Our Historic Story


Napoleon Bonaparte

Jose Vitorino de Barros was living in Portugal in the late 18th century at the time when Napoleon Bonaparte was conquering Europe and doing his level best to dispense with the Roman Catholic Church. Well educated and employed in the Merchant Navy, Jose meets a beautiful young woman Maria Izabel de Barros. Their love blossoms and they soon exchange vows and start a family. A baby girl, Maria José de Barros is their first born child. Almost 5 years later, a second child Joaquim José Inácio is born to the couple.

Understanding the Times

Portugal is in the process of being invaded by France and Spain as of the signing of the Treaty of Fontainebleau on October 27th, 1807. She is to be divided into three parts and handed over to her captors. Bonaparte made it clear what would happen to the royal family of Portugal when his troops arrived there.

The State Council, presided by the Prince Regent, made the decision to leave for Brazil, then the largest and wealthiest colony of Portugal. During the previous six months, the voyage had been planned, without raising suspicion in France or Spain.

On the 27th of October 1808, the royal family embarked. They were distributed as follows:

  • on the ship-of-the-line Príncipe Real – Queen D. Maria I, Prince Regent D. João, Prince of Beira infante D. Pedro, his brother infante D. Miguel and the infante of Spain D. Pedro Carlos;
  • on the Afonso de Albuquerque – Princess of Brazil D. Carlota Joaquina, with her daughters, infantas D. Maria Isabel Francisca, D. Maria d’ Assunção, D. Ana de Jesus and Princess of Beira infanta D. Maria Tereza;
  • on the Príncipe do Brasil – the widow Princess D. Maria Francisca Benedita and the infanta D. Maria Ana, both sisters to the Queen; and,
  • on board the Rainha de Portugal – the daughters of D. Carlota Joaquina, infantas D. Maria Francisca de Assis and D. Isabel Maria.

As a crew member of the frigate D. Carlota, José Vitorino de Barros was charged with transporting what remained of the personal property of Prince Regent Dom João, (later King Dom João VI) to Brazil. He also brought his wife and family on the voyage, including Joaquim José Inácio, who was then one year and eight months old, along with his older sister Maria José de Barros. On 10th July 1810, they arrive in the Brazilian capital, Rio de Janeiro.

José is promoted to second-lieutenant in the Navy of the Empire of Brazil and the couple raises six more children.

  • Antonio Jose Vitorino de Barros
  • Antonio Pereira Vitorino de Barros
  • Bento José de Carvalho
  • Jesuino José Victorino de Barros
  • José Inácio de Barros
  • Unknown (Possibly died in infancy)
Joaquim José Inácio, Viscount of Inhaúma

Joaquim José Inácio

Joaquim José Inácio, who did not receive the ‘de Barros’ family name, would go on to serve the Brazilian Navy with honor. Receiving the Title ‘Viscount of Inhaúma‘ on 3 March 1868, he did not survive long after his promotion to admiral, the highest rank in the Brazilian armada, passing away from maleria on March 8th, 1869. Soon after his death, the Viscount of Inhaúma was hailed as “one of the greatest figures of the Brazilian Armada” in the Brazilian Senate. He was extremely popular in the Armada and was fondly called “Uncle Joaquim” by his subordinates. The Brazilian navy’s slang phrase, “andar na Inácia“, which meant to behave correctly, was derived from his name.

Escola Estadual Jose Vitorino de Barros

The patriarch, José Vitorino de Barros will go on to establish the school ‘Escola Estadual José Vitorino de Barros‘ in the state of Pernambuco, Brazil. This is where the fortunate children of José receive their education. The roots of the family lineage have been well embedded locally.

The Beginnings of our South Pacific Heritage

Antonio Pereira Vitorino de Barros was born on the 12th January 1820, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It is safe to assume that he had similar maritime education as that of his father José Vitorino de Barros and older brother Joaquim José Inácio, in consideration of the family’s naval experience.

Two mast ships 1856

While still in his late teens, Antonio Pereira Vitorino de Barros and his younger brother José Inácio de Barros set out on an epic journey in a “Two Mast Schooner” with six (6) additional crew members to discover the greater world. The reason for this massive undertaking is largely unknown, and at such a youthful age, one can only guess at the boys’ motivations. Yet, given the outstanding achievements of their older brother, Joaquim José Inácio (Viscount of Inhaúma) in the Brazilian Navy, it would be fair to say that they were looking establish their own legacies.

