The Mau movement was the name given to the popular nonviolent movement for Samoan independence from colonial rule. Mau means "opinion" or "testimony" in Samoan.
The Mau had its origins, in 1908, in a dispute between the German colonial administration and the Maloa o Samoa, or Samoan Council of Chiefs, over the establishment of a copra business owned and controlled by native Samoans.
The dispute led to the formation of a resistance movement on the island of Savai'i by Mamoe, one of the chiefs deposed by the German Governor of Samoa, Wilhelm Solf. As well as deposing members of the Malo o Samoa, Solf called in two German warships as a show of strength. Faced with this demonstration of military force, and with the movement divided, Mamoe surrendered, and resistance faded.
The Mau remained true to this sentiment, and despite the exile of Nelson, continued to use civil disobedience to oppose the New Zealand administration. They boycotted imported products, refused to pay taxes and formed their own "police force", picketing stores in Apia to prevent the payment of customs to the authorities. Village committees established by the administration ceased to meet and government officials were ignored when they went on tour. Births and deaths went unregistered. Coconuts went unharvested, and the banana plantations were neglected.
As the select committee was forced to admit, "a very substantial proportion of Samoans had joined the Mau, a number quite sufficient, if they determined to resist and thwart the activities of the Administration, to paralyse the functions of government."
Richardson sent a warship and a 70-strong force of marines to quell the largely non-violent resistance. 400 Mau members were arrested, but others responded by giving themselves up in such numbers that there were insufficient jail cells to detain them all, and the prisoners came and went as they pleased. One group of prisoners found themselves in a three-sided "cell" which faced the ocean, and were able to swim away to tend to their gardens and visit their families.
With his attempt at repression turning to ridicule, Richard offered pardons to all those arrested; however, arrestees demanded to be dealt with by the court, and then refused to enter pleas to demonstrate their rejection of the court's jurisdiction.
The new administrator, Stephen Allen, replaced the marines with a special force of New Zealand police, and began to target the leaders of the movement. Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III, who had led the movement following the exile of Nelson, was arrested for non-payment of taxes and imprisoned for six months. On 28 December, 1929 – which would be know thereafter as "Black Saturday" –New Zealand military police fired upon a peaceful demonstration which had assembled to welcome home A.G. Smyth, a European movement leader returning to Samoa after a two year exile. Reports of the massacre are sketchy because the official cover-up for the incident was so effective. Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III had rushed to the front of the crowd and turned to face his people, he called for peace from them because some were throwing stones at the police. With his back to the police calling for peace he was shot in the back, another Samoan who rushed to help him was shot in both legs while cradling his head. Another who had attempted to shield his body from the bullets was shot. 2 more rushing to help were killed before they could reach him. Shooting stopped at around 6.30 am. 8 had died 3 would later die and about 50 were wounded. One policeman had also been killed from a single blow to his head. Among the wounded were terrified women and children who had fled to a market place for cover from New Zealand police firing from the verandah of the station, one of them wielding a Lewis machinegun.
As he lay dying, Tamesese III made this statement to his followers: "My blood has been spilt for Samoa. I am proud to give it. Do not dream of avenging it, as it was spilt in peace. If I die, peace must be maintained at any price."
Following the massacre, male Mau members fled to the mountains, the traditional retreat of those defeated in war. The resistance continued by other means, with the emergence of a women's Mau to continue the councils, parades and symbolic protests that the men now could not. For the women's movement, even the game of cricket represented an act of defiance inviting official harassment.