American Samoa is a U.S. territory comprising seven islands and atolls in the South Pacific. On Tutuila, the largest island lies the capital Pago Pago, surrounded by volcanic peaks, including the 1,716-foot-high Rainmaker Mountain. The National Park of American Samoa, split between the islands Tutuila, Ofu and Ta‘ū, showcases the territory’s rainforests, beaches, and reefs.
QUICK FACTS ABOUT THE AMERICAN SAMOA
- Capital City: Pago Pago
- Largest City: Tafuna
- Territory As of April 17, 1900: Unincorporated and unorganized territory of the U.S.
- Population (as of 2021): 46,366
- Abbreviation: AS
- Official flower: Pandanus tectorius
- Total Size Of The State: 77 sq mi (200 km2)
- Official languages: English & Samoan
Experts believe the first settlers arrived on these islands more than 3,000 years ago. Samoans have traded with, married, and even battled people from nearby islands, Fiji and Tonga, throughout their history. Samoan storytelling remains an integral part of the culture today: According to oral history and legend, the first Tui Manu’a, or ruler, descended from Tagaloa, the supreme god.
During the early 1700s, European explorers began to visit the region. The British began sending missionaries to the islands in the 1800s to spread their religion. As a result, many American Samoans today practice both Samoan and Christian beliefs, including worshipping ancestor spirits.
German, British, and American forces fought for control of the Samoan islands in the late 1800s. The island chain was divided in 1899 after years of civil war. Nine islands became a German colony called Western Samoa (today, it is the independent country of Samoa), and the eastern islands became a U.S. naval base.
In 1924, the United States government briefly removed the title from Tui Manu’a Christopher Taliutafa Young. In 1977, American Samoans elected their first Samoan governor after fighting for more control.
Nature & Name Origin
American Samoa consists of five volcanic islands (Tutuila, Tau, Olosega, Ofu, and Aunuu) and two coral atolls (Rose and Swains). Samoan flying foxes, honeyeaters, and starlings live in the island’s rainforests, as do indigenous species of fruit bats, including Samoan starlings. Samoan mythology says that the goddess Nafanua was rescued by flying foxes while stranded on an island.
There are eight species of whales in the surrounding waters, including humpbacks, orcas, and banded sea kraits. In addition, sea snakes nest on the shore, similar to sea turtles, despite living primarily in the ocean.
The Culture and Locals
Polynesians, which include Indigenous people from the Hawaiian Islands and New Zealand, are part of the Polynesian culture. However, more than 90% of the people in American Samoa are Pacific Islanders, mostly Samoans.
Samoan culture is known as fa’asamoa, consisting of matai (chiefs), aiga (extended families), and the Christian church. According to Samoan customs, matai are the heads of their extended families and nu’u (village) leaders.
Often, both men and women get tattoos from their waistline to their knees representing courage, honor, community, power, pride, and adulthood. Family members accompany people getting tattooed to help them through the process, which can take months.
Samoan cuisine is known for its tropical fruits and vegetables, including coconut, papaya, taro, and breadfruit. Fish, pork, chicken, and vegetables covered in banana leaves are cooked in an umu, an oven made with hot volcanic stones.
In 1900, American Samoa officially became a U.S. territory, and it was under the control of the U.S. Navy until 1951. The U.S. Department of the Interior currently governs it. American Samoa has a constitution and an elected governor but cannot vote in federal elections in the United States.
American Samoans are U.S. nationals, unlike people living in other U.S. territories (such as Puerto Rico) who are U.S. citizens. As a result, certain rights are denied to them. For instance… If a person born in American Samoa moves to a U.S. state, they still cannot vote or run for office.
Some Fun Facts About American Samoa
- Located in the Southern Hemisphere, American Samoa National Park is the only U.S. national park located in that part of the world.
- Samoan culture and language are inspirations for the movie Moana. For example, in the film, fale houses are shown as an example of Samoan architecture.
- The geysers in Taga are caused by hot lava underwater.
- The National Register of Historic Places includes five Tui Manu’a gravesites.