History of Samoa

From Academic Kids

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Chromograph map of Samoa - George Cram 1896

The history of Samoa began when immigrants from the Lau islands in eastern Fiji arrived in the Samoan islands approximately 3500 years ago and from there settled the rest of Polynesia. There is evidence to suggest they travelled as far as South America. Contact with Europeans began in the early 1700s but did not intensify until the arrival of English missionaries and traders in the 1830s.

Halfway through the 19th century, the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States all claimed parts of the kingdom of Samoa, and established trade posts.

King Malietoa Laupepa died in 1898 and was succeeded by Malietoa Tooa Mataafa. The US and British consuls supported Malietoa Tanu, Laupepa's son. US and British warships, including USS Philadelphia shelled Apia on March 15, 1899.

In the Samoa Tripartite Convention, a joint commission of three members, Bartlett Tripp for the United States, C. N. E. Eliot, C.B. for Great Britain, and Freiherr Speck von Sternberg for Germany, agreed to divide the islands. Germany received the western part, (now Western Samoa), containing Upolu and Savaii (the current Samoa) and other adjoining islands. These islands became known as German Samoa. Britain took the Solomon Islands, including Tonga and the Savage Islands. The US accepted Tutuila and Manu'a, which comprise a territory of the US known as American Samoa. The monarchy was disestablished.

From 1908, with the establishment of the Mau ("opinion") movement, Western Samoans began to assert their claim to independence.

Shortly after the outbreak of World War I, in August 1914, New Zealand sent an expeditionary force to seize and occupy German Samoa. Although Germany refused to officially surrender the islands, no resistance was offered and the occupation took place without any fighting.

New Zealand continued the occupation of Western Samoa throughout World War I. In 1919, under the Treaty of Versailles, Germany dropped its claims to the islands.

New Zealand administered Western Samoa first as a League of Nations Mandate and then as a United Nations trusteeship until the country received its independence on January 1, 1962 as Western Samoa. Samoa was the first Polynesian nation to reestablish independence in the 20th century.

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 neighboring U.S. territory of American Samoa protested the move, feeling that the change diminished its own Samoan identity. American Samoans still use the terms "Western Samoa" and "Western Samoans."

In 2002, New Zealand's prime minister Helen Clark formally apologised for two incidents during the period of New Zealand's administration: a failure to quarantine an influenza-carrying ship in 1919, leading to an epidemic which devastated the Samoan population, and the shooting of leaders of the nonviolent Mau movement during a ceremonial procession in 1926.

Samoa's rugby team has achieved some notable successes, particularly in the sevens version of the game.


  • Eustis, Nelson. 1979. Aggie Grey of Samoa. Hobby Investments, Adelaide, South Australia. 2nd printing, 1980. ISBN 0-9595609-0-4.

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