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A Glimpse of Samoa

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The main islands of the Samoan group, like the Hawaiian group are high islands, the summits of a great range of volcanic mountains.

The distance from Rose Atoll on the east, to the west end of Savaii is about 290 nautical miles. To the westward of Savaii there are shoals, in which Pasco Bank, about 90 miles W.N.W. of Savaii, has 50 feet of soundings showing depths of 15,000 to 18,000 feet. Between Upolu and Tutuila there is a small gap with a depth of nearly 6,000 feet.

Savaii, at the west end of the main chain, is the largest, highest, and geologically youngest island. It measures 47 land miles east and west, with a greatest width of 27 miles. The area is given as 703 square miles. On top of a 6,000 foot dome there are several small peaks or cones, the highest elevation being about 6,094 feet. There has been recent volcanic activity, an extensive flow having descended the north side in 1750; a smaller one in 1902; and another crater on the N.E. was active from 1905-1911. Matavanu crater still has steam issuing from cracks in 1924. The slopes of Savaii are well forested.

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Upolu measures 47 by 8 to 12, maximum 15, land miles, area 430 square miles. The length of the island is traversed by a range of mountains of rather uniform height and uniform slope with higher elevation about 3,608 feet. Along the ridge are numerous craters, some of which, like Lanutoo, contain crater lakes. The lowlands are fertile and have been cultivated, including plantations of cacao, rubber, bananas, but principally coconut palms. At the middle of the northern side is located Apia, chief city, business centre, and capital of Western Samoa. It does not have a good harbour and landing must be made in small boats.

Between Savaii and Upolu are two small islands. Apolima is a tuff crater, open on the north; its floor is a little above sea level. The inner slope is gradual and forested; the outer precipitous and bare of vegetation. Its area is about 2 square miles, elevation 472 feet. Manono is lower and sandy, elevation about 200 feet, with a few volcanic outcrops. It is connected with the N.W. coast of Upolu by fringing reef. Springs are brackish, and the few inhabitants must catch rain water in concrete tanks. Off the east end of Upolu are four small islets, one of which, Nuutele, is a breached tuff crater, like Apolima, about 400 feet high, the flat floor of which has been cultivated.

Tutuila is about 18 miles long by 5 or 6 miles wide, with a land area of 40.2 square miles. A mountainous ridge extends nearly the length of the island, with spurs on both sides; highest elevation, Matafao Peak, 2,141 feet. A drowned valley on the south side forms Pago Pago Bay, the best harbour in the South Seas. South of the eastern end is a circular tuff crater islet, Aunuu, about 275 feet high.

Between 60 and 70 miles eastward of Tutuila are three small islands, together called the Manua Group, and with a combined area of 18 square miles. The largest is Tau, 14 square miles; steep, forested slopes; greatest elevation, 3,056 feet. The other two islands, Ofu and Olosega (pronounced o-lo-seng-a for the "g" in Samoa is pronounced "ng"-- now Swains Island) are separated by only a shallow water. The elevation of Ofu is given as 1,587; of Olosega 2,095. All three are covered with trees and shrubs, and large areas have been planted to coconut palms. Rose Atoll lies 78 nautical miles eastward from Tau.

Pago Pago Harbour, American Samoa.

The climate of Samoa is tropical, moderated by strong S.E. trade winds from May to November. During the balance of the year (Samoan summer and fall) the winds are variable, with severe storms and occasional hurricanes. This is called the wet season, although in places, like Pago Pago, where mountains intercept the trade winds, it may rain throughout the year. Yearly rainfall: Apia 108 inches (from 69 to 173); Pago Pago, 197 inches (130 to 284). Greatest monthly average during January or February (Apia 16; Pago Pago 21.7); least in July or August (Apia 2.8, Pago Pago 7.8). February is the warmest month at Pago Pago, average 86.28 degrees F; July the coolest, average 80.21 degrees F. Relative humidity is high: 70 to 90 per cent during the wet season; 40 to 60 per cent during the dry.

The land fauna and flora are oceanic in character, derived from the west, and, like Hawaii, with little or no American affinity. There are no native mammals except a rat and some bats. There are only 34 species of land birds, of which 14 are endemic, including such forms as the famous tooth-billed pigeon, fruit doves, kingfishers, and white-eye. The usual species of sea birds are present. Of reptiles there are one land and four sea snakes and ten or a dozen kinds of lizards. There are some 800 species of flowering plants, of which 1/3 are endemic; 260 species of ferns, 400 species of mosses, 200 fungi and 180 lichens.

The Samoans are a Polynesian people of fine physical type. In culture they are closely related to the people of Tonga and the Ellice (Tuvalu) and Tokelau Islands. They differ in some respects from the Tahitians, Marquesans, Maoris and Hawaiians; but all are thought to have come from common stock which migrated eastward from south-eastern Asia.

Their food consists of fish, bananas, breadfruit, taro, yams, pigs, chickens, various marine animals; and of recent years they have developed a liking for such foreign foods as canned salmon and beef, rice, tea, and biscuits. Agriculture is carried on by natives in some clearings on the edge of the forest.


Traditional Samoan sitting dance (Siva).

All Samoans, old and young, love to dance; their siva being accompanied generally by singing. Native clothing consists of a lava-lava or wrap-around kilt, formerly of tapa or fine mats; in addition the women wear smock-like upper garment, and the men an undershirt when in public.

Brought to the attention of Europe in 1722 by Roggeween, Samoa was visited by several early voyagers, and later traders and missionaries. Pago Pago Harbour was ceded to the United States as a naval coaling station in 1872.

Pago Pago Naval Station, American Samoa.

A treaty between Britain, Germany and the U.S.A. on June 14, 1889, made Samoa neutral. Trouble between rival chiefs made it necessary another treaty, November 14, 1899, by which kingship was abolished, islands west of 171 degrees were given to Germany, and those east to the United States. Western Samoa was occupied by a British expeditionary force, August 29, 1914; and it was made a mandate of New Zealand by the Treaty of Versailles.

 Samoan girls making kava.

Samoan government takes the form of meetings of chiefs and heads of family, accompanied by ceremonial kava drinking. The American Naval Government wisely has left this local government, under three native district governors. Naval doctors have greatly improved health conditions in American Samoa, and also British trained native practitioners guard the health of Western Samoa, so that the native population is on the increase, and despite tropical diseases, health conditions are quite good. The 1937-1938 population was given as: Western Samoa 54,160 natives and 3,600 others; American Samoa, 11,906.

Samoa Postcards and Picture Galleries

click here Samoa Picture Gallery                       
  click here Samoa Picture Gallery 2                      
   click here Samoa: The Pearl of the Pacific           
  click here Jane's Samoa Home Page                   
  click here Jane's Oceania Home Page                 
 Click Here Pacific Islands Radio (33K)                
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Jane Resture
(E-mail: -- Rev. 12th June 2003)