Antonio is recorded to be a Roman Catholic, as are his men. Although the records indicate Antonio’s christening in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Nossa Senhora, Delmiro Gouveia, Alagoas, Brazil), Antonio officially reports later to the British Consulate that he departed from the Cape Verde Islands. From here, the brothers and their crewmen sail north to Europe, and eventually head west, out into the vast expanse of the ocean toward Panama. Once they reach the eastern coast, they then continue north to Los Angeles, California. It is here that the younger brother José makes a decision to stay and plant his feet on solid ground while Antonio, with his 6 sailors, head out west into the enormous Pacific Ocean.

Rains, storms, heavy seas, strong winds and days of no wind at all plague the adventurers along their journey. These sailors are challenged by mother nature at her extremes. with little choice, they push forward and continue the voyage until they reach a suitable island, where they are able to resupply. Happy to have arrived on a distant shore, they congratulate each other and mingle with the island people and the families who have come out to greet them. They give gracious thanks, bow and kiss the native people and follow along with them to their local village. The Islanders seem outwardly happy to see these foreigners. Unknown to the sailors, it is in these days that the natives did catch people and eat them (Cannibals).

Cannibal feast preparation in Fiji – 1869

After some time and perhaps evidentiary sightings, Antonio and his men realize they are about to become food! They rush back to the boat, and as they are preparing to set sail, notice one of their crew missing. Anxiously they raise the sails and hastily depart, happy to be well away from the island. However, the ways of these people deeply worry Antonio.

Some days later, the mighty schooner berths at another beautiful island paradise. The sailors drop the anchor and venture ashore to the village and make themselves known. The native people again are very happy to see them. They share greetings and familiarise themselves with the locals indulging in the customary fashion but soon realize that again, one of their crew is missing. Quitely communicating between themselves, they beat a hasty retreat from the island. Antonio is full of heartfelt sorrow for the two men that have been killed for food. There are only 4 sailors left along with Antonio the Captain. He is understandingly worried and a little panicked that should any more of his men go missing it will be difficult to carry on sailing. After a short time, they reach yet another island and decide to put anchor.

“Going ashore, we see the way of these people, which look to be the same type of people as previous encounters. We are a little nervous but the island people befriend us and all appears well and good. We are happy again to see friendly people, and so we decide to live there for a while.”

Savaii Samoa

Antonio Pereira Vitorino De Barros (aka Atone) finally arrives in Savaii, Samoa in 1839. He is struck by the beauty of the island and makes a conscious decision to settle. After some time trading and working on his ship, he becomes smitten with a beautiful young island girl. She is Toupou (Queen) Pololo Usugafono, Tofilau’s daughter, Chief of the village. They become very close and the relationship is sanctioned by Chief Tofilau. The couple conceives a boy child. Antonio names him in honor of his own Father and Mother … José Maria Pereira and the ‘de Barros’ name is abandoned from this point on. Antonio is just beginning to settle in with his new family when he learns of other islands around Samoa. He calls to his men, who are enjoying the fruits of their adventure and explains to them of the need to discover the other islands and to find valuable trading goods, land and opportunity. Reluctantly, he farewells his wife and child and sails away … happy in the knowledge that he now has a family and that his son, José Maria Pereira, has a chiefly name.

By 1855, Antonio is recorded to be in Apia. He has navigated the vast area around the Samoan Islands and sailed north to the Tokelau Islands. Eventually, he returns to his family in Savaii, with a  bounty that he and his men have acquired. The men are wishing to cash out and so they continue to go out to trade. It is not until they reach Upolu reef in Apia, that they begin to sell all their merchandise … even the boat itself. Word of the ‘big sale’ quickly spreads around Upolu and many people show up, mostly out of curiosity. King Lauofo hears of the ‘big sale’ and takes his daughter with him to Apia. Surveying the lot, Lauofo sees an axe that he wants. Negotiating a deal with Antonio, it is apparent that the item is simply irresistible. The price that the Chief is willing to pay will be the hand of his daughter. She will become his wife, to live with Antonio in exchange for the axe. Antonio agrees. All the goods aboard the boat are eventually sold at fair prices. The boat itself is also sold and the bounty they have now acquired is distributed between Antonio and the sailors. They decide to go their separate ways to begin their own lives and prepare for their futures.

