American Samoa Demography

The islands of the western Pacific are generally divided into three groups – Micronesia, meaning “small island”, Polynesia, meaning “many islands” and Melanesia, meaning “dark islands.” Together, these three groups are known as the Pacific Islands. Micronesia lies almost entirely north of the equator. Melanesia and Polynesia lie on both side of the equator. American Samoa and the Hawaiian Islands are in Polynesia. The other inhabited islands that have a relationship with the United States are in Micronesia.

Polynesia is the largest section of the Pacific Islands. If you draw a large triangle with the three points at Midway Atoll in the north, Easter Island in the southeast, and New Zealand in the southwest, you will have a rough idea of where Polynesia is. Midway and American Samoa are not the only United States territories in Polynesia. Other United States possessions include Johnston and Palmyra Atolls, Kingman Reef and Howland, Baker and Jarvis Islands.

The Samoan islands are about 4,800 miles southwest of San Francisco, California. The nine western islands make up the independent island nation of Samoa. The seven eastern islands make up the territory of American Samoa. American Samoa, located in the South Pacific Ocean, sixty miles east of the Independent State of Samoa; has five main Islands – these are Tutila, Aunu’u and the Manu’a Islands of Ofu, Olosega and Ta’u. Tutuila is the largest island and the center of government and commerce. This territory also includes two coral atolls: Swains Island which is 240 miles north of the main land and Rose Atoll, an uninhabited nature preserve to the east of the Nauy’a Islands. The entire land area of the territory is approximately 77 miles, slightly larger than Washington, D.C. With over ninety percent of its 600,000 people living on the main island, Tutuila is one of eleven districts, some of which are divided between two different islands.

The largest island in American Samoa is Tutuila. Its fifty-three square miles make up almost seventy percent of the total land area on all seven islands. Pago Pago, on the southeastern coast is the territorial capital and the main port. Huge mountains rise up all around the Harbor. Aunuu Island, a small volcanic crater, lies just offshore.

Steep, volcanic mountains are a major part of the landscape of the five big islands. Covered with lots of trees and other vegetation, the land drops to the ocean with steep, rocky elevations as high as 3,170 feet on Ta’u and 2,142 feet on the main land. Streams and bays create small coastal plains and in some wide areas, sandy beaches are prevalent. Because the north shores of the islands are all subject to severe marine erosion; they consist of mostly steep cliffs. Except for the atolls, most of the islands are rocky. They were formed from the remains of extinct volcanoes. Central mountain ranges and corral reefs surround the islands. Most of the islands’ streams don’t reach the ocean but seep through the rocks.

The climate in the islands is warm and humid. Temperatures range between 75 degrees Fahrenheit and 85 degrees Fahrenheit year round. The islands are subject to strong hurricanes and typhoons between the months of January and March and most rain comes between November and March. Even during the rainy season, it is sunny for much of the day. The National Park of American Samoa preserves the wildlife, fruit bats and freshwater eels. About eighty percent of the land is forest and the breadfruit, the pandanus and coconut trees are plentiful. In Pago Pago there is a dry goods store that was a hotel before when the British were there. Author Somerset Maugham wrote “Miss Thompson” set in the South Pacific. As Pago Pago is the only usable seaport in American Samoa, most of its population and trading is concentrated nearby. With its current population of 58,000, American Samoa is growing at less than one percent annually. Tens of thousands of citizens of Independent Samoa live in American Samoa to take advantage of greater employment opportunities. Likewise, even more of the American Samoan high school graduates migrate to Hawaii or the United States mainland each year for education or employment purposes.

More than 100 earth and stone mounds built by prehistoric people are scattered across the Samoa Islands. The mounds are roughly star-shaped with points radiating out from the center. Some believe the ancient inhabitants used the mounds for sport and religion. Pigeon-snaring was the islander’s major sport. Feasting and partying went on with hunting games, and were used for important religious rituals. With archaeological evidence dating back as along as 1000b.c, Samoans believe that their ancestors were the first Polynesians. The legend of the god Tagaloa displays the Polynesians belief that the world was created (although by a god named Tagaloa) and man and woman were created along with the rest of the world. Approximately 98% of American Samoans are Christians, spread out among many churches. These people are extremely honorable and the American Samoan motto is Samoa Muamua Le Atua, which means “In Samoa, God is First”.