National Geographic : 1919 Sep
AMERICA'S SOUTH SEA SOLDIERS BY LORENA MACINTYRE QUINN WHEN thinking of the insular possessions of the United States, we are apt to lose sight of the fact that our flag flies over a group of six tiny islands in the South Seas, comprising what is known as American Samoa. Here our govern ment maintains a naval station, on the Island of Tutuila, at Pago Pago, one of the finest and safest harbors in the South Seas. In these troubled times it is well to re member the strategic value of the naval station at Pago Pago, "with its magnifi cent harbor and its situation at the cross roads of the Pacific trade routes from North America to Australia and from Panama and South America to the Orient." The harbor occupies the crater of an extinct volcano and is one and one-half miles in length and three-fourths of a mile wide. The entrance to the harbor from the sea is a very narrow channel. The steep mountains, covered to the highest peaks with coconut palms and greens, seem to embrace the villages on the shores and protect them from severe tropical storms. It was over these islands that our first difficulties with Germany occurred, in 1888. Overzealous local officials made the rivalry more intense, and each home government sent ships of war to the scene. The situation was growing criti cal, when a storm destroyed the two fleets. After this the points at issue were adjusted and an agreement was signed in Berlin that provided a hybrid form of government for the islands. AMERICA'S SOLDIERS WHO WEAR KILTS Under this arrangement the Samoan group continued to make trouble until, in 1899, they were divided by a new treaty, which gave each side what it wanted Germany, a colony; the United States, a coaling station. Early in the World War, German Samoa was captured by the New Zealand troops, and thereby England acquired a rich colony. American Samoa is under the super vision of the Navy Department of the United States. The naval officers sta tioned at Pago Pago form the governing body of Tutuila and the five other small islands. The yeomen among the blue jackets are valuable office assistants. The Fita-Fitas,* as the native soldiers are called, constitute an important unit in the government of American Samoa. It would be hard to find a more pic turesque body of men than these, our South Sea Island soldiers. Tall, broad shouldered, handsome in features, pos sessing splendid poise, they are admirable types of their race. Their fatigue uniform consists of a sort of black kilt with a bright red stripe around the border. Above the waist and below the knees the uniform is "Nature's own." A leather belt carrying a dagger on the side holds the kilt or lava-lava in place. A bright red turban is the head-dress. For dress uniform the Fita-Fitas wear with the lava-lava a sleeveless white undervest, similar to the X.Y.Z. or A.B.C. garments graphically described in the ad vertising sections of magazines. . TOO MUCH UNIFORM, SOLDIERS TOOK COLD When the native soldiers were first taken into the service of the United States, a less abbreviated and more con ventional uniform was provided them, with the result that they were constantly suffering from colds; so there was a wise reversion to a uniform on the lines of their native dress. The Fita-Fitas have municipal as well as military duties. They act as police men in and about Pago Pago, guard all prisoners in the Pago Pago jail, and fre quently are called upon to settle fights at *Pronounced Feeta-Feeta.