U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Western Samoa, June 1996
Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Prepared and released by the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs,
Office of Pacific Island Affairs
Official Name: Independent State of Western Samoa
Area: 2,934 sq. km. (1,133 sq. mi.), about the size of Rhode Island.
Cities: Capital--Apia (pop. 35,000).
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Western Samoan(s).
Population (19991: 161,000.
Annual growth rate (1986-91): 0.5%.
Ethnic groups: Samoan, European-Samoan, Chinese-Samoan.
Languages: Samoan, English.
Education: Years compulsory--ages 5-14. Elementary school
Health: Infant mortality rate--19/1,000 live births. Life expectancy--64
Work force: Agriculture--90%.
Type: Parliamentary democracy.
Independence: January 1,1962.
Constitution: January 1, 1962.
Branches: Executive--head of state. Legislative--49-member
Legislative Assembly (5-yr. terms). Judiciary--Lands and Titles Court,
Supreme Court, Court of Appeals.
Administrative subdivisions: 43 districts.
Political parties: Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP), Samoa
National Development Party (SNDP), Samoa Progressive Conservative
Party (SPCP), Samoa All People's Party (SAPP), Samoa Liberal Party
Suffrage: A 1990 national referendum approved universal suffrage for
citizens aged 21 and over. However, only individuals with matai (high
chief) titles can be a member of the Legislative Assembly. Two
parliamentary seats are set aside for individuals with no title and who
are of foreign ancestry.
Central government budget (1996): $84 million.
Flag: Southern Cross (five white stars) on a blue field in the top left
corner against a red background.
GDP (1995): $164 million.
Per capita income (1995): $1000.
Avg. inflation rate (1993-95): 7.8%.
Natural resources: Timber.
Agriculture: Products--coconut-based products, bananas, timber, cacao,
Industry: Types--tourism, light manufacturing, agricultural exports.
Trade (1995): Exports--$8.7 million: coconut products, beer, cigarettes.
Major markets--New Zealand, Australia. Imports--$91 million. Major
suppliers--New Zealand, Australia, US, Fiji.
Official exchange rate (May 1996): 1 WS tala=US$0.41.
US direct economic aid received (1995): $50,000.
Membership in International Organizations
UN and some of its specialized and related agencies, including
International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, Food and
Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Fund for Agricultural
Development (IFAD), World Health Organization (WHO); Group of
77, South Pacific Forum, South Pacific Commission, Forum Fisheries
Agency, Commonwealth of Nations, Economic and Social Commission
for Asia and the Pacific, International Telecommunications Union.
Western Samoa lies 2,575 kilometers (1,600 mi.) northeast of
Auckland, New Zealand. The main islands are formed from ranges of
extinct volcanoes, rising to 1,857 meters (6,094 ft.) on Savai'i and
1,100 meters (3,608 ft.) on Upolu. Volcanic activity last occurred in
1911. The climate is tropical, with wet and dry seasons. The mean
daily temperature is 27 degrees C (80 degrees F). Average annual
rainfall is about 287 centimeters (113 in.), of which 190 centimeters
(75 in.) falls from October to March. Although Samoa lies outside the
normal track of typhoons, severe storms occasionally strike.
More than 2,000 years ago, waves of Polynesians migrated from
Southeast Asia to the Samoan Islands. Samoans are the second largest
Polynesian group, after the Maoris of New Zealand, and speak a
Samoans have tended to retain their traditional ways despite exposure
to European influence for more than 150 years. Most Samoans live
within the traditional social system based on the aiga, or extended
family group, headed by a matai, or chief. The title of matai is
conferred upon any eligible member of the group, including women,
with the common consent of the aiga. In addition to representing the
aiga in village and district fono (councils), the matai is responsible for
the general welfare of the aiga and directs the use of family lands and
Apart from Apia, the capital and commercial center, Western Samoa
has no major towns. Most people live in some 400 coastal villages,
with populations ranging from 100 to more than 2,000. About 3,200
foreign nationals live in Western Samoa.
Western Samoans are Christian, with the following major
denominations represented: Congregational Church - 43%, Roman
Catholic Church - 21%, Methodist - 17%, Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter Day Saints - 10%.
