The murder of a chief, a disputed title, or a desire on the part of one, two, or more of the districts, to be considered stronger and of more importance than the rest, were frequent causes of war in Samoa. Hostilities were often prevented by such acts as giving up the culprit, paying a heavy fine, or by bowing down in abject submission, carrying firewood and small stones used in baking a pig, or, perhaps, a few bamboos. The firewood, stones, and leaves, were equivalent to their saying, "Here we are, your pigs, to be cooked if you please; and here are the materials with which to do it." Taking bamboos in the hand was as if they said, "We have come, and here are the knives to cut us up." A piece of split bamboo was, of old, the usual knife in Samoa. If, however, the chiefs of the district were determined to resist, they prepared accordingly. The boundary which separated one district from another was the usual battlefield; hence the villages next to that spot, on either side, were occupied at once by the troops. The women and children, the sick and the aged, were cleared off to some fortified place in the bush, or removed to some other district which was either neutral, or could be depended upon as an ally. Movable property was either buried, or taken off with the women and children. The wives of the chiefs and principal men generally followed their husbands wherever they might be encamped, to be ready to nurse them if sick or wounded. A heroine would even follow close upon the heels of her husband in actual conflict, carrying his club or some other part of his armour.

It was common for chiefs to take with them a present of fine mats when they went to another district to solicit help in war, but there was no standing army or regularly paid soldiers anywhere. When the chiefs decided on war, every man and boy under their jurisdiction old enough to handle a club had to take his place as a soldier, or risk the loss of his lands and property, and banishment from the place.

In each district there was a certain village, or cluster of villages, known as "the advance troops." It was their province to take the lead, and in battle their loss was double the number of that of any other village. Still they boasted of their right to lead, would on no account give it up to others, and talked in the current strain of other parts of the world about the "glory" of dying in battle. In a time of peace the people of these villages had special marks of respect shown to them, such as the largest share of food at public feasts, flattery for their bravery, etc.

While war was going on the chiefs and heads of families united in some central spot, and whatever they decided on, either for attack or defence, the young men endeavoured implicitly to carry out. Their weapons were clubs, spears, and slings. Subsequently, as iron was introduced, they got hatchets, and with these they made their most deadly weapon, viz. a sharp tomahawk, with a handle the length of a walking-stick. After that again they had the civilised additions of swords, pistols, guns, and bayonets. Around the village where the war party assembled they threw a rough stockade, formed by any kind of sticks or trees cut into eight feet lengths, and put close to each other, upright, with their ends buried two feet in the ground. The hostile parties might be each fortified in this way not more than a mile from each other, and now and then venture out to fight in the intervening space, or to take each other by surprise at weak or unguarded points. In their war canoes they had some distinguishing badge of their district hoisted on a pole, a bird it might be, or a dog, or a bunch of leaves. And, for the bush-ranging land forces, they had certain marks on the body by which they knew their own party, and which served as a temporary watchword. One day the distinguishing mark might be blackened cheeks; the next, two strokes on the breast; the next, a white shell suspended from a strip of white cloth round the neck, and so on. Before any formal fight, they had a day of feasting, reviewing, and merriment. In action they never stood up in orderly ranks to rush at each other. According to their notions that would be the height of folly. Their favourite tactics were rather of the surprise and bush-skirmishing order. In some of their fights in recent times I have known of from two to fifty killed on each side in a battle, never more. Prisoners, if men, were generally killed; if women, distributed among the conquerors. In a battle which was fought in 1830 a fire was kindled and many of the prisoners were burned.

Their heroes were the swift of foot, like Achilles or Asahel; men who could dash forward towards a crowd, hurl a spear with deadly precision, and stand for a while tilting off with his club other spears as they approached him within an inch of running him through. They were ambitious also to signalise themselves by the number of heads they could lay before the chiefs. No hero at the Grecian games rejoiced more over his chaplet than did the Samoan glory in the distinction of having cut off a man's head. As he went along with it through the villages on the way to the place where the chiefs were assembled, awaiting the hourly news of the battle, he danced, and capered, and shouted, calling out every now and then the name of the village, and adding, "I am So-and-so, I have got the head of such an one." When he reached the spot where the chiefs were met, he went through a few more evolutions, and then laid down the head before them. This, together with the formal thanks of the chiefs before the multitude for his bravery and successful fighting, was the very height of a young man's ambition. He made some giddy, frolicsome turns on his heel, and was off again to try and get another victim. These heads were piled up in a heap in the malae or public assembly. The head of the most important chief was put on the top, and, as the tale of the battle was told, they would say, "There were so many heads, surmounted by the head of So-and-so," giving the number and the name. After remaining for some hours piled up they were either claimed by their relatives or buried on the spot. A rare illustration of this ambition to get heads occurred about thirty years ago. In an unexpected attack upon a village one morning a young man fell stunned by a blow. Presently he recovered consciousness, felt the weight of some one sitting on his shoulders and covering his neck, and the first sounds he heard was a dispute going on between two as to which of them had the right to cut off his head! He made a desperate effort, jostled the fellow off his back, sprang to his feet, and, with his head all safe in his own possession, soon settled the matter by leaving them both far behind him.

