tusitala family group photo


Stevenson’s very presence in Samoa as a renowned man of letters with international fame was enough to make him a sought-after source of advice and influence.  He was visited regularly for his advice and counsel by politicians, neighbors, friends and missionaries of virtually every Christian denomination represented in Samoa at the time.  Foreign visitors – and there were many – also called by to be recognized by the famous author.

The colonization movement by the then super powers of the world was in full force.  Samoa was regularly visited by representatives of the foreign colonialists who had their eyes on the resources of its land and its people.  Steamships brought whole delegations to meet with local leaders to try to convince them to align themselves with one country or another. The Samoan Matai System of Government, however, caused many of them to retreat or take a more passive stance to learn more how they might work within that system.

At the time of all this outside interest, there was turmoil within the ranks of the various ‘matais’, or chiefs.  They themselves, earnestly and often sought the blessing of the famous writer.  Stevenson ultimately documents his opinions and involvements in his respected A FOOTNOTE TO HISTORY, but his outspoken critiques of the devious actions of the interlopers were made known to the world via his letters to the TIMES of LONDON.  In the period from 1891 to his death in 1894, there are numerous letters and other forms of documentation in which he is highly critical of the meddling outsiders and their attempts to undermine local authority.   He was particularly indignant toward the German influence.  They aggressively took action in local affairs by deporting and banning chiefs who opposed their efforts to control Samoa’s destiny.  They even threatened to deport Stevenson for expressing his opinions!

Samoa’s own system was complicated enough without these unwarranted distractions from outside influences.  Rivalries between local chiefs were intense.  To have them complicated by outsiders made matters even worse.  Tusitala, however never wavered in his belief that Samoa – and all Pacific nations, should have control of their own destinies and run their own affairs. He was adamant and outspoken in the fact that foreigners were not familiar with native ways.  He encouraged the factions to stay out because they ‘know little of the course of native intrigue.”

Eventually, he aligned himself with the high chief Mata’afa; but, the Mata’afa forces were defeated and imprisoned.  This gave the Stevenson family all the more reason to show their support; and they did so with great style and unabashed enthusiasm.  Sensitive to the Samoan way, they visited the prisoners often, took gifts of kava, chocolate, food, tobacco, books to read, cloth for their lavalavas, etc.  But mostly, they took their love and attention and support.  The devotion shown to the political prisoners was so extraordinary that it proved to them that the Stevensons understood the Samoan custom of respect and protocol.  As a gesture in return, the chiefly prisoners held a formal feast for the Stevenson family in the stark prison courtyard.  They reciprocated by giving them gifts of hand-made necklaces, carvings and other items that they could make during their incarceration.

When the prisoners were eventually released from their confines, they made an extraordinary gesture of love and support for Tusitala and his family for their concern while they were political detainees.  They recognized that Tusitala’s home was difficult to access because of the lack of a suitable road or track.  They marched to Vailima to have a ‘fono’ or conference with their beloved Tusitala.  After the typical Samoan greetings and expressions of respect, they got to the business at hand.  They thanked Tusitala for his love and generosity and mentioned to him that, if he would provide the tools, they would provide the labor to make his home more accessible.  It was a very overt and sincere expression of their love and appreciation.

It is documented that Tusitala caught the spirit of their generous offer and promptly accepted it with the caveat that the road be named THE ROAD OF THE LOVING HEARTS.  Their talking chief deferred by insisting that the road be named THE ROAD OF THE LOVING HEART.  Their demand that plural HEARTS be replaced with the singular HEART made their intentions clear that they were showing their love and gratitude for the love and attention that was paid to them during their confinement.  Their generous gift was acknowledged and accepted with a huge ceremonial feast.  To their delight, Tusitala was able to speak to them in their own metaphoric language and set the stage for the long-term future of Villa Vailima, Samoa and its people.

These times were complicated and intense but in many respects, paved the way for the eventual independence of Samoa as a sovereign island nation.



Tusitala died at Vailima at the age of 44 in the Great Hall.  It was 3 December, 1894.  THE ROAD OF THE LOVING HEART had been completed, Fanny was still suffering from fits of depression and irritability but the family was managing.  It was a normal day of plantation work and play activities.  Young Austin was home from school on holiday, Teuila was busy with her tasks of writing, sewing and decorating and matters seemed under control.

Tusitala sensed that Fanny could use some assistance in the kitchen as she was directing the Samoan helpers in the food preparation for their supper.  Louis (as Fanny called him) sensed that she needed some help, so he offered to make the mayonnaise for the salad. As he proceeded with his assigned task he stood suddenly and ask the question, “Do I look strange?” after which he collapsed in a heap on the floor.  Lloyd was summoned to carry him to the Great Hall where he was placed on a cot.  The women, Fanny, Maggie and Teuila, immediately reacted.  One insisted that they put his feet in warm water to see if they could revive him.  Lloyd (Loia) was dispatched to Apia to bring the doctor, and the other staff members reacted to the demands of the women.  Lloyd finally returned with Dr. Funk and a visiting physician from a steamship that happened to be in port on that day.

A few minutes after 8 pm, Tusitala was pronounced dead!  Stricken with unbelief and grief, the staff and family prepared his lifeless body to lie in state.

Robinson wrote the following account:

“When nature had convulsed him for the last time, the Union Jack was hauled down from above the house for him to lie on, and he was wrapped in ceremonial mats brought by the many Samoan mourners. A meeting of chiefs allocated the work of cutting a track to the summit of Mount Vaea, digging a grave in the narrow space there, and carrying the coffin up the steep 300 meters (1000 feet) ascent to his chosen place of burial. He had quite often walked there, the only member of the family to do so. Nineteen Europeans and about sixty Samoans (and Tongans) completed the strenuous climb, and took part in the Church of England funeral service.”

The chiefs declared a tapu (taboo) against firearms on the mountain, so that the bush is still vibrant with bird song. A tomb of cement blocks on the model of Samoan chief’s burial place was built, and in 1897 completed by two bronze plates, inscribed with “O Le Oli’olisaga o Tusitala” (“the happy resting place of the Writer of Tales”) and with two verses in Samoan from Ruth’s Old Testament speech to Naomi (“thy people shall be my people” Ch. 1, verses 16 -17), a Scottish thistle and Pacific hibiscus, and two stanzas of his poem Requiem.”


“Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will

This be the verse you grave for me,
Here he lies where he longed to be
Home is the sailor home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.”