“We are like fatherless children, Your Excellency”


Visiting trumpet player Dr. Edwina Thorne performing with member s of the National Orchestra during the Ethnomusicology Forum at the Tanoa Hotel

BY Lance Polu

APIA, SAMOA – MONDAY 14 NOVEMBER 2016: The daily ritual of the Police Band marching on Beach Road to raise the flag infront of the Government building, owes its existence to the actions and attitudes of a few influential individuals during the German administration.

Private letters during that era in the Archives New Zealand reveal the German influence in the existence of brass bands in Samoa dating back to 1904.

Ethnomusicologist Professor Richard Moyle in a presentation at the Musicology Forum in Apia last Friday, quoted the German letters relating to the rise to local fame of the Alamagoto Brass band and the rise and fall of the Bands Secretary Sione Ah Sue.

While brass bands were heard on visiting naval ships at the time, the records of the first local brass band is the Alamagoto Brass band founded by Sione Ah Sue who wrote to Governor Solf for financial assistance to buy the instruments.

The Alamagoto Brass Bands under German bandmaster and shoemaker Herr John Busch, became a regular feature and Ah Sue’s efforts to make it the Government Brass Band.

Always keeping a close association with Governor Solf, who Ah Sue referred to in his letters as the father of the band, offered to have its first public performance for Solf on Christmas day 1904 and when the Governor returned from Germany with his new bride.

The Alamagoto Brass band grew in fame and its expenses also found way into the Governors expenses and official communications with Berlin.

In 1909, there were brass bands at Safune, Tafusi, the Lufilufi Missionary School, Piula – the headquarters of the Methodist church and later at Apia and Falealili.

Financing was an issue and led Ah Sue further wrote to Governor Solf that other brass bands like Taufusi were funded by Europeans (papalagi), the Piula Band was supported by The Wesleyan Society, but “we are like fatherless children and we have appealed to your excellency to be our father.”

Solf returned to Germany later and replaced by Dr. Schulz who built a platform for the brass bands to perform.

Professor Richard Moyle during his peresentation

Professor Richard Moyle during his presentation

Sione Ah Sue later was involved in setting up another band in Apia that prompted the village High Chief Seumanutafa Pogai to complain to Governor Schultz and asking for serious disciplinary action against several men including Ah Sue.

When the First World War broke out in 1914, all German residents were evacuated by warships and a New Zealand Expeditionary Force and of the brass bands that existed under the German administration, only the Methodist Brass Band continued on a regular basis.

Sione Ah Sue went on to be the editor of the Samoanische Zeitung newspaper until its final issue in January 1915. He then became editor and owner of the Samoa Times. In 1918, he reported the passengers arriving on the S.S.Talune from Auckland were speaking of an influenza epidemic there.

He was evidently unaware that some of the passengers were already carrying the disease. As the epidemic swept through Samoa killing 12% of the population, Ah Sue himself fell victim, dying only two weeks after the ship docked, aged 41.

Of the band he was principally associated with at Alamagoto, nothing more appears to be recorded.

Professor Moyle made his presentation “We are like fatherless children, Your Excellency” – bandsmen sucking up and blowing out in German Samoa, at the Ethnomusicology Forum that was the opening event of this years’ Samoana Jazz Festival that featured artists from New Zealand, American Samoa and Samoa at the Tanoa Hotel, the Marina and the Sinalei Hotel.

The forum focused on the Brass Bands and their place in Samoan Music and featured performances by the Falealili Primary School brass band, the Sinalei String Band, the National Orchestra with Edwina Thorne playing arrangements of various Samoan classics.  

The Samoa police band

The Samoa police band