With most of the DH & PG land uncultivated, Vailele was one of the jewels in the crown. All the more reason to admire Kurt Hufnagel’s unchallenged 30-year tenure as manager. As well as pioneering industrial-scale copra drying, he was credited with two other significant innovations in colonial era agriculture in Samoa – the proving of drilling for artesian well water, and the perfecting of cocoa bean processing to obtain the highest grade cocoa.
Hufnagel rejected the conventional wisdom that Samoan soils were unsuitable for the retention of artesian well water. He imported a drill, set it to work and discovered perfect drinking water at depths below sea level. After his success, wells were drilled all over Samoa and helped relieve the dire water shortages that occurred during dry spells.
Kurt had been the first to plant cocoa in Samoa in 1884 but not much is known about his pioneering work on bean processing. It was referred to in glowing, but general, terms by Karl Hanssen in his speech for the Captain’s 25-year anniversary. It may have had to do with Hufnagel’s method for fermenting the beans (which is essentially a sweating process) or with the drying, which –again– Hufnagel carried out in the copra drying kilns under controlled, ‘brute force’ conditions. Despite this success with cocoa, by the time of his retirement in 1911 most of it had gone from Vailele (only about 8 acres left) with about 30 acres under coffee, 27 acres under rubber and the remaining 2,200 or so acres in coconuts. The photo above shows cocoa beans drying in the sun, the natural way, on the Apia foreshore near the courthouse, probably in the early 1900’s.
Credit: Hufnagel-Betham Family Collection, photographer A.J.Tattersall.
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