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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.

A member of Roggewein's expedition, which first sited Samoa (on the eastern islands) in 1722, described the natives in these words:

"They are friendly in their speech and courteous in their behavior, with no apparent trace of wildness or savagery. They do not paint themselves, as do the natives of some other islands, but on the lower part of the body they wear artfully woven silk tights or knee breeches. They are altogether the most charming and polite natives we have seen in all of the South Seas."

It's curious why this entry was made since they only observed the Samoans from a distance. Who knows. The remark about the woven silk probably was a mistaken observation of Samoans tataus.

Significant Dates

about 1500 BC Settlers from unknown source settled the islands making up Samoa
1722 Jocob Roggenveen, a Dutch Explorer, saw the Samoan Islands. What he saw was the eastern part of Samoa. When he reported his finding, he was punished since the Dutch company which financed his voyages preferred that these islands remain unknown to the rest of Europe for their own interest.
1768 Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, a French explorer named Samoa 'Navigator Islands'
1819 The French Navigator Louis de Freycinet discovered Rose atoll. This island is now a bird sanctuary and part of the United States wildlife preserves.
1830 John Williams & Charles Barff of the London Missionary Society arrived in Samoa (western) and brought missionaries
1832 John Williams arrived in Manu'a. His other missionary companion Paraifara was there already and he was having considerable success converting many Manu'ans to Christianity.
1835 Reverend Peter Tuner (LMS) visited Samoa (western)
1839 John Williams killed on the beach of Dillon Bay, Eromanga, Melanesia
1841 Malietoa Vai'inupo, whom John Williams visited, died. He was the last Tafai'fa. (western Samoa)
1844 LMS Training Institute established in Samoa (western).
1857 JC Godeffroy & Son founded their depot in Apia (western Samoa)
1887 French ship 'la Perouse landed on Tutu'ila, landed crew attacked, 12 died in fight
1898 Compromise government in (western) Samoa broke with the death of Malietoa Laupepa
1899 Germany annexes western Samoa.
1899 The United States of America annexes eastern Samoa
1899 Tui Manu'a Elisara was bestowed the paramount title of Tui Manu'a on Ta'u on October 25.
1900 Cession of the islands of Tutu'ila and Aunu'u islands to the United States.
  • On July 10th, Commander Benjamin Franklin Tilley, Commandant of the US Naval Station on Tutuila, Tui Manu'a Elisara and US Navy doctor M. Blackwell raised the US flag on Rose Atoll, and claimed it for the United States.
1904 Cession of the Manu'a islands to the United States - this included the Rose Atoll eastward of Manu'a.
1909 Tui Manu'a Eliasra died (the last Tui Manu'a)
1928 Margaret Mead's book Coming of Age in Samoa was published. Mead did her controversial research in Manu'a primarily in the village of Ta'u.
1929 The United States Senate ratifies the 1900 and 1904 treties.
1942 President Roosevelt appointed Lt. General Henry Louis Larson Military Governor of American Samoa, 1/15/1942. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he was ordered to Samoa as commander of a reinforced Brigade made up of the first combat troops to leave continental US.
1951 The administration of American Samoa was passed from the US Navy to the US Department of the Interior.
1954 The Van Camp Seafood Co. of California established business in American Samoa by opening a cannery on the eastern side of the Pago Pago bay.
1962 The western Samoan islands under the New Zealand administration became the first independent nation in the South Pacific as Western Samoa.
1970 AU Fuimaono was selected to be the first Delegate at Large to represent American Samoa to the US Congress.
1977 The governor of American Samoa was, for the first time, popularly elected.
  • Before that time, since the inception of the territory, the governor was either an appointed civilian from the Interior Department or a Navy Officer during the earlier Naval administration of the islands. The first elected governor was Peter Coleman. Coleman also served as an appointed Governor previously in 1956 under the Department of the Interior.
1980 A representative from American Samoa was elected for the first time as a non-voting member of the US House of Representatives.
1997 Western Samoa changed its name to Independent State of Samoa, or just Samoa.
July 2012 A lawsuit was filed by five people from American Samoa arguing they should be U.S. citizens by virtue of being born in the U.S. territory.


Margaret Mead's name will forever surfaced whenever people talk about Samoa because of her book, Coming of Age in Samoa. In her book she documented the lives of some Samoan youths. Her book was later challenged by others and it became the subject of many discussions more than the topic itself. It became one of the center pieces in the old nature versus nurture debate.

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.

"As Samoans they are, as I have said, in a physical point of view, good specimens of men and women mentally, while they are probably wanting in ability to expand or grow to any great extent, still there is no stupidity in the Samoan. In other words, as Samoans, they may be said to be a success among the many races. An effort to make them other than as they are, or to advance them on a higher plane, would in my judgment be unsuccessful.

Speaking of Samoa as a race, Sir Robert Stout said: 'Their development must be slow; any attempt to force them, or to make them like Europeans, must end in the destruction of the race. *** Physically they are a magnificent race. No one can see them walking without being struck with the gracefulness of their carriage. It is better than any race I have ever seen, white or colored. In point of intelligence, they are at least equal to the Maoris, and morally their notions and practices are such as would tend to their preservation. They are a kindly and hospitable people, good tempered, not given to quarreling, and pass their lives easily and happily. In my opinion it would be a crime to allow such a race to be destroyed.'"

Quotation Source:  "Samoa - Its People and their Customs." by Mrs. E. J. Ormsbee. Publication: Eagle, Mary Kavanaugh Oldham, ed. The Congress of Women: Held in the Woman's Building, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, U. S. A., 1893. Chicago, Ill: Monarch Book Company, 1894. pp. 590-596.

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.