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Situated in the South Pacific Ocean, southeast of Samoa, American Samoa is a territory of the United States. The island group includes the islands of Aunuu, Ofu, Olosega, Tau, and Tutuila, as well as two coral atolls known as Swains Island and Rose Atoll, the latter uninhabited. Swains Island was annexed in 1925. Except for the two coral atolls, the islands were formed by volcanic activity. Tutuila, the largest island, rises steeply above deep inlets. Pago Pago Harbor is a particularly deep inlet that divides the island nearly in two. The second largest island area in American Samoa is composed of Tau, Olosega, and Ofu islands, which are about sixty miles east of Tutuila. The climate in America Samoa is tropical, and the islands get ample rainfall. Watersheds carry more rainwater in the highlands than near the sea. The water filters into the porous rock, so coastal well provide much of the water supply to the people of American Samoa. The islands are not rich in wildlife, other than birds and insects, although there are bats, lizards, rats, snakes, and pigs.

Samoa and American Samoa are believed to have been settled around 1000 BC by Polynesians who probably arrived in outrigger canoes. According to tradition, the first inhabitants came from Tonga. Interactions between the early Samoans, Tongans, and Fijians are thought to have continued. As might be expected in an island group, the Samoans were boatbuilders and skilled navigators. Samoan life was based on maritime life, including fishing, although basic agriculture was also in use, as they grew harvested bananas, breadfruits, coconuts, sugarcane, taro, and yams.

Europeans first came to the islands in 1722. John London, representing the London Missionary Society, converted the ruler of all of Samoa to Christianity in 1830, and the rest of the islands followed suit. A foreign settlement was made around Apia Harbour in the 1850s. Initially welcoming the Europeans for the benefits of the technology they brought, Samoans began to resist as settlers from Great Britain, Germany, and the United States began lobbying their respective governments to annex the islands. In 1878, the United States signed a treaty to establish a naval station at Pago Pago Harbour, which is now part of American Samoa. The following year, Great Britain and Germany signed similar agreements, and they were about to go to war in 1889 when a typhoon sank six of their battleships. In 1889, they signed the Berlin Act, which provided for the neutrality of the islands, but in 1899 the United States annexed eastern Samoa, after which Germany annexed the western islands, both without consultation with the Samoan people. After a period under the rule of New Zealand, Western Samoa gained its independence in 1962, later changing its name to Samoa.

Eastern Samoa remains a territory of the United States, known as American Samoa. The government of American Samoa is defined under US law as an unincorporated territory of the United States. However, the US Secretary of the Interior gave American Samoa the authority to draft its own constitution in 1967. Since 1976, American Samoans have elected a governor and lieutenant governor for four-year terms. Prior to that time, a governor was appointed by the United States.

The people of American Samoa are US nationals, but not citizens. They have the right to enter, to travel, and to reside in the United States. Since the mid-1900s, so many American Samoans have immigrated to the US mainland that there are now more American Samoans abroad than there are on the islands. The people of American Samoa are strongly influenced by American culture, including its television programs, music, and food. About ninety percent of the population of the islands are ethnic Samoans, with small minorities of Tongan and Filipino people. The Samoans are Polynesian people, ethnically related to natives of Hawaii, French Polynesia, New Zealand, and Tonga. Most Samoans speak the Samoan language as well as English. Christianity is the religion of nearly all Samoans, the major denominations being Congregational, Roman Catholic, Mormon, and Methodist, although the Jehovah's Witnesses are making inroads as well.


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