Godeffroy’s workers in Apia with José Maria Pereira (seated on the barrel)

It was around this same time that August Unshelm and Theodor Weber arrive in Apia, Samoa, from Valparaiso, Chili. They are representatives of the great Hamburg House of Johann Cesar Godeffroy und Sohn. August Unshelm is a man of great reputation. His trading ability and tact earn him the respect of his peers. Mr. Unshelm commences trading in Matafele, Apia and in a few short years he had instituted there an extremely successful business in trade and coconut oil.

The Godeffroys were French Huguenots (Protestants) of La Rochelle. In 1737 they were forced to flee France to avoid religious persecution after events following the Edict of Fontainebleau in 1685. The family sought asylum in Germany and settled in the trading port of Hamburg finally founding a trading empire known as J.C. Godeffroy & Sohn. The elder Godeffroy, a personal friend of Otto von Bismarck, was to enlist his sympathies. Within the succeeding five years, they had establishments in Valparaiso, Cochin China, and in Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide. It was from Valparaiso that the first Trading agents, August Unshelm and Theodore Weber, came to Polynesia.

Antonio is recruited by August Unshelm, of the ‘Godeffroy und Sohn’, the German Trading firm, and begins to buy land outside the city with his money. He is staying in Taupou with the princess … the daughter of King Lauofo … the one who was sold for the axe. They have six children together in Luatua nu’u. Their names are Caroline, Rose, Antonio, Beato, Paulo, and Jane Pereira. It is around this time that the word of the Bible and Catholic teaching is spreading in Apia out amongst the people. They embrace the Catholic doctrines because they are able to keep their old traditions as well (History of the Tatau). It was well known at the time that Antonio and his family had no place of their own. Being a devout Roman Catholic, he gave a part of his land in Savalalo to the church, for them to use and Savalalo is where the Catholic church established its foundation. Even now, to this day, he gave to the School of Nuns, Savalalo. As a testament to his character, Antonio also gave to the Priest and Brothers of the School of Marist, land at Mulivai.

At this time, Tokelau and Samoa are under the rule of Germany. Sometime before 1861, August Unshelm, the trading agent for Godeffroy und Sohn, is lost at sea due to a hurricane in the Fijian Archipelago. Theodor Weber, then a young man of twenty-seven, takes charge of the Godeffroy und Sohn business. Taking full advantage of the power vacuum, Antonio rallies to position himself in good stead, being of sound business mind and ethics.


Blackbirding (slavery) in the Pacific Islands

Around 1862, Antonio sends an agent to Tokelau to trade in Fakaofo. On returning, the agent reports that there are thieves and Pirates swarming the Tokelau Islands. They are stealing food and goods and kidnapping the islanders to sell them into slavery. A story begins to circulate that the Island of Fonuafala, Tokelau, had been sold to Benjamin Hughes by the King of Fakaofo for a handful of diamonds.

“They sell us to the big countries through the masters of the slave traders. The selling master in Tokelau is Peni (Benjamin Hughes). They are luring the island people onto the boat to trade and then capturing them. Peni captured and sold the King of Fakaofo and the people he has ensnared, to the Captains of the Slave Trader boats.”

The Catholic Bishop, (Enosi) learning of what has happened in Fakaofo, instructs the people of his church to be very careful of these slave traders. He also informs the Germans and asks Antonio to do something about the problem in Fakaofo. Specifically, he asks Antonio to go to Fenua Fala, to change the attitudes of the people towards Benjamin Hughes, the Slave Trader. Antonio returns to Fenua Fala on the ship ‘Augustita’. He sees that the last of the slave ships have departed leaving only 57 Tokelauans remaining in Fakaofo. Soon after, Benjamin Hughes returns to Samoa in fear of retribution for the things he has done.

In September 1866, Antonio secures a deal between Benjamin Hughes and Theodore Weber (Godeffroy und Sohn) for the sale of the Islets of Fenua Fala for $600. Antonio then makes a deal to purchase the land of Fenua Fala from the German firm, Godeffroy und Sohn. Not long after this, the seat of the Samoan Native Government was transferred to Apia from Malie, the ancient home of the Malietoa family. Antonio purchases Malie and other lands throughout Apia and then returns to Tokelau to oversee the plantation and supervise production.