The headless bodies of the slain, scattered about in the bush after a battle, if known, were buried, if unknown, left to the dogs. In some cases the whole body was pulled along in savage triumph and laid before the chiefs. One day, when some of us were in a war-fort endeavouring to mediate for peace, a dead body of one of the enemy was dragged in, preceded by a fellow making all sorts of fiendish gestures, with one of the legs in his teeth cut off by the knee.

Connected with Samoan warfare several other things may be noted, such as consulting the gods, taking a priest to battle to pray for his people and curse the enemy, filling up wells, destroying fruit-trees, going to battle decked off in their most valuable clothing and trinkets, haranguing each other previous to a fight, the very counterpart of Abijah the king of Judah, and even word for word, with the filthy-tongued Rabshakeh.

If the war became general, and involving several districts, they formed themselves into a threefold division of highway, bush, and sea-fighters. The fleet might consist of three hundred men, in thirty or forty canoes. The bushrangers and the fleet were principally dreaded, as there was no calculating where they were, or when they might pounce unawares upon some unguarded settlement. The fleet met apart from the land forces, and concocted their own schemes. They would have it all arranged, for instance, and a dead secret, to be off after dark to attack a particular village belonging to the enemy. At midnight they would land at an uninhabited place some miles from the settlement they intended to attack. They took a circuitous course in the bush, surrounded the village from behind, having previously arranged to let the canoes slip on quietly, and take up their position in the water in front of the village. By break of day they rushed into the houses of the unsuspecting people before they had well woke up, chopped off as many heads as they could, rushed with them to their canoes, and decamped before the young men of the place had time to muster or arm. Often they were scared by the people, who, during war, kept a watch, night and day, at all the principal openings in the reef; but now and then the plot succeeded and there was fearful slaughter. It was in one of these early morning attacks from the fleet that the young man to whom I have referred had such a narrow escape. That morning many were wounded, and the heads of thirteen carried off. One of them was that of a poor old man, who was on his knees at his morning devotions, when off went his head at a blow. In another house that same morning there was a noble instance of maternal heroism, in a woman who allowed herself to be hacked from head to foot, bending over her son to save his life. It is considered cowardly to kill a woman, or they would have despatched her at once. It was the head of her little boy they wanted, but they did not get it. The poor woman was in a dreadful state, but, to the surprise of all, recovered.

It is now close upon a hundred years since the Samoans had their first serious quarrel with Europeans, and which ended in a fight. I refer to the massacre at Tutuila of M. de Langle and others belonging to the expedition under the unfortunate La Perouse in 1787, and which branded the people for well-nigh fifty years as a race of treacherous savages whose shores ought not to be approached. Had the native version of the tale been known, it would have considerably modified the accounts which were published in the voyages of La Perouse. The origin of the quarrel was not with the party who went on shore in the boats. A native who was out at the ship was roughly dealt with, for some real or supposed case of pilfering. He was fired at and mortally wounded, and when taken on shore bleeding and dying, his enraged friends roused all on the spot to seek instant revenge. Hence the deadly attack on the party in the boats at the beach, in which the stones flew like bullets and ended in the death of M. de Langle, his brother officer, and ten of the crew. The natives wound up the bodies of the Frenchmen in native cloth and decently buried them, as they were in the habit of burying their own dead. The only inference which ought to have been drawn from this tragic occurrence was that heathen natives have a keen sense of justice, and that if men will go on the disproportionate principle of a life for a tooth, and shoot a man for a perfect trifle, they must abide by the consequences. It is almost certain to be avenged, and, alas! it is often the case that vengeance falls not on the guilty, but on some unsuspecting visitor who may subsequently follow.