About the book
T autai – which means ‘navigator’ in Sāmoan – is the story of a man who came from the edge of a mighty empire and then challenged it at its very heart. This biography of Ta’isi O. F. Nelson chronicles the life of a man described as the “archenemy” of New Zealand and its greater whole, the British Empire. He was Sāmoa’s richest man who used his wealth and unique international access to further the Sāmoan cause and was financially ruined in the process.
In the aftermath of the hyper-violence of the First World War, Ta’isi embraced nonviolent resistance as a means to combat a colonial surge in the Pacific that gripped his country for nearly two decades. This surge was manned by heroes of New Zealand’s war campaign, who attempted to hold the line against the groundswell of challenges to the imperial order in the former German colony of Sāmoa that became a League of Nations mandate in 1921.
Stillborn Sāmoan hopes for greater freedoms under this system precipitated a crisis of empire. It led Ta’isi on global journeys in search of justice taking him to Geneva, the League of Nations headquarters, and into courtrooms in Sāmoa, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. Ta’isi ran a global campaign of letter writing, petitions, and a newspaper to get his people’s plight heard. For his efforts he was imprisoned and exiled not once but twice from his homeland of Sāmoa.
Tautai book tells the story of this extraordinary man for the first time. Using a plethora of fresh sources, this book brings this indigenous man, his family (especially his six daughters), his struggle and his times to life. Richly detailed and deeply researched, this story tells a story of global significance. It connects people, causes and countries in ways not previously attempted and illuminates a man who played a leading role in decolonization after World War One. This book is also distinct because of the collaboration with Ta’isi’s family who collectively have added details and insights to this world history that has its epicentre in the islands of Sāmoa.
P atricia O’Brien is the author of Tautai. She is known for her numerous works on Pacific-focused histories of gender, empire, violence and colonial cultural histories including The Pacific Muse: Exotic Femininity and the Colonial Pacific (Seattle: 2006). Currently her work focuses on these themes relating to Australia, New Zealand, Sāmoa and New Guinea in the interwar period. She has held international positions from being the resident Australian and Pacific historian at Georgetown University, Washington DC from 2001 to 2013, to the 2012 J. D. Stout Fellow in New Zealand Studies at Victoria University Wellington and the 2011 Jay I. Kislak Fellow in American Studies at the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress, Washington DC. Currently she is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow in the School of History at the Australian National University, Canberra.
"Every Sāmoan should read this book"
"Dr O’Brien has provided the deepest historical account ever written of Colonial Sāmoa between the two World Wars. …I congratulate Dr O’Brien on her excellent work which every Sāmoan should read"
"This is a remarkable...a very important book"
"an outstanding piece of research and writing about a controversial chapter in Samoa’s history"
"A landmark work"
"intense, rewarding, revealing…heart-breaking…exhilarating"
"a complex, multi-sided, committed, fair and just study of a very complicated and dynamic man/leader…captivating"