needed to ‘cover up’, because they were a ‘distraction to the marines’.
Different women interacted in different ways with the Marines.
There were also the ‘Good time girls’. Those who, as described in Saui’a’s study, ‘had fun with the marines and went with them, but didn’t get pregnant.’
There were songs composed and sung about different wartime experiences.
There was strong emotion when Saui’a told of interviewing an elderly woman in her 90’s, who shared her story of being raped by a marine.
Saui’a commented that when discussing Samoan women and their children who had been fathered by wartime Marines, the question needed to be asked, “Were those sexual encounters consensual? How many? Coerced? How many?”
She stated, “Drawing on recent oral history interviews of Samoan women who experienced the war, and archival material, this discussion brings to light the complexities of human experiences in wartime Samoa, and thus challenge the present archetype legacy of Samoan women’s wartime history that we inherited.”
Saui’a Louise Mataia Milo is a lecturer in the Social Studies Dept at NUS. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Science and a Post-grad Diploma in Education from the University of Waikato, a Post-grad Diploma in Arts and a Master’s Degree from Otago University. Saui’a is a PhD candidate and will soon be presenting and defending her thesis in New Zealand.