The oldest date so far for remains in Samoa has been calculated by New Zealand scientists to a likely true age of circa 3,000 years ago from a Lapita site at Mulifanua during the 1970s.
The origins of the Samoans are closely studied in modern research about Polynesia in various scientific disciplines such as genetics, linguistics and anthropology. Scientific research is ongoing, although a number of different theories exist; including one proposing that the Samoans originated from Austronesian predecessors during the terminal eastward Lapita expansion period from Southeast Asia and Melanesia between 2,500 and 1,500 BCE.
Intimate sociocultural and genetic ties were maintained between Samoa, Fiji, and Tonga, and the archaeological record supports oral tradition and native genealogies that indicate inter-island voyaging and intermarriage between pre-colonial Samoans, Fijians, and Tongans. Notable figures in Samoan history included the Tui Manu'a line and Queen Salamasina (15th century). Nafanua was a famous woman warrior who was deified in ancient Samoan religion.
Interior of Samoan house, Apia, Urville 1842.
Contact with Europeans began in the early 18th century. Jacob Roggeveen, a Dutchman, was the first known European to sight the Samoan islands in 1722. This visit was followed by French explorer Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, who named them the Navigator Islands in 1768. Contact was limited before the 1830s, which is when English missionaries and traders began arriving.
Samoa in the 1800s
Christian missionary work in Samoa began in 1830 when John Williams of the London Missionary Society arrived in Sapapali'i from The Cook Islands and Tahiti. According to Barbara A. West, "The Samoans were also known to engage in ‘headhunting', a ritual of war in which a warrior took the head of his slain opponent to give to his leader, thus proving his bravery." However, Robert Louis Stevenson, who lived in Samoa from 1889 until his death in 1894, wrote in , "… the Samoans are gentle people."
Exiled orator Lauaki Namulau'ulu Mamoe.
The Germans in particular began to show great commercial interest in the Samoan Islands, especially on the island of Upolu, where German firms monopolised copra and cocoa bean processing. The United States laid its own claim, based on commercial shipping interests in Pearl River in Hawaii and Pago Pago Bay in Eastern Samoa, and forced alliances, most conspicuously on the islands of Tutuila and Manu'a which became American Samoa.
Britain also sent troops to protect British business enterprise, harbour rights, and consulate office. This was followed by an eight-year civil war, during which each of the three powers supplied arms, training and in some cases combat troops to the warring Samoan parties. The Samoan crisis came to a critical juncture in March 1889 when all three colonial contenders sent warships into Apia harbour, and a larger-scale war seemed imminent. A massive storm on 15 March 1889 damaged or destroyed the warships, ending the military conflict.
The Second Samoan Civil War reached a head in 1898 when Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States were locked in dispute over who should control the Samoa Islands. The Siege of Apia occurred in March 1899. Samoan forces loyal to Prince Tanu were besieged by a larger force of Samoan rebels loyal to Mata'afa Iosefo. Supporting Prince Tanu were landing parties from four British and American warships. After several days of fighting, the Samoan rebels were finally defeated.
(1832–1912) paramount chief and rival for the kingship of Samoa
American and British warships shelled Apia on 15 March 1899, including the USS Philadelphia. Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States quickly resolved to end the hostilities and divided the island chain at the Tripartite Convention of 1899, signed at Washington on 2 December 1899 with ratifications exchanged on 16 February 1900.
The eastern island-group became a territory of the United States (the Tutuila Islands in 1900 and officially Manu'a in 1904) and was known as American Samoa. The western islands, by far the greater landmass, became German Samoa. The United Kingdom had vacated all claims in Samoa and in return received (1) termination of German rights in Tonga, (2) all of the Solomon Islands south of Bougainville, and (3) territorial alignments in West Africa.
German Samoa (1900–1914)
People in attendance at Tupua Tamesese's funeral.
The German Empire governed the western Samoan islands from 1900 to 1914. Wilhelm Solf was appointed the colony’s first governor. In 1908, when the non-violent Mau a Pule resistance movement arose, Solf did not hesitate to banish the Mau leader Lauaki Namulau'ulu Mamoe to Saipan in the German Northern Mariana Islands.
The German colonial administration governed on the principle that "there was only one government in the islands." Thus, there was no Samoan Tupu (king), nor an alii sili (similar to a governor), but two Fautua (advisors) were appointed by the colonial government. Tumua and Pule (traditional governments of Upolu and Savai'i) were for a time silent; all decisions on matters affecting lands and titles were under the control of the colonial Governor.
In the first month of World War I, on 29 August 1914, troops of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force landed unopposed on Upolu and seized control from the German authorities, following a request by Great Britain for New Zealand to perform this "great and urgent imperial service."
New Zealand rule (1914–1962)
From the end of World War I until 1962, New Zealand controlled Samoa as a Class C Mandate under trusteeship through the League of Nations, then through the United Nations. There followed a series of New Zealand administrators who were responsible for two major incidents. In the first incident, approximately one fifth of the Samoan population died in the influenza epidemic of 1918–1919. Between 1919 and 1962, Samoa was administered by the Department of External Affairs, a government department which had been specially created to oversee New Zealand's Island Territories and Samoa. In 1943, this Department was renamed the Department of Island Territories after a separate Department of External Affairs was created to conduct New Zealand's foreign affairs.
In 1919, the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Epidemic concluded that there had been no epidemic of pneumonic influenza