History since the arrival of Europeans
The history of Samoa since the arrival of the palagi explorers, traders, and missionaries was written mostly around events in the more popular villages. In Apia, Western Samoa, traders setup trading posts and created a western style economy. These traders brought with them Melanesian and Chinese workers to augment their work force because the Samoans weren't yielding to strict working schedules. Next came soldiers to make sure the traders were protected from the natives, to protect the natives from the unscrupulous businessmen, and to enhance their own careers. With the military came the ever-present bureaucrats vying for their niche during the most active part of European and American expansion.
As part of this group of visitors were missionaries coming to Samoa to spread the gospel. Thanks to their tireless work, Samoans are now primarily Christians. The missionary contacts were initially made in the western islands of Samoa and gradually and reluctantly their Christian message made its way to the Manu'a islands. From that initial contact, Christianity became popular and it merged with the fa'a Samoa into something that is uniquely Samoan.
Today, it's possible to see a church building in each of the villages in Samoa that serve important functions in the lives of the Samoans. Some of these villages have no more than 300 people.
With the Berlin treaty of 1899, the European and American powers divided the Samoan islands - the western islands, including Savai'i, Upolu and a few other smaller islands were annexed to Germany, with the rest of the islands eastern to the United States of America. Upolu and Savai'i were the largest islands in the Samoa archipelago ideal for very large plantations to supply the needed raw materials for the industrialized nations. American Samoa is strategically located halfway between California and Australia and it has a very safe and protected harbor that is ideal for Naval use.
After World War I, Germany lost Western Samoa to Great Britain and its colonial possessions, primarily New Zealand. New Zealand administered Western Samoa during most of the first half of the 20th century until Western Samoa became an independent nation is 1962. American Samoa became a U.S. territory in 1900 when the islands of Tutu'ila and Aunu'u were ceded over to the United States. Manu'a followed suit and ceded to the United States of America in 1904. Twenty years later, the US congress recognized these signed 'deeds' and so remains this relationship between the United States and American Samoa to this day.
The Controversy behind Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa is probably an outcome of a struggle in the West as it comes to term with its self.
From the outset, coming into the 20th century, the West was on a course of great development never achieved by previous civilizations. The discoveries of the maturing sciences and engineering gave the average citizens higher standards of living. But despite these accomplishments, there were the ensuing efforts to define the morals and ethics of the developing generations. These efforts were discussed and clarified in churches, universities, government hearings, media, and in the homes. The work of Mead was an extension of these dialogs. She chose to do her research in a place she believed far removed of any smitten of sophistication and furthest from anything resembling her home and surrounding. She chose to do her research in Samoa, primarily in the village of Ta'u on the Manu'a islands.
In some degree, I sympathized with Meads relentless attempt to show her people that there was more to life than material possessions, that there was more to life than winning the rat race, and that there was also a need for the West to rethink its dealings with its minorities and how everyone should be treated.
"As the traveler who has once been from home is wiser than he who has never left his own doorstep, so a knowledge of one other culture should sharpen our ability to scrutinize more steadily, to appreciate more lovingly, our own." (from Coming of Age in Samoa, Margaret Mead, 1928)
But in retropect, many Samoans think that she went too far in her writings to portraying them as lacking any of the strong and complicated emotion and passion that she disliked so much in the West. What is even more puzzling is why an intelligent student skimmed over some very basic facts that show the corollary that the Samoans by nature are agressive as everybody else, and that they are effected by the demands imposed on them by their society. Whatever her reasons, or lack of, we'll leave it to the scholars.
It suffices us to know that Samoans are similar in many respects to every other group of people. Nonetheless, living on these beautiful islands with an abundance of crops and fish might have caused a unique approach to life that could be misinterpreted by the uninitiated eyes.
From the outside, the Samoans appear content with life, easy going and view achievement with distaste. This view might give an observer a mistaken notion about Samoans. Like every other people, Samoans lacks none of the human frailties and they're clearly empowered with the human drive to compete to win and to succeed. But the natural surroundings of the islands and years of refined traditions have created a markedly Samoan way.