What Should I Know About American Samoa?

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  • Written By: Rebecca Partington
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 23 September 2019
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American Samoa is a territory of the United States of America, located in the South Pacific Ocean. American Samoa consists of several islands, the largest and most populous of which is Tutulia. The Manu'a Islands, Rose Atoll, and Swains Island are also included in the territory.

It is believed by many scientists that the islands now known as American Samoa were first inhabited around 1000 BCE. As part of the Polynesian island group, the indigenous culture of the islands are still strongly connected by family ties and the faamatai chieftain system. European settlers first arrived in American Samoa during the eighteenth century. First contact was made by missionaries, who were quickly followed by Americans and Germans who made claims to various parcels of land. In 1889, an ill-fated battle between German and American ships occurred in the area, during which all ships were sunk by a typhoon. This resulted in an armistice due to the lack of warships with which to fight.

Although the western part of Samoa is an independent governmental entity, the 1899 Treaty of Berlin officially made the eastern part of Samoa an American territory. Samoa has been used as a navy base, such as when the American Navy used Pago Pago Bay as a coaling station. Attempts have been made by the U.S. Congress to incorporate American Samoa, but Samoan chiefs have resisted these attempts. Instead, the islands are self-governing under a constitution.


American Samoa's government is of the three-branch system, with executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The Governor is the head of government. Traditional village politics also play a role in government. People born on the islands are American nationals, but are not American citizens unless they go through the process of being naturalized. The capital cities are Pago Pago and Fagatogo.

American Samoa consists of five volcanic islands and two coral atolls. Due to its geography, it is frequently hit by typhoons. Workers on the island are divided fairly equally between three sectors: the public sector, tuna canneries, and the rest of the private sector. According to the 2000 census, the total population is 57,291. The official languages are English and Samoan, although most people in Samoa are bilingual. Approximately 89% of the islanders are of Samoan ethnicity, 4% are Tongan, 2% are Caucasian, and 5% are of other ethnicities.


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