Archaeological evidence suggests that Western Samoa was inhabited as
early as 1000 B.C., but Polynesian oral histories and traditions do not
go back beyond A.D. 1250.
Samoan contact with Europe began with the visit by Dutch navigator
Jacob Roggeveen, but contacts did not become intensive until the
arrival of English missionaries under John Williams in 1830.
Between 1847 and 1861, the United Kingdom, the United States, and
Germany established consular representation at Apia. Intrigues and
jealousies among these representatives and the Samoan royal families
reached a climax in 1889, when the signing of the Final Act of the
Berlin Conference on Samoan Affairs brought Samoan independence
and neutrality. Malietoa Laupepa was recognized as king.
After the death of King Laupepa in 1898, a dispute over succession to
the throne led to adoption in 1900 of a series of conventions, whereby
the United States annexed Eastern Samoa and Germany took Western
Samoa. The United Kingdom withdrew its claims in return for
recognition of its rights in other Pacific islands.
In 1914, following the outbreak of war in Europe, New Zealand's
armed forces occupied Western Samoa. In 1919, New Zealand was
granted a League of Nations mandate over the territory. By the Samoa
Act of 1921, New Zealand made provisions for a civil administration,
and progress was made in education, health, and economic
However, some of the New Zealand Government's measures were
unpopular with the conservative Samoans, and a resistance movement
based on civil disobedience lasted until 1936. Steps taken by New
Zealand toward a more effectively representative Samoan
administration were interrupted by World War II.
In December 1946, Western Samoa was placed under a UN trusteeship
with New Zealand as administering authority. The Samoans asked that
they be granted self-government, but this was not accepted by the
United Nations at the time.
From 1947 to 1961, a series of constitutional advances, assisted by
visits from UN missions, brought Western Samoa from dependent
status to self-government and finally to independence. In 1947, a
Legislative Assembly was established in Western Samoa. In March
1953, New Zealand proposed a quickened pace of political and
economic development, and a constitutional convention, representing
all sections of the Samoan community, met in 1954 to study proposals
for political development. Most of its recommendations were adopted
by New Zealand and governed the territory's evolution toward cabinet
In January 1959, a working committee of self-government, empowered
to work out a draft constitution, was established with New Zealand's
approval. Cabinet government was inaugurated in October 1959, and
Fiame Mataafa F.M. II became the first prime minister.
In August 1960, a second constitutional convention produced the
constitution adopted in October 1960 and other important
At the request of the United Nations, a plebiscite was held in May
1961, and an overwhelming majority of the Samoan people voted for
independence. In November 1961, the UN General Assembly voted
unanimously to end the trusteeship agreement, and the New Zealand
Parliament passed the Independent State of Western Samoa Act,
formally ending New Zealand's powers over the country on January 1,
The 1960 constitution (which formally came into force with
independence on January 1, 1962) is based on the British pattern of
parliamentary democracy, modified to take Samoan customs into
The present head of state, Malietoa Tanumafili II, the scion of a
traditional royal line, holds his position for life. Future heads of state
will be elected by the Legislative Assembly for 5-year terms. The head
of state appoints the prime minister (head of government) and, with the
advice of the prime minister, the members of the Cabinet. Cabinet
ministers hold office as long as they command the confidence of the
The Parliament consists of the Legislative Assembly and the head of
state. The Legislative Assembly has 49 members, of whom 47 are
elected by universal adult suffrage on a territorial basis. Only matais
can stand for these 47 seats in the Legislative Assembly. Two
remaining two members are non-matais of foreign heritage who are
elected by members registered on an Individual Voters Roll. All terms
of office are 5 years.
The Supreme Court is the superior court of record and has full
jurisdiction in civil, criminal, and constitutional matters. Its chief
justice is appointed by the head of state on the recommendation of the
Western Samoa is divided into districts for purposes of government
service in health, education, police, and agriculture. The only district
officer is the administrator on Savai'i.