Fenua Fala Islet on the Island of Fakaofo

By 1870, Antonio is ready to return home. Traveling between Tokelau and Samoa, where Antonio also had interests is taking its toll, and he finally leaves Fakaofo for Samoa. He sends for his son José Maria Pereira to take over the work in Fakaofo. José is left in control of all property and business and so gathers his people to Tokelau so that they can develop the new land of Fenua Fala. José becomes known as ‘Peleila’. José Maria Pereira finally settles down to marry Sa’o tama’ita’i Fa’amu Laupepe, daughter of Malietoa Laupepa (King of Samoa). By 1876 their first son Lafaele Pereira is born in Tokelau.

Meanwhile, in Samoa, Antonio makes a purchase of land from two natives of Fakaofo named Siva and Po. Described in the deed is Two islands in the Tokelau group called Nukumatau and Fenua Loa. Upon taking possession of the islands, it is clear that animosity is brewing with the locals. Antonio and Jose establish control over Fenua Loa mainly by their occupation of the Islet.

Fenua Fala, Fenua Loa and Nukumatau on Fakaofo

Fenua Fala, Fenua Loa and Nukumatau on Fakaofo

Stalwart Catholics with numbers in their favor, they are able to overwhelm the Protestant Tokelauan population of native ‘aliki ma faipule’. Even under threat of the ‘Western Pacific High Commission’ and its plan of dispatching the ‘HMS Diamond’ “…to remove from the island those British subjects may be dangerous to peace and order…” José remained in effective control of Fenua Fala and Fenua Loa Islets of Fakaofo. Later, it is to be discovered that the two natives of Fakaofo named Siva and Po did not have the right to sell Nukumatau and Fenua Loa in the first place. The land and the money is eventually returned after a bitter dispute. The British consulate mediating the transgression ensured the return of the customary lands to their rightful owners.

“José and his people begin to cut the copra and send it to Samoa to the Germans to pay for the land of Fonuafala. Harvesting the copra was hard work because of the need to climb the trees to get the copra down. The way it is done was that we received 12 shillings for 1000 coconuts processed. We use the proceeds from the copra to pay for new trees in the land. 9 years we were in the land in Fakaofo for the work of cutting and husking coconuts. Beginning in 1887 the land of Fonua Fala was fully paid for in 10 years.”

1890 and the land in Tokelau is being consistently harvested and replenished, while the family is enjoying the fruits of their labour. Antonio Pereira Vitorino de Barros the great founding Patriarch of the Pereira clan passes away and is buried in Tokelau. José, now in his 50’s fears for the continuation of his fathers legacy. He decides to send his fit, young and vibrant 16-year-old Lafaele Pereira to school in Samoa to be educated.

Lafaele and Brother Macarius School band 1892

Lafaele on the Big Drum with Brother Macarius and School band 1892

After just three years of schooling (1892 – 1895), Lafaele Pereira returns to Tokelau under instruction by a letter from his father José Maria Pereira. The short letter reads …

“… forget school… we need help with the copra …”

Nukunonu and Fakaofo of the Tokelau Islands

Nukunonu and Fakaofo of the Tokelau Islands

Upon returning to the plantation, Lafaele begins to think about the future. Whether or not he is inspired by his father remains a mystery, but in the following year of 1896, Lafaele Pereira is married to a beautiful young local girl named Rovine Maine-Wend. They waste little time in starting their family with their first born Sipiliano Pio Pereira arriving the very next year while working the land of Nukunonu. The enormous task of maintaining the plantation will have been striking motivation to ensure the necessary hands required are provided. With such a small resident population in Tokelau, the need to maintain a strong, willing and healthy workforce will have been paramount.

As age and poor health begin to take its toll, José Maria Pereira becomes weary of the internal political divisions within the realms of Samoa and Tokelau and the ‘Western Pacific High Commission’ rulings and questions that may result. He writes a letter to his sister Malia Ioane Pereira in 1899 to outline his wishes and intentions for the affairs of the family legacy. It is apparent by the wording of this manuscript (ref: original document) that the Lands of Malie and Fatipule in Samoa are central to the inheritance. José is clear to illustrate that the lands in Tokelau are to be communally toiled for the benefit of all, insisting that the Copra plantations and revenue derived are to be worked and shared together.

“The land in Savalalo belongs to you all … but Lafaele is still the boss. Have a piece of land and look after each other every day. Look after it and develop it and be a family. Especially, look after the girls.”

Samoan warriors and American servicemen during the Siege of Apia in March 1899.

