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A Brief History of the Samoan Islands

George Pararas-Carayannis

(Excerpts from a study of Historical Tsunamis in the Samoan Islands undertaken for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, published originally as a Tsunami Catalog of the International Tsunami Information Center under the authorship of G. Pararas-Carayannis and B. Dong in June 1980)


Introduction


The Samoan Islands consist of three large islands, Savaii, Upolu, and Tutuila, with several neighboring smaller ones . The smaller islands are Aunulu, Ta'u, Ofu, Olosega, Rose and Swains. The latter two islands are coral atolls . The islands are of volcanic origin and form a chain from east to west from 169.5O W t o 172.0 W a t the approximate mean latitude of 14 degrees. T he islands rise rapidly from the ocean floor from depths of over 4,000 meters.


American Samoa consists of several islands east of the 171st meridian of west longitude. It is separated from Western Samoa by a Strait which is 60 kilometers wide and over 2,000 meters deep. The main island is Tutuila with an area of 135 square kilometers. There are six smaller islands, Aunu'u, Talu, Ofu, Olosega and a small isolated double island, Rose Island, which is uninhabited. The population o f American Samoa, in 1977, wa
30,600 with the bulk of the population (over 28,000) living in Tutuila and the remainder in Manua and Swain's Islands. More than a third of the population (1 1,000) lives i n Pago Pago which i s the main town and administrative center of American Samoa. Approximately 2,000 people live in the other town of Leone, about 20 kilometers away. The rest of the population reside in rural communities.


The Samoan Group of Islands

The larger islands of Western Samoa are Upolu (70 kilometers by20 kilometers), and Savai ' i (70 kilometers by 50 kilometers). The smaller islands are Nuutele and Nuulua, on the eastern end o f Upolu, and Manono and Apolima, between Upolu and Savai'i. The strait separating Upolu and Savai 'i i s 15 kilometers wide and about 100 meters deep. The islands are surrounded almost entirely by coral reef o f several kilometers i n width. The principal town of Western Samoa and the capital , Apia, is situated on the north coast o f Upolu Island. The total area of Western Samoa exceeds 2,900 square kilometers. Western Samoa is an independent state and a member of the British Commonwealth. Its population as of 1977, was 152,000. Approximately 109,500 people inhabit Upolu and approximately 42,000 inhabit Savai'i (as of 1977).

1899 Map of the Samoan Islands


Brief History of the Samoan Islands


Archaeological excavations in Western Samoa revealed Lapita pottery dating back to about 800 B.C. Therefore, it can be assumed that all of the Samoan Islands have been inhabited by people for over 2,500 years. Contact with the western world was first made in 1722 when the Dutch navigator Jaco Roggereen of the Dutch West India Company sighted the Manua islands, Tau, Ofu and Olosega, and had brief contact with the Samoans. Forty-six years later, i n 1768, the French explorer Louis Bougainville, touched at the Manua's in his voyage around the world and bartered trinkets for fresh food. He was struck by the manner i n which the Samoans handled t h e i r boats that he named the islands "the Navigator Islands".

In 1787, another French explorer, La Perouse, visited the islands. During the visit, his second in command, de Langle, and eleven of his men were massacred when they went ashore for water. Four years later, the Englishman Captain Edward Edwards of the British war vessel, "Pandora", stopped on two occasions during his search for the mutineers of the "Bounty". From about 1803 and thereafter, many sailors and escaping convicts from New South Wales began to reach the Samoan islands from Tonga and elsewhere. By 1830 many people of European origin had settled in the Samoan islands. In 1830, the first Christian missionaries, John Williams and Charles Barff of the London Missionary Society arrived and left Tahitian teachers ashore. In 1836, the Rev. A.M. Murray settled on Tutuila, remaining there for many years. Pago Pago harbour had been discovered a few months earlier by Captain Cuthbert of the British whaler "Elizabeth". Pago Pago soon thereafter became a popular port of call for whaling vessels of many nations.


The United States Navy made the first scientific investigations in the islands in 1839. As early as 1850, England, Germany, and the United States were represented by commercial agents in Apia. During the next 20 years, Germans and Englishmen were more forward in developing and establishing close relations with the natives. Americans took very little interest at this time. Recognizing the usefulness of Pago Pago as a port for the proposed trans-Pacific steamship service, American shipping interests took steps to obtain a foothold there. In 1872, Commander Richard W. Meade of the United States Navy signed a treaty with the Mauga (high
chief) at Pago Pago area which gave the United States the exclusive right to build a naval station in return for U.S. Government protection. The treaty was made only on Meade's own responsibility. Later that year, President Grant communicated this agreement to the Senate which gave no action on the agreement. Finally, in 1878, a treaty which contained the formal definition of the relations of the United States and the Samoan group was ratified. The United States was granted the priviledge of entering and using of Pago Pago, and establishing a coal station there. During the next 20 years, the Samoan islands were the subject of power struggles between the United States, Germany and Great Britain. In 1898, after a war with Spain, the United States acquired Guam and the Philippines and shortly thereafter annexed Hawaii.

The Harbor of Apia, Western Samoa in 1899


In 1899, the remaining Spanish possessions in the Pacific - the Caroline, Palau and the Marianna Islands were sold to Germany. Also in 1899 treaties were drawn between the three powers (Germany, USA and Great Britain) to partition the Samoan Islands. Western Samoa was placed under Germany. United States accepted Tutuila and Manua and Great Britain withdrew from the group in return for German concessions elsewhere. The American territory was placed under the jurisdiction of the United States Department of the Navy from 1900 to 1951. The United States flag was formally raised on Tutuila on 17 April 1900 following the receipt of a deed of cession from the chiefs of that island. The Manua chiefs signed a deed of cession in 1904. In 1911, American Samoa was adopted as the name of the territory. In 1951, the administration of American Samoa was transferred to the U.S. Department of the Interior.

1899 Map of the Island of Tutuila and the harbor of Pago Pago

REFERENCES

DAVIDSON, J.W., 1967. Samoa mo Samoa: The Emergence of the Independent State of Western Samoa, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, Australia.


GILSON, R.P., 1970. Samoa 1830 to 1900: The Politics of a Multi-Cultural Community, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, Australia.


GRAY. J.A.C., 1960. Ameri ka Samoa: A History of American Samoa and its United States Naval Administration, United States Naval Institute, Annapolis, Maryland.

See also: Short History of Alaska

Short History of California

Short History of Hawaii

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Web Design by Dr. Carolyn Carayannis Copyright 2008 / all rights reserved. © Copyright 1963-2007 George Pararas-Carayannis / all rights reserved / Information on this site is for viewing and personal information only - protected by copyright. Any unauthorized use or reproduction of material from this site without written permission is prohibited. Material included at the website links above is for informative and educational purposes and for disaster preparedness only. Any predictions of large earthquakes, destructive tsunamis, or any other natural disasters presented in these pages are based primarily on statistical determinations of the historical recurrence frequencies of such events. Such historical/statistical approaches are used only for long-term predictions. There is no intent by the author to predict or forecast any type of natural disaster or to frighten people.

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