Monday, May 26, 2008
It is generally believed that about 3,000 years ago people first arrived and soon settled on the rugged chain of four volcanic islands and a number of lesser nearby islets strung loosely out, west by north, along and across the parallel of 14° south latitude and between 168° and 173° west longitude, 2,500 miles southwest of Hawai'i and 1,800 miles northeast of Te Ika a Māui (the north island of New Zealand). Archaeological evidence certainly suggests that to be the case. The earliest known evidence of human occupation, a Lapita village located in what is now a lagoon on Upulu Island, dates from that time. However, in the legends of the people of these islands there is no suggestion of migration from other lands.
To the people indigenous to this place, the supreme being Tagaloa-Lagi created this place. He had a grandson called Lu, the child of his daughter also named Lu. Tagaloa is said to have been annoyed with the presumptiveness of the boy, and so seized and beat him. Lu escaped, ran down to Earth, and named it Samoa.
Prior to 1830, when agents of the London Missionary Society established a mission, very little of Samoa was known to the world beyond its horizons. In 1722, a Dutchman, Jacob Roggeveen, had been the first European to sight the islands. In 1768, a French explorer, Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, sailed past the islands and named them the Navigator Islands , after encountering Samoans in ocean-going canoes. In 1787 another Frenchman, Jean François de Galaup, comte de La Pérouse, led the first Europeans to set foot on Samoan sand and soil.
After an initially friendly exchange of trading goods and food, the French (it was recorded) caught a Samoan whom they suspected of theft. They hoisted him to the top of a mast by his thumbs. This cruel act provoked a skirmish in which twelve French sailors and about thirty-five Samoans were killed, after which La Pérouse wrote: "I willingly abandoned to others the task of writing the uninteresting history of these barbarous people; a stay of twenty-four hours and the relation of our misfortunes has sufficed to show their atrocious manners."
By the late 1800s the Samoans were victims of the atrocious manners of Imperialists. Samoa became the focal point of an intense territorial dispute between Imperialist Britain, Germany and the USA. They all claimed parts of the kingdom of Samoa for themselves. The imperial Powers, it was said by a Samoan of that time, were "like three large dogs snarling over a very small bone."
The Germans, English and Americans started with a divide and conquer strategy, playing the Samoan peoples off against each other, heightening tensions and encouraging fighting between the Samoan dynastic families. Then, in 1899, they set up a joint commission of three members (Bartlett Tripp for the United States, C. E. N. Elliott for Great Britain, and Freiherr Speck von Sternburg for Germany), called it the "Samoa Tripartite Convention," and agreed to divide the islands amongst themselves.
Britain and Germany traded islands so that Germany took possession of the western islands: Upolu, Savai'i and some smaller islands. The US took possession of the eastern islands, placing Tutuila, Aunu'u, Ofu, Olosega, Ta’u, and Swains and Rose Atoll, under the jurisdiction of the US Department of the Navy.
What was for a time "German Samoa" (and later "Western Samoa") is today the Independent State of Samoa. What became "Amerika Samoa" remains on the UN's "List of Nations to be Decolonized."
From its earliest days, the primary value of Amerika Samoa to the USA has been the deep-water port of Pago Pago, and its ideal location as a strategic foothold in the Pacific. Under US Navy control from 1900 to 1951, Amerika Samoa was initially a coaling station for the fleet in the Age of Steam. During World War II, US Marines in Amerika Samoa outnumbered the local population. Now the value of this colonial possession is its seemingly endless crop of military recruits.
For today, Amerika Samoa is far from a heaven on earth. Local youth aimlessly hang around Pago Pago, which increasingly resembles the ghettos of US cities: abandoned and burned down buildings, general disrepair, population outflow to the suburbs, lack of services, and graffiti covering the walls of the houses.
There are relatively few employment options for the young men and women of Amerika Samoan. The only big employers are tuna canneries and the government, and wages are held very low. So for many signing up, the US military is perceived as the only way out of a life of poverty.
Consequently, Samoans are dying in disproportionate numbers fighting the Bush administration's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Update: September 30, 2009
Towering tsunamis churned up by a huge earthquake slammed into the Samoan islands today.
Triggered by an 8.0-magnitude undersea earthquake, waves three and 7.5 metres high pounded the coastlines and wiped out entire villages, killing at least 113 people.
In Washington, President Obama has declared a major disaster for American Samoa. The US Federal Emergency Management Agency said it is deploying two assistance teams to American Samoa in the wake of a tsunami that left at least 14 people dead.
Officials in American Samoa said their death toll (of 33) is expected to climb. In their capital, Pago Pago, the streets and fields are filled with ocean debris, mud, overturned cars and several boats. Several buildings in the city — just a few feet above sea level — have been flattened.
Hundreds of people bombarded American Samoa's radio stations with requests to announce the names of their missing loved ones. Survivors tell harrowing tales of encountering the deadly tsunami.
"I was scared. I was shocked," said Didi Afuafi, 28, who was on a bus when the giant waves came ashore on American Samoa. "All the people on the bus were screaming, crying and trying to call their homes. We couldn't get on cell phones. The phones just died on us. It was just crazy."
"This is going to be talked about for generations," Afuafi adds.
News Archive for American Samoa
Wikimedia Atlas of American Samoa
Amnesty International: Human Rights in American Samoa
HDI: N/A (Rank: N/A)