Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III

by | Samoan History, Le Api | 23 comments

Most Samoans will know the story about Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III, Samoan Head of State who, in 1929, was shot to death in peaceful protest against New Zealand’s rule over Samoa.

Well, all Samoans should know this story.

It began in 1914, when New Zealand took control over Western Samoa. The world was at war at the time (WW1) so New Zealand was pretty much left by the British to govern our islands however way they wanted.

By just about every account, New Zealand wasn’t the greatest of colonial masters. Their general attitude towards Samoans was that we were ‘childlike‘, and they imposed some oppressive regulations about who we could marry, how we ran our businesses and how much power our traditional governing systems (matai) could have.

Then in 1918, a deadly strain of influenza, called the Spanish Flu, broke out in NZ and spread to Samoa the year after, killing over 7500 people.

What happened was that NZ officials failed to quarantine a ship that carried ill passengers into Samoa.

It was typical of NZ’s inconsistent governance of the islands. On the one hand, they set up strict policies to control us, and on the other hand, they were careless with our health and welfare.

Samoa had had enough.

In earlier decades, the Mau a Pule – a resistence against foreign rule – had formed in Savai’i to oppose the German occupation of Samoa.

That effort died down when the Germans exiled senior leaders of the Mau to Micronesian islands.

But now, against NZ rule, it was time for the rebirth of Samoa mo Samoa.

An afakasi businessman and statesman named Taisi Olaf F. Nelson became a founding member of the new Mau.

In 1926, he visited the NZ capital of Wellington to petition the government to allow Samoans more freedom to self-govern.

In 1927, Nelson published a newspaper called the ‘Samoa Guardian’ to support the movement.

In 1928 he was exiled from Samoa, along with two other members of the Mau, but he used those five years away to take his protests all the way to the League of Nations in Geneva.

In Nelson’s absence, the Mau continued to resist NZ.

Led now by the Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III, they continued to use civil disobedience as a way to get their message across.

They refused to pay taxes, boycotted imported goods and ignored NZ officials when they visited their villages.

Then, Black Saturday.

On the 28th of December, 1929 Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III led the Mau on a march down the Beach Road of Apia to meet other members of the movement who had just returned from deportation to Auckland.

The peaceful demonstration erupted into violence when the NZ military police opened fire on the marchers. Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III rushed to the front of the crowd and urged his people – who had begun to throw rocks – to be still, ‘filemu‘.

A single bullet from behind brought him down.

Other Samoan men who rushed to help the leader were also killed. When it was over, 8 people were dead (3 died later) and around 50 were injured.

As he lay dying, Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III continued to plead for peace:

“My blood has been spilt for Samoa. I am proud to give it. Do not dream of avenging it, as it was spilt in peace. If I die, peace must be maintained at any price.”

So that’s the story.

Because the New Zealand administration launched a cover-up campaign after the events of Samoa’s Black Saturday, the story had to be pieced together over the decades from various accounts.

You’ll probably find the most thorough re-telling of this dark passage of Samoan history in a book called, ‘Black Saturday: New Zealand’s tragic blunders in Samoa,’ by NZ-born Pacific journalist Michael Field.

In his research, Michael Field came across an Auckland woman, now in her 80’s, who was there in Apia the day Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III was killed.

Agnes Heeny was 7 years old when she witnessed the shooting, and the incredible experience is recounted in an article written to commemorate the 2007 aniversary of the tragic events.

Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III is a significant figure in history because of his martyrdom in Samoa’s struggle for freedom, but it is his legacy of peace that has made him a Samoan icon.

xx HGG



    Thank you for making this information available for evertybody to see. I am one of Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III grandsons. I would like to say that my mother was the only daugther of the late Tupua Tamasese III and she had died in 1992. Her Name was Suilolo Peta Tamasese Lealofi III nee married to my father Tofaeono Asi Tuiatga Vui Leavasa of Vaiala and Moataa. I do know my grandmother very well her Name was Alaisalaitemota from Tokelau Island and Matautu Falelatai.

    • Queenie Levi

      Malo Aokuso.
      I just finished presenting on Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III in my history class here in Brigham Young University of Hawaii. Its my final presentation for this semester and I decided to present on him. His memory and his brave heart live on.
      It was an honor to present on your grandpapa.

      • M Suisala

        Hello Queenie Levi,
        My name is Mindy and my daughter is doing a biography on Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III. It would be a great deal if you have any information to send my way. We need more information on his early life. Where was he born, where he lived. Who was in his family. Mother, Father, siblings? What was his childhood like? Where he went to school? What did he study?
        Any interesting facts. Accomplishments? Anythng would help.

  2. admin

    Malo le soifua lau susuga Aokuso. We’re honoured to have you here. Thank you for taking the time to read our small contribution to the cause… and for adding to our knowledge of your amazing family’s history. Ma le fa’aaloalo lava…

    xx HGG

  3. Manaia

    “Fa’afetai tele lava/Thanks tremendously!”

    While checking out a HUGE New Zealand database re Samoan biographies, Olaf Frederik Nelson stood out for me and so I’d read, in which led me to the Mau movement and ended with the incredible saga of Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III.

    Excerpt Boum Boum by Enigma:
    Simplicity, complexity, oh what a tragedy
    Reality, insanity, strange normality
    Incredible, untouchable, but just visual

    My heart goes out to “Maosi” for the invite to join One Samoana. Also, my alofa to the Admin & Staff for “great” contributions to develop the Samoan minds–esp. mine!


