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Possession Dispute of the Islet of Fonualoa

Fakaofa : report on disputed land claims of José Pereira

WPHC 4/IV 191/1892. Great Britain. High Commission for Western Pacific Islands.
Western Pacific archives. 1877-1978. MSS & Archives 2003/1, Special Collections,
The University of Auckland Libraries and Lending Services.


J B Cusack Smith
Samoa No15

Fakaofa : report on disputed land claims of José Pereira

September 9th 1892

 Your Excellency

I have the honour to report that during my visit to Fakaofo the old dispute as to the possession of the Islet of Fonualoa was brought before me, and I made a thorough enquiry into all the evidence. 

José Pereira was present. In this case Antonio Pereira, the father of José, while in Samoa in 1874 bought from two natives of Fakaofo named Siva and Po, what were described in the deed as Two islands in Tokelau Group called Nukumatau and Fonualoa. 

I had documentary proof that the King and Chiefs of Fakaofo formally and emphatically protested against this sale in 1875, 1878, 1886 and 1889. 

It was proved to my satisfaction and admitted by José Pereira, that Antonio and José Pereira knew of the Custom by which each family had its separate allotment in Fonualoa, no single native being able to sell more than the family allotment at most. 

It was also proved that José Pereira had been in possession of a shot gun which had frightened the natives and enabled him in spits of protests to attain and retain possession of Fonualoa – Of Nukumatau, a tiny islet which is the property of the King and Chiefs, he never really obtained possession and for sixteen years had not attempted to exercise ownership. 

Both Siva and Po are dead but their families have still the right to allotments on Fonualoa supposing Pereira’s claim to be bad. 

I took a great deal of evidence and settled the dispute with the concurrence of all parties by declaring the original sale of Fonualoa and Nukumatua by Siva and Poto be invalid and that the islets are the property of the natives according to the original native tenures. 

But inasmuch as it was admitted that Siva and Po had power to sell their family allotments on the islet of Fonualoa I considered that by the deed of 1874 the allotments of the Siva and Po family right to be the property of Pereira. 

The King and Chiefs arranged amicably with Pereira in my presence to point out to him the boundaries of these two allotments, he giving up all claim to the rest of Fonualoa and to Nukumatau 

If your Excellency approves the settlement of the Fonualoa dispute I propose to forward by the first German Schooner a formal invitation in Samoan to that effect for future references. 

I next enquired into the conduct of José Pereira and am pleased to report that the Chiefs stated that since the British protectorate was declared not only had Pereira behaved well to them but that the old religious faction disturbances had entirely ceased and everything had gone on peaceably. 

I formally announced Your Excellency’s message that those in Arms and Ammunition, Liquor etc is prohibited and that the possession of arms would be regulated by licence and at the request of the King and Chiefs I promised to ask you to send them copies of these formal regulations to invest in their volume of Laws.

If your Excellency will furnish me with the same I can forward Samoan translations by the first German Schooner leaving for Fakaofo. 

I delivered to José Pereira in the presence of the natives a stern warning that under the British Protectorate no conduct on the part of any foreigners tending to breaches of the Peace or inimical to the general welfare of the natives will be tolerated. 

At the conclusion of the above [unintelligible] enquiries the natives complained to me that José Pereira had broken an agreement made in 1885 in King Kara’s time of which I append a copy.

The agreement was to the effect that if a native got into debt to a white trader his land should be given to the Chiefs and they would pay off the debt. The sale of land to foreigners was forbidden. 

To this agreement or law which was neatly inscribed in a large leather bound volume, containing other laws, both Pereira and Paulson the only traders on Fakaofo had subscribed their names. 

A native by name Pufala owner of a piece of land known as Motusa on the islet of Matagi got into debt to José Pereira to the tune of Eighty Chilian Dollars.

Pufala on 17th July 1888 conveyed his land to José Pereira in satisfaction of the debt and though the Chiefs under the agreement of 1885 offered to pay the 80 dollars Pereira refused the money and retained the land. 

The deed was to the best of my belief in the handwriting of Father Didier of the Samoan Roman Catholic Mission, who was one of the witnesses.

Under the agreement of 1885 I declared the conveyance illegal, and the Chiefs then handed me a bag containing about 50 or 60 British Sovereigns and requested me to pay to Pereira the 80 dollars due from Pufala which I did and now append a copy of the receipt which (enclosure 2) I drew up.

The original was invested in the Book of the Laws of Fakaofo. 

The Chiefs also complained that Pufala had on July 17 1888 sold to Father Didier a piece of land known as Mulikoko on Matagi the price being a double barrelled shotgun. 

I said I felt sure that even if this conveyance had not been barred by the law of 1885 Your Excellency would not uphold a sale of land for such a consideration. 

It appeared that in 1889 Father Didier exchanged this piece of land with José Pereira for a bit of land situated at Malié in Samoa.

The Samoan Roman Catholic Mission have I hear, arranged to return to José Pereira the land at Malié aforesaid.

I was thus enabled at the one visit to clear up to the general satisfaction every complaint which then existed. Subject your approval. 

I would venture to suggest that good might be done if one of the Deputy Commissioners when practicable could each year visit some of the outlying islands now under British protection to dispose of similar disputes and report upon the progress and commerce of the nations groups. 

I have the honour to be
Your Excellency’s most obedient humble servant
T B Cusack Smith