To Walk Under Palm Trees

The Germans in Samoa: Snapshots from Albums


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This fine photo of Dr Schultz leaning on a stone slab was taken at the ruins of the ‘Fale o le fe’e’ (the house of the octopus), an isolated site in the hills of Vaimauga, east of Apia, which is rich in fable and folklore. The fale or house shows signs of having been partially constructed in quarried stone slabs in ancient times, and its overgrown and fallen remnants were much visited by curiosity seekers and anthropologists in the 19th and 20th centuries. Dr Schultz and photographer Alfred Tattersall made the hard slog to the site, probably in the 1910-14 period. After 1914, the German Governor was interned in New Zealand for five years.

Dr Schultz had been a judge in German East Africa but upon appointment to Apia developed almost a mystical attachment to the islands and its people. He learned to speak Samoan fluently and was tattooed with a full pe’a. He immersed himself in the local culture and wrote books on both Samoan customary law and proverbs. Despite his prominence, Dr Schultz was a deeply private man who left a limited photographic footprint in Samoa and Auckland (during internment). His forced separation from Samoa at war’s outbreak sent him into a depression which took some time to shake off. He was a single man until his marriage in Berlin in 1920 to Charlotte ‘Lotte’ Schultz, after which he had two sons and a daughter. In December 1919 he was given permission by the German Kaiser to take his mother’s family name in a hyphenated surname and was thereafter known as Erich Schultz-Ewerth. For more biographical details of Dr Schultz see the chapter on Fatu Frost in Part 1 of this book.

In this beautifully detailed image, Dr Schultz appears to be deep in thought. He is leaning on the seat that was a feature of the site and had been named,‘O le nofoa o le fe’e’ (the seat of the octopus).  Leather leggings or puttees are buckled under his shoes to protect his trousers from dirt or damage. Despite this precaution, Dr Schultz sits on the slab in his bright white suit. The unidentified companion, probably the site guide, holds a machete – a sapelu – and appears to have an ula of banana leaves around his neck, perhaps for cooling purposes.

Credit: Hufnagel-Betham Family Collection, photographer Alfred J. Tattersall.

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