    [Rootsweb SAMOA Admin]



    MALO NI!!

    im also a decsendant of this humbly strong man…my grandfather was his youngest child and did not grow up knowing his father face to face but more in a way that is unique to all pacific islanders and thats through stories…as you can see…the paragraph above is in tokelauan the language of Alaisala Te Maota…

    Im proud of my heritage…but its an important heritage that must not be shone to brightly

  5. jayfoo

    wow..im so blown away by this. such a great story aye…wow

  6. Lofa

    Sad that Western cultures & traditions are observed and celebrated yet those who fought and spilt blood for our beloved Samoa are not given the national recognition and remembrance that they deserve by the leaders of the country they fought & died for! Great to hear from the descendents of Samoa’s forefathers… Samoa mo Samoa! Lest we forget!

  7. Tau

    I second that….WOW! I am an old gal and never even knew. I bet we have a lot more stories of how rich and untapped our history is.

  8. Nofoasaefa

    Thank you so much for posting this! I am the son of Falelauiulaoamoa whom is the daughter of the late Suilolo Peta Tamasese Lealofi III, and it just so happens to be that Aokuso is my uncle. lol! Hi uncle! Well I just wanted to say thank you for spreading truth & not lies. People tend to spread what they “know” and not what is the truth. Thank you so much!

  9. teineafakasi

    Thanks so much for sharing this!.. Wow. Im speechless…

  10. Taule'ale'a

    Enjoyed this HGG.. I will search for this Black Sunday book ๐Ÿ™‚



  12. atiliai taivale

    i would like to say thank you so much for sharing this wonderful article which enables me as a student to gain my understanding about this great leaders which had fought for the freedom which i know live. may the force of the Father in Heaven be with us all, in the holy name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

  13. keepitreal

    Thanx to Tamasese for his royal blood which was spilt for the freedom of Samoa.,In the same way,Jesus also sacrifice His royal blood for the World,And in the same course ,they both die for Freedom,Wow!! It takes a King or a Prince or even a GOD to free or save somebody,can u believe it!!!!!!! wow!! Well, i feel for you CUT or Aukuso,u put a tear in my eye,U know i can only share this story with u,There was a king whom his kingdom got defeated ,and he was taken towards a place where they would about to hang him,in his last few seconds with his son,He said this words to his son, ” My beloved son,where ever u go,and no matter what u do,I want u to know, that ur father is a king,n you r ,a prince,the royal is in ur blood,so go on, and walk like one”It must have been hard brother,i can imagine,leitioa a ou vaai ia oe pe a e savali i totonu o le tatou nuu i moataa, e te savali faatupu,you n all ur brothers n sisters,tou te amio faatupu,man!! thought was something strange about yous,but now i understand,anyways,be proud of ur grandfather,he is not forgotten,cause it sits in every Samoan heart, and we are the outcome of that Black Saturday.soifua,keepitreal Maiti F.S.

  14. Nick Bakulich

    Long live the memory of Tupua Tamasese and the entire Mau Movement. Thank you for their service, commitment and sacrifice.

    Thank you to the first Labour NZ PM Michael Joseph Savage who when elected immediately returned exiled Mau Leaders back to Samoa. Thank you also to Helen Clark who had the courage to make a long overdue apology to the people of Samoa on behalf of the Government of New Zealand, indeed a dark part of NZ’s history that should be highlighted and part of it’s education a lot more than it is today.

    May we all continue to fight for peace and justice.

    • alaisea

      Its really true and love him for his lovely blood๐Ÿ˜‰๐Ÿ˜‰๐Ÿ˜‰๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜

  15. foleni03

    Hey so there were 3 children of Tupua Tamasese Lealofi II. 2 boys and 1 girl. What’s the name of the youngest boy? and did he have any children? There’s really isn’t that much record of him.

    • Moegagogo Tamasese

      Dear foleni03,
      There were more than 2 boys….the youngest was Moegagogo Tamasese, a medical doctor. Yes! He has issues and I’m the youngest, Moegagogo

  16. Richard Umuti

    Just a correction Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III was not Head of State, he died long before that the office was even created. His brother Tupua Tamasese Mea’ole was Joint Heads of State with Malietoa Tanumafili II at independence in 1962. His son Tupua Tamasese Lealofi IV was Samoa’s second Prime Minister from 1970 to 1973 and briefly after Fiame Mataafa F.M II passed away in 1975 to 1976 when he was defeated in the Prime Ministerial ballot by his first cousin and son of Tupua Tamasese Meaole then known as Tupuola Efi now Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi who is the current Head of State of Samoa

    • hamogeekgirl

      Thank you for the correction, Richard. I think I just got it in my head that all Tupua Tamasese were Head of State ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ve fixed that now in the article.

  17. Mina

    This story needs to be published around the world not just to be read by samoans but people all around the world god bless samoa

  18. M Suisala

    Hello Queenie Levi,
    My name is Mindy and my daughter is doing a biography on Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III. It would be a great deal if you have any information to send my way. We need more information on his early life. Where was he born, where he lived. Who was in his family. Mother, Father, siblings? What was his childhood like? Where he went to school? What did he study?
    Any interesting facts. Accomplishments? Anythng would help.


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