Influenza hits Samoa

The steamship Talune at the Napier breakwater in 1908.

The second wave of the global influenza pandemic came to Western Samoa on board an island trader, the Talune, on 4 November 1918. The acting port officer at Apia was unaware that there was a severe epidemic at the ship's departure point, Auckland. As a result he allowed passengers ashore, 'including six seriously ill influenza cases'. Within a week influenza had spread throughout the main island of Upolu and to the neighbouring island of Savai'i. Approximately 8500 people – one-fifth of the population – died.

Responsibility for the pandemic has been laid firmly at the feet of New Zealand. In 1918 Western Samoa was still occupied by New Zealand forces that had seized the German colony at the beginning of the First World War. In addition to not placing the Talune under quarantine, the New Zealand Administrator, Colonel Robert Logan, did not accept from the Governor of American Samoa an offer of assistance that may have reduced the heavy death toll.

In 2002 the New Zealand Prime Minister, Helen Clark, made an official apology to the Samoan people for the actions of the New Zealand authorities.

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Pepe Robertson

Posted: 11 Jul 2012

My grandmother Migaos wife (who was a black Saturday victim) used to tell us about the "fa'ama'i" The Influenza. That some people may have been buried alive. Sick people were dying in huge numbers in our village and the dead will be taken and stacked by the side of the road in Vaimoso for the truck to pick them up. It was the only way to make sure that the bodies were picked up and taken away for burial Mass graves for the 1918 influenza are also in Vaimoso at the back of the Vaimoso Congregational Church which was originally an LMS church.