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 Samoa’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 Samoan 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.