SAMOA affects Tusitala’s writing

tusitala portrait with friend

In the first two years at Vailima, Stevenson continued to work on his new kind of travel writing with, In the South Seas, struggling, he wrote once, to find the right ‘style’, and his new kind of fiction. He was conscious of being innovative, speaking repeatedly of his last novels and stories in terms like ‘the first realistic South Sea story’, The Beach of Falesa, peculiarity about this tale The Ebb Tide, something different Weir of Hermiston. In 1891 he also began work on a new kind of history, “a piece of contemporary history in the most exact sense”, pioneering the 20th century idea that history can be written as it happens.

The point is that the reader is required to make the effort. A Footnote to History begins, not with the arrival in the Pacific of the British or the Germans, but with Samoan “:ideas and manners”, that date back “before the Roman Empire”. It explains Samoan systems of governance, custom, ceremony and language, stressing their sophistication, long pedigree, and right to be respected. European ideas, he says, are neither absolute nor innately right. They are conditioned by their own history, especially their “memories of feudalism.” To say, “Let us conceive that etiquette and morals differ in one country and another” is to affirm an egalitarian principle not widely practiced in 19th-century colonialism. It is made more provocative when rubbed in by the adroit suggestion that ritual head-taking originated with David and Goliath.

Ref:  Adapted from Robinson, Roger,  ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON His Best Pacific Writings,  2003, Bess Press, pgs 116-117)