Principal Government Officials
Head of State--Malietoa Tanumafili II
Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs--Tofilau Eti Alesana
Deputy PM and Finance--Tuilaepa Sa'ilele Malielegaoi
Transport and Civil Aviation--Hans Joachim Keil
Post and Telecommunications--Tolofuaivalelei Leiataua
Education--Fiame Naomi Mataafa
Health--Misa Telefoni Retzlaff
Justice, Youth, Sports and Culture--Luagalua Levaula Kamu
Lands and Environment--Tuala Sale Tagaloa
Women's Affairs--Leniu Tofaeono Avamagalo
Public Trust--Leota Lu II
The Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP), led by Prime Minister
Tofilau Eti Alesana, gained the parliamentary majority in 1988, and
retained it in subsequent national elections conducted in 1991 and
1996. The Samoa National Development Party (SNDP) is the main
opposition party, led by former prime minister Tuiatua Tupua
Tamasese Efi. The Samoan Progressive Conservative Party (SPCP), the
Samoa All Peoples Party (SAPP) and the Samoa Liberal Party (SLP)
are the other political parties in existence.
Though universal suffrage was voted in by referendum in 1990, one
must still be a matai to run for office. There are over 25,000 registered
matais in Western Samoa, but only 5 percent of them are women. Most
Samoans support the matai system, pointing out that although they owe
respect and obedience to their matai in family and communal affairs,
the matai in turn have well-defined responsibilities toward their family
groups. If these responsibilities are not met, the matai can be removed.
Western Samoa remains predominantly agricultural, and village
communities maintain an economy base on farming and fishing. Much
of the cultivated land is devoted to subsistence crops such as yams,
bananas, breadfruit and pawpaws. More than half of the land is too
rugged for agricultural use. Pigs and poultry are the principal livestock.
There is little diversification in agricultural exports, with coconut
products accounting for over 70 percent of total exports production.
The islands have few resources and no deposits of commercially
Back-to-back cyclones devastated the country in 1991 and 1992. In
addition, a fungus blight in 1993 destroyed Western Samoa's major
export crop, taro root. Various methods to overcome the blight have
mostly met with failure.
In 1991, the Japanese company Yazaki set up an auto wiring
component assembly plant in Apia which now employs 2700 Samoans.
Other than this plant, however, no other large-scale manufacturing
concern has established in Western Samoa. On a smaller scale, there
are two regional soft drink and beer bottling plants. The first
McDonald's Restaurant in this South Pacific region opened in Apia in
Import payments have risen steadily in response to growing public
demand for consumer products. Due to limited export production, the
1995 import to export dollar ration was over 10 to 1. Large-scale
developmental aid is received from New Zealand, Australia, Japan,
PRC and the EU.
The internal transportation system depends largely on roads and island-
to-island ferries. Daily intra-island ferry service is available, as well as
once-weekly ferry service to American Samoa. The principal port is
located at Apia Harbor. Savaii and Upolu island each has a small
airport which services Twin Otter flights between the two islands and
to American Samoa. Faleolo International Airport, located on Upolu,
receives international flights from the U.S. (Hawaii), Australia, New
Zealand, Fiji and Tonga. In 1995, the Western Samoan Government
designated tourism as its top economic objective.
The Government of Western Samoa has especially close relations with
its Pacific island neighbors and New Zealand. A treaty of friendship
signed by the Governments of Western Samoa and New Zealand in
August 1962 confirms their special relationship and provides a formal
basis for the assistance that New Zealand extends to Samoa.
In accordance with this treaty, New Zealand, when requested by the
Government of Western Samoa, acts as the channel of communications
between the Government of Western Samoa and governments and
certain international organizations outside the immediate area of the
Pacific islands. Western Samoa has established diplomatic missions in
New York, Wellington, Canberra and Brussels, and maintains a
Consulate General in Auckland, New Zealand.
Western Samoa also has close ties with American Samoa. There are
frequent informal contacts between members of extended families, and
a considerable number of Western Samoans are employed in Pago
Pago's tuna canneries. Interest in improved economic links between the
two Samoas is growing.
Resident diplomatic missions have been established in Apia by the
United States, Australia, New Zealand, and China. Nonresident
diplomatic representation has been established by 32 other countries.
Western Samoa became a member of the Commonwealth of Nations in
1970 and has joined the Economic Commission for Asia and the Far
East, the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific,
the South Pacific Commission, and the Asian Development Bank. It
also participates in the South Pacific Forum and is one of a group of
African, Caribbean, and Pacific countries having special trade, aid, and
other links with the European Community. Through its membership in
this group, Western Samoa has access to the Stabex commodity price
stabilization scheme, the European Development Fund, and tariff
preferences. Western Samoa became a member of the United Nations
in 1976 and maintains a mission to the United Nations in New York.
Western Samoa has no defense forces and does not have any formal
defense arrangements or treaties with other countries.
Formal U.S. relations with Western Samoa are conducted by the U.S.
Embassy in Apia, which opened in 1988. The resident U.S.
Ambassador in Wellington, New Zealand, is accredited to both New
Zealand and Western Samoa. The Embassy in Apia has one officer, a
charge d'affaires. A 45-person Peace Corps contingent has provided
educational and technical assistance to Western Samoa since 1967.
U.S. developmental assistance to Western Samoa is provided primarily
through the International Military Education Program and USIA-
Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--Josiah H Beeman, P.O. Box 1190, Wellington, New
Zealand, (tel. 644-472-2068)
Charge d'Affaires--Robert T. Yamate, P.O. Box 3430, Apia, Western
Samoa, (tel. 685-21631)
Peace Corps Director--Steve Nagler, P.O. Box 880, Apia, Western
Samoa (tel. 685-22345).
Climate and clothing: Climate is mild and equable. Temperature varies
between 16 degrees C (61 degrees F) and 34 degrees C (93 degrees F)
with a mean temperature of 26 degrees C (80 degrees F). March is the
hottest month July and August the coolest but humidity is high at all
times. Tropical lightweight clothing is advisable all year. Informal
dress may be worn on all occasions.
Entry requirements: No visa required for visits up to 30 days, an
onward ticket must be presented. For longer visits, application should
be made for an appropriate visa at the nearest Western Samoa mission
Health: Western Samoa is free from malaria. Visitors should not drink
tapwater. A national hospital is in Apia, and there are district hospitals
around the islands of Upolu and Savai'i. Private medical practitioners
are available in Apia.
Telecommunications: Domestic and international telephone, telex, and
telegraph services are available. Western Samoa is six standard time
zones behind eastern standard time.
Transportation: Regular air service is available between Western
Samoa and the U.S. (Hawaii and American Samoa), Australia, New
Zealand, Fiji and Tonga. Intra-island ferry service is available, as well
as ferry service to American Samoa. Taxis, buses, and rental cars are
also available. All tourist facilities can be reached by car or within
walking distance of access roads.
New Year -- January 1-2
Good Friday -- varies
Easter Monday -- varies
Anzac Day -- April 25
Mothers of Samoa Day -- 2nd Monday in May
Independence Day -- June 1-2
Labor Day -- 1st Monday in August
Monday after White Sunday -- day after 2nd Sunday in October
Arbor Day -- 1st Friday in November
Christmas -- December 25
Boxing Day -- December 26
These titles are provided as a general indication of material published
on this country. The Department of State does not endorse unofficial
Angus, Ross, ed. New Zealand's Record in the Pacific Islands in the
Twentieth Century. Auckland: Longman Paul, 1969.
Cumberland, Kenneth B. Southwest Pacific. Rev. ed. New York:
Davidson, J.W. Samoa mo Samoa, the Emergence of the Independent
State of Western Samoa. New York: Oxford University Press, 1967.
Hass, Anthony, ed. New Zealand and the South Pacific, a Guide to
Economic Development in the Cook Islands, Fiji, Niue, Tonga, and
Western Samoa. Wellington: Asia Pacific Research Unit, Ltd., 1977.
Oliver, Douglas L. The Pacific Islands. Rev. ed. Honolulu: University
of Hawaii Press 1975.
Pitt, David. Tradition and Economic Progress in Samoa. Oxford:
For information on American Samoa, contact the U.S. Department of
Interior, Washington, D.C. 20240.
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