Samoan warriors and American servicemen during the Siege of Apia

After the Second Samoan Civil War, the Samoan Islands were divided by the three involved powers. The Samoa Tripartite Convention gave control of the islands west of 171 degrees west longitude to Germany, the eastern islands to the United States (present-day American Samoa) and the United Kingdom was compensated with other territories in the Pacific and West Africa

On the 15th May 1901, José Maria Pereira writes a letter to all of his children. It is essentially a will and testament so that no confusion should arise in the event of his passing away. The tone of the letter betrays an anxiousness and seems to be in consideration of the additional wives and children that would survive him. A man of only 62 years, there is little doubt that the hard work on the plantation was taking its toll on his aging body. His worry, unfounded at this point in time, is an insightful reminder of the hardships one must have had to endure, working on a copra plantation, on a remote Pacific Island, in the 19th century, over a number of decades.

“Whatever happens is the will of God should I die. The Land of Fonua Fala will be given to the old Lady. That piece of land near the sea, the inner side to all you people. Love each other and work the land together. And the piece of land of the old lady closer to the sea, don’t think about it.”

It is obvious in hindsight to see that José Maria Pereira was speaking of his beloved second wife Maria Moiki in describing “the old Lady”. The wives and children seem to have worked alongside each other as a tight family unit. In 1901, the Tokelauan boys Lafaele Pereira and Iosefo Pereira began to develop the land again. These are the boys from José Maria Pereira’s first marriage to Sa’o tama’ita’i Fa’amu Laupepe, daughter of Malietoa Laupepa. The other two boys, Manuele Pereira and Antonio Pereira are still too young as are the two girls Fita Pereira and Meti Pereira. These latter four children are from José Maria Pereira’s second marriage to Maria Moiki. In 1905, the two boys and the two girls return to Nukunonu. They go to Nukunonu to sell out what “Dad used to do“. Arriving 21st November, they stay 9 years before leaving for Fonua Fala.

“The land is full of coconuts. Half of the land has been developed by the German imports of Kiribati, while the other half of the land of Fenua Fala has been developed by the family.”

Example of Tokelau Flood impact of 1927

Example of Tokelau Flood impact of 1927

On the 7th January 1914, the great flood happens across Nukunonu. All the riches are wiped out to sea. Not only the hard work of growing, harvesting, preparing and storage of goods for sale have been taken, but also the houses themselves have been swept away. On the 15th March 1914, the family returns to Nukunonu to reconstruct the settlement. After completion, they all live there until José Maria Pereira finally passes away in 1916.

“We left to go back to fix the house swept away by the flood. To fulfil Dads words.”
“The land to the old Lady and family, Fonua Fala, but the land in Samoa is for you my children .… as you please”

Lafaele Pereira, is reported as saying in response … “Please yourself dad”

The family move back to Fakaofo in 1917 to work the land to pay for trees that were wiped out. Everyone pitched in, even the young ones are sorting and helping as much as they can. Lafaele takes up the leadership and does his best to keep the plantation alive. World War One is at an apex which is impacting on trade and with the German contingency in Samoa on very uneasy ground, it is making ‘business as usual’ a rare occurrence. By 20th September 1918, the family has made a tough decision and returned to Samoa.

Less than one month later, beginning October through November, sickness was happening all over the land. What had transpired was an absolute travesty. An influenza epidemic at the steamship Talune’s departure point of Auckland, New Zealand was responsible for the deaths of approximately one-fifth of Samoa’s total population in both the Savaii and Upolu Islands. In addition to not placing the Talune under quarantine, the New Zealand Administrator, Colonel Robert Logan, would not accept assistance from the Governor of American Samoa. Furthermore, rather than accept responsibility for the influenza pandemic, New Zealand officials praised the efforts of their own personnel in the face of adversity and condemned Samoa’s inhabitants for failing to help themselves. Responsibility for the pandemic is laid firmly at the feet of the New Zealand administration which no amount of ‘sorry’ could ever pardon.

New Zealand had seized the western islands of Samoa from Germany just after the outbreak of World War I in 1914 and ruled them until 1962. The blunders committed during their rule include a catastrophic epidemic, the gunning down of pacifist protesters in 1929, as well as the killing of a Samoan paramount chief, Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III. New Zealand, in all its hubris, convinces itself that, despite the multiple tragedy’s, it thought itself best placed to govern the Samoan nation.

pereiras of the south seas

Pereiras of the South Seas

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