Samoa — History and Culture
The beautiful Pacific nation of Samoa hasn’t always been a laid-back paradise. Since the 18th century, Samoa has been hit with European expansionism followed by colonialism. However, the way of Samoa was fortunately not lost, as traditional culture still dominates this Westernized Pacific island nation.
European contact in Samoa didn’t begin until the 18th century. However, at this time, both Samoa (Western Samoa) and American Samoa were not separate entities. The Dutch and the French made contact with Samoa well before English missionaries began arriving to the islands in the 1830s. The famous English missionary, John Williams, ignited Samoa’s affection for Christianity. Before the end of the 18th century, German influence had also begun to surface throughout the islands.
By the end of the 19th century, the Samoan islands were seen as an important refueling stop for whalers and traders. Therefore, British, German, and US forces arrived into the area, bent on protecting their individual claims to the islands. Two civil wars erupted in 1889 and 1898 respectively. The British, American, and German military assisted the warring parties. These conflicts eventually led to the splitting of Samoa into two parts with the Tripartite Convention of 1899 – German Samoa and American Samoa.
From 1899 to 1914, German administration controlled the commercial and political aspects of Samoa, with assistance from the local chieftain advisers. At the start of WWI, New Zealand sent a force to German Samoa at the request of Britain, and subsequently occupied the islands. During New Zealand’s tenure as administrator of Samoa, several important events occurred.
In 1918-1919, 20 percent of the Samoan population died of influenza brought over by New Zealand ships. Between 1918 and the 1930s, peaceful protests against colonial occupation arose. The Mau movement, which began in the late 19th century, became more prominent in the 1920s and 1930s. On December 28, 1928, a peaceful protest turned violent, resulting in the deaths of more than a dozen Samoans. This later became known as Black Saturday. In 1962, Samoa eventually gained independence from New Zealand.
After independence, Samoa had relied heavily on tourism and agricultural exports to drive its economy. However, nowadays, Samoa’s major business partners are New Zealand and Australia. This became more evident when Samoa moved to the west of the International Date Line in 2011, transforming their time zone to better suit ties with the larger Pacific nations, rather than America. Visit the Museum of Samoa (Malifa, Apia, Samoa) to find more information about the country’s interesting past.
Even though Samoa has been strongly influenced by European powers, fa’a Samoa, which is translated to ‘the Samoan way’, is still prevalent throughout the country. Traditional language, food, dance, music, and song is evident in today’s modern society. Nevertheless, despite the thriving traditional culture of Samoa, the country is still profoundly Christian.
Tattooing is a very important part of traditional and modern Samoan culture. As in other Polynesian cultures, Samoan tattoo artists can be found at local villages. Samoan tribes and families have their own unique tattoos, and the art is still widely practiced across the islands.
Sport is an essential part of life for Samoans. Rugby is the main sport played throughout the country. Even though the population of Samoa is relatively small, the national team usually does well on the international stage, especially in seven-a-side rugby. Samoan cricket is another popular sport played throughout the country.