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Western Samoa

Oceania, group of islands in the South Pacific Ocean, about one-half of the way from Hawaii to New Zealand

Country Fact Sheet
Capital Apia
Surface 2,831 sq km
Currency Tala (WST)
GDP Purchasing power parity - $1.16 billion (2002 est.)
GDP/Capita Purchasing power parity - $6,344 (2002 est.)
Language Samoan (Polynesian), English
Religion Congregationalist 34.8%, Roman Catholic 19.6%, Methodist 15%, Latter-Day Saints 12.7%, Assembly of God 6.6%, Seventh-Day Adventist 3.5%, other Christian 4.5%, Worship Centre 1.3%, other 1.7%, unspecified 0.1%

Mix of parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy; Prime Minister Tuila epa Sailele Malielegaoi

Time Zone GMT -11 hours hours GMT
Telecom Code +685

Faleolo International Airport (APW/NSFA), Fagali Airport (FGI)

Driving On right hand side of the road, license required
Electrical 240V
Political Climate Stable country
Population 185,000 people (July 2005 est.)

New Zealand occupied the German protectorate of Western Samoa at the outbreak of World War I in 1914. It continued to administer the islands as a mandate and then as a trust territory until 1962, when the islands became the first Polynesian nation to reestablish independence in the 20th century. The country dropped the "Western" from its name in 1997.

The first Polynesians to arrive in the Samoan Islands came island-hopping over several generations from Southeast Asia, via Fiji and probably Tonga, more than 4000 years ago and from there settled the rest of Polynesia: first traveling eastward to the Marquesas Islands, and from there southwest, via the Society Islands to New Zealand, southeast to Easter Island, and northward to Hawaii. Samoa enjoys a rich history, preserved in folklore and myth, of voyages across the ocean, conquests of different islands, and interisland warfare with other West Polynesian polities, such as the Kingdom of Tonga and certain Fijian chieftainships. Some people believe that a temple on the island of Manono has a record, using a system of stone cairns, that commemorates more than 150 wars. Robert Louis Stevenson, who spent the last four years of his life in Samoa, remarked that "War is Samoa's favourite pastime."

Contact with Europeans began in 1722, but intensified after the 1830s, when English missionaries and traders began arriving. Mission work in these islands was begun in late 1830 by John Williams, of the London Missionary Society. By that time, the Samoans had gained a reputation of being savage and warlike, as they had clashed with French, British, German, and American forces, who, by the late nineteenth century, valued Samoa as a refueling station for coal-fired shipping.

As Germany began to show more interest in the Samoan Islands, the United States laid its own claim to them; Britain sent troops to express its interest. There followed an eight-year civil war. Each of the three powers supplied arms, training, and in some cases combat troops, to the warring Samoan parties. All three sent warships into Apia harbor, and a larger-scale war seemed imminent, until a massive storm damaged or destroyed the warships, ending the military conflict. At the turn of the twentieth century, the Treaty of Berlin split the Samoan Islands into two parts: the eastern group became a territory of the United States (the Tutuila Islands in 1900 and officially Manu'a in 1905), and are today known as American Samoa; the western islands, by far the greater landmass, became known as German Samoa after the British gave up claims to the islands in return for Fiji and some Melanesian territories. New Zealand troops landed in 'Upolu on 29 August 1914 and seized control from the German authorities; after that, the western islands became known as Western Samoa.

From the end of the Great War (World War I) until the 1960s, New Zealand controlled Samoa under trusteeship through the League of Nations. Though never a member of the British Commonwealth, it enjoyed many benefits through its relationship with New Zealand. The Western Samoans began a campaign known as the Mau movement to protest the foreign administration, claiming mistreatment of the Samoan people and blaming outsiders for the death of a fourth or fifth of the population during the Spanish flu pandemic, which ravaged the western islands and much of the world in 1918. (A prompt quarantine by authorities in American Samoa spared the eastern islands.) In 1962, Western Samoa became the first Pacific Island state to regain its independence. In many ways though, it remains closely tied to New Zealand.

In July 1997, the constitution was amended to change the country's name from Western Samoa to Samoa. Samoa had been known simply as Samoa in the United Nations since joining the organization, in 1976. The U.S. territory of American Samoa protested the move, asserting that the change diminished its own identity. American Samoans still use the terms Western Samoa and Western Samoans to describe the Independent State of Samoa. While the two Samoas share language and ethnicity, their more recent culture has followed different paths, with American Samoans emigrating to Hawai'i and the U.S. mainland and adopting many U.S. customs, such as American football and baseball. Western Samoans have tended to immigrate to New Zealand, whose influence has made the sports of rugby and cricket more popular in the western islands

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