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Known as Western Samoa until 1997, Samoa is among the westernmost of the island nations of Polynesia. Situated in the South Pacific Ocean, Samoa is about eighty miles west of American Samoa and part of the same island chain. Its capital city is Apia. Samoa consists of the inhabited islands of Upolu, Savai'i, Manono, and Apolima, as well as the uninhabited islands of Fanuatapu, Namu'a, Nu'utele, Nu'ulua, and Nu'usafee. Its total land area is less than that of the US state of Rhode Island.

More than ninety percent of the country's population is ethnically Samoan, while most of the remainder are descendants of Samoans are Europeans, Chinese, Melanesians, or other Polynesians who settled on the islands in the late 1800s or early 1900s. The Samoans are ethnic Polynesians, although they prefer to be referred to as Samoan. English and Samoan are the main languages used by Samoans, with Samoan being the most common. Most Samoans described themselves as Christians. The Congregational Christian Church was the dominant denomination until the late 1900s but has since lost many of its members to the Mormons and Roman Catholics and, to a lesser extent, the Methodists, Pentecostals, and Seventh-day Adventists. Since the islands were first settled, most Samoans have lived in small coastal villages, and about four-fifths of the country's population remains rural today. Although Samoa is densely populated for its size, only a small percentage of its people live in cities. Most foreigners in Samoa live in cities. Nearly all Samoans are literate, although only a small fraction of the population has completed a secondary education.

Apart from its agricultural regions and the surrounding ocean, Samoa is lacking in natural resources, but its scenery and climate contribute tourist dollars to the country's economy. Samoa has a negative balance of trade, largely with New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, the United States, Japan, and American Samoa. The largest of the Samoan islands is Savai'i, which includes Mount Silisili, a volcano at the center of the island. Opolu, the second largest island, is about ten miles east of Savai'i. Manono and Apolima are within the Apolima Strait between the two main islands. The rivers of Samoa are shallow, radiating from the central highlands to the coast. Formed by volcanic activity, the islands are rocky and surrounded by coral reefs and shallow lagoons. Its soil supports vegetation but is easily eroded. Conservation efforts on Samoa have been loose, and soil erosion from runoff has damaged several Samoan lagoons and coral reefs. Wildfires destroyed nearly a quarter of the forests on Savai'i. The only wild land animals on Samoa are a type of bat known as the flying fox and some species of rats. Most of its wildlife are migrating birds and sea life. O Le Pue National Park, the first in Samoa, consists of only about eleven acres on south-central Upolu Island.

The Samoan people are Polynesians who came to the islands about three thousand years ago. Samoa and American Samoa share an early history. The first known European contact was in 1722 when a Dutch navigator visited several of the islands, and a French explorer came in 1768. In 1787, twelve members of a French crew were killed in what is now known as Massacre Bay in Aasu. In 1830, missionaries of the London Missionary Society (Congregational) came and evangelized the islands, having a significant impact on Samoan culture. When the Samoan Islands were divided by the Tripartite Convention in 1899, the United States acquired the eastern islands, while Germany took control of the western islands. In 1914, after a failed attempt at independence, New Zealand troops occupied West Samoa without significant opposition from the Germans or Samoan natives and controlled the islands until 1962.

After repeated efforts, the Samoan independence movement was successful, after which Samoa signed a friendship treaty with New Zealand. Samoa adopted its first constitution in 1962 and has a parliamentary government that incorporates traditional Samoan and New Zealand ideals. Samoa is a parliamentary democracy, situated west of American Samoa. In 1997, the Samoan parliament amended the Samoan constitution to change the country's name from Western Samoa to Samoa, which brought protests from American Samoa. In 2009, Samoa became the first country in the 21st century to switch its driving orientation from the right to the left side of the road. In 2017, parliament made Christianity the state religion.


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