Tautai: Sāmoa, World History, and the Life of Ta’isi O. F. Nelson

By Patricia O'Brien

Tautai: Sāmoa, World History, and the Life of Ta’isi O. F. Nelson

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Tautai 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.

Using private papers and interviews, O’Brien tells a deeply compelling account of Ta’isi’s life lived through turbulent decades. By following Ta’isi’s story readers also learn a history of Sāmoa’s Mau movement that attracted international attention. The author’s care for detail provides a nuanced interpretation of its history and Ta’isi’s role in the broader context of world history.

The first biography of Ta’isi O. F. Nelson, Tautai is a powerful and passionate story that is both personal and one that encircles the globe. It touches on shared histories and causes that have animated and enraged populations across the world throughout the twentieth century to the present day.


  • 'In this complex, multisided history of Germany’s and then New Zealand’s colonial administration of Sāmoa, Ta’isi O. F. Nelson emerges as a fascinating, profoundly intelligent, courageous, and indefatigable leader of Sāmoa’s drive for independence.' -Albert Wendt, award-winning novelist and poet
  • 'Through one extraordinary life, Patricia O’Brien has written a major account of converging modern worlds. Her study of Ta’isi O. F. Nelson links empire, war, capitalism, anti-colonialism, and internationalism over six tumultuous decades. Deeply researched, this book is both a world history of Sāmoa, and a Pacific history of the early twentieth-century world.' - Alison Bashford, University of Cambridge


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Product Details

  • ISBN: 9781775503316
  • Dimension: 153 x 229 mm
  • Pages: 432
  • Format: Hardback
  • Language: English
  • Publication Date: 01 Jun 2017

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About the Author

Patricia O'Brien

Patricia O’Brien is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow in the School of History at The Australian National University. Read More