Surrounded by the warm, crystal-clear waters of the Pacific Ocean, the group of islands that comprise the country of Samoa, make up an independent state that was recognised by the UN in 1976. Referred to as the Navigators' Islands up until the 20th century, in acknowledgement of the Samoans' fine seafaring skills, the islands were called German Samoa from 1900 to 1914 and Western Samoa from 1914 to 1997.
Located between longitudes 171 and 172 degrees west and latitudes 13 and 14 degrees south of the Equator, Samoa is about 2890km from Auckland, 1200km from Suva, 4400km from Sydney and 8400km from the west coast of the USA. Two large islands, Upolu and Savaii account for around 96 per cent of the total land area and eight smaller islands make up the remainder. The capital Apia and Faleolo International Airport are on the island of Upolu. The volcanic islands are dominated by rugged mountain ranges surrounded by a fringe of coral reefs and lagoons.
With a tropical climate and fertile soils, Samoa's flora ranges from tropical rainforests to scrublands, marshes and swamps. Terrestrial animals include flying foxes, land and sea birds, skinks and geckos, while the surrounding seas are home to a wealth of marine life including dolphins, whales and porpoises. Green turtles are regular visitors to the islands. On the surrounding coral reefs can be found over 900 fish species and over 200 varieties of coral.
The original Samoans are believed to have migrated from the East Indies, the Malay Peninsula or the Philippines. The oldest site of human habitation in Samoa is Mulifanua, on Upolu, which dates back to about 1000 BC. During the nineteenth century Western missionaries were very successful in converting the people to Christianity. With the outbreak of World War I, New Zealand took administrative control of Samoa and this lasted until independence in 1962. Between 1962 and 1997, Samoa was referred to as Western Samoa, but is now simply called Samoa.
The great Scottish author of such books as Treasure Island, Kidnapped and Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson settled with his family in Samoa in the early 1890s. He was given the name 'Tusitala' - meaning 'teller of tales' – and his plantation home, now a museum, is now one of the Island’s top historical attractions.
With over 362 villages in Samoa and around 18,000 chiefs, Samoa retains much of its traditional Polynesian cultural heritage. Villages comprise customary land owned by extended family units called aiga, whose matai (chief) holds authority. The church and the Fale Fono, where the matai’s meet to discuss village matters, are the central structures in each village.
Samoa's population of nearly 180,000 is largely full-blooded Polynesian. The national language is Samoan, but English is the official language of business and is spoken by most Samoans, especially those involved in the tourism industry. Since it is polite for visitors to have some local vocabulary, below is a list some useful Samoan words:
Samoa’s economy has been dependent on development aid, tourism, agriculture, and family remittances from overseas nationals. Agriculture, including coconut cream, coconut oil, noni, and copra, employs two-thirds of the labor force and comprises 90% of exports. Besides a large automotive wire harness factory, there is little manufacturing besides agricultural products. Tourism is regarded as an expanding and important sector of the economy.
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- Geography: logitudes 171 and 172 degrees west and latitudes 13 and 14 degrees south of Ecuator
- Capital is Apia.
- Fertile land with tropical rainforests, scrublands, marshes and swamps.
- Samoa gained independence in 1962
- Over 362 villages and around 18,000 chiefs
- Population of nearly 180,000
- National language is Samoan, but English is the official language of business