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American Samoa History

The islands of American Samoa have a total land area of 76 square miles. Tutuila contains about two thirds of the total area and is home to 95% of the 65,000 islanders. American Samoa is located 14 degrees south of the equator, and 172 degrees meridian west, and is the center of Polynesia. Located 2,300 miles southwest of Hawaii and 1,600 miles northeast of New Zealand, it forms a strategic midpoint on vital shipping and air routes.

Linguistic and cultural evidence suggest that the first Samoa inhabitants  migrated from the West, possibly by way of Indonesia, Vanuatu, Fiji and Tonga, to the eastern tip of Tutuila near the present village of Tula around 600 B.C..  It is believed that there was at least an 800 year history of contact with Fiji and Tonga, before the Samoan islands were “officially” discovered by Dutch Explorer Jacob Roggeveen in 1722.

Initial contact with the outside world came with the introduction of Christianity by John Williams of the London Missionary Society. The adoption of Christianity by the ranking chiefs proved to be successful, for within 40 years, Samoans were sending missionaries to Melanesia.

Traditional Samoan society is based on a chieftain system of hereditary rank, and is known as the “Samoan Way” or fa’a Samoa way of life. Despite the inroads of modern, Western Civilization, local cultural institutions are the strongest single influence in American Samoa. The fa’a Samoa way of life stems from the aiga, the extended family with a common allegiance to the matai, the family chief who regulates the family’s activities.

Religious institutions are very influential in the community and the village minister is accorded a privileged position, equal in status to a chief or matai. The Fa’a Samoa also reflects a communal lifestyle with non-public ownership and 90% of the communal lands controlled by the family matai.

American Samoa has been a territory of the United States since the signing of the April 17, 1900 Deed of Cession. The Pago Pago Harbor area was the site of the coaling station and a naval base. During the late 1930’s, the strategic importance of American Samoa proved valuable in its aggressive retaliation with the Japanese Empire.

In 1940, the Port of Pago Pago became a training and staging area for the U.S. Marine Corps. During the War Years, the United States built roads, airstrips, docks and medical facilities exposing island residents to the American way of life. It was also then that American Samoans enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, thereby establishing a home guard unit. In 1945, the Marines left the island territory to resume its peaceful lifestyle.

Since World War II, American Samoa has developed into a modern, self-governing political system. The government is divided into three branches, similar to the United States. The Executive Branch is led by the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, the Legislative Branch is led by the local legislature, consisting of the House of Representatives, who are elected by popular vote and the Senate, who are represented by the village matai. The judicial branch is part of the U.S. judicial system, and American Samoa has a non-voting representative elected to the U.S. Congress.