The seven islands of American Samoa are on the eastern end of the 483km-long (300-mile) Samoa Archipelago. Together they comprise a land area of 200 sq. km (77 sq. miles), almost half of which belong to Tutuila, the slender remains of an ancient volcano. One side of Tutuila's crater apparently blew away, almost cutting the island in two. This created the long, bent arm of Pago Pago Harbor, one of the South Pacific's most dramatically scenic spots.
Fewer American Samoans live in their home islands than reside in the United States. The expatriate American Samoans have been replaced at home by their kindred from independent Samoa and by some Tongans, who have swelled the population to about 68,000, up from 30,000 in the 1990s.
Government -- American Samoa is the only U.S. territory south of the equator. American Samoans are "noncitizen nationals" of the United States. Although they carry American passports, have unrestricted entry into the United States, and can serve in the U.S. armed forces, they cannot vote in U.S. presidential elections.
American Samoa has a "delegate" in the U.S. House of Representatives; that is, an elected representative who may not vote in the full House, but can cast a vote on a House committee. Eni Faleomavaega, a Democrat, is the delegate from American Samoa. The country also holds primary elections for U.S. presidential candidates, and sends delegates to the conventions, but does not have any electoral votes.
The U.S. Department of the Interior has jurisdiction over American Samoa, but American Samoans elect their own governor and members of the lower house of the Fono, their bicameral legislature. In accordance with Samoan custom, local chiefs pick members of the territorial senate. The Fono has authority over the budget and local affairs, although both the governor and the U.S. Department of the Interior can veto the laws it passes. American Samoans also elect a nonvoting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C.
The territorial government's annual budget is considerably larger than that of independent Samoa, which has a population some three times larger. Washington provides about half the government's revenue. Some 80% of the taxes raised locally go to pay more than 5,000 government employees, about 42% of the local workforce. They earn more per hour than any South Pacific country other than French Polynesia.
Economy -- Together the local government and the two tuna canneries employ about 80% of the local workforce. The canneries account for some 80% of the territory's private sector product. About 70% of their 4,700 workers are from nearby Samoa (they earn at least three times what they can make at home). The aging canneries have survived for more than 50 years because of tax credits and duty-free access to the United States. Tourism is a minuscule part of the economy. Most visitors arrive on large cruise ships putting into Pago Pago for a day.
American Samoa Yesterday: History 101
As friendly as American Samoans are today, their ancestors did anything but warmly welcome a French expedition under Jean La Pérouse, which came ashore in 1787 on the north coast of Tutuila. Samoan warriors promptly attacked, killing 12 members of the landing party, which in turn killed 39 Samoans. The site of the battle is known as Massacre Bay. La Pérouse survived that incident, but he and his entire expedition later disappeared in what is now the Solomon Islands.
In 1872, the U.S. Navy negotiated a treaty with the chiefs of Tutuila to permit it to use Pago Pago as a coaling station. The agreement helped keep the Germans out of Eastern Samoa, as present-day American Samoa was then known.
In 1900 the chiefs on Tutuila ceded control of their island to the United States, and the paramount chief of the Manu'a Group of islands east of Tutuila did likewise in 1905. Finally ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1929, those treaties are the legal foundation for the U.S. presence in American Samoa.
Part of the U.S. -- From 1900 until 1951, U.S. authority in Samoa rested with the U.S. Navy, which maintained the refueling station at Pago Pago and for the most part let the local chiefs conduct their own affairs. Tutuila became a base for U.S. servicemen during World War II, but things quickly returned to normal after 1945.
Control of the territory was shifted from the navy to the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1951. The department did little in the islands until 1961, when Reader's Digest magazine ran an article about "America's shame in the South Seas." The story took great offense at the lack of roads and adequate schools, medical care, water and sewer service, and housing. The U.S. federal government reacted by paving the roads and building an international airport, water and electrical systems, the then-modern Rainmaker Hotel, and a convention center. A 1.5km-long (1 mile-long) cable was strung across Pago Pago Harbor to build a television transmitter atop 480m (1,575 ft.) Mount Alava, from which education programming was beamed into the schools.
For fear of losing all that federal support, American Samoans were reluctant to tinker with their relationship with Washington during the 1960s and 1970s, when other South Pacific colonies were becoming independent. The United States offered local autonomy, but they refused. They changed minds in the mid-1970s, when an appointed governor was very unpopular, and elected their own governor for the first time in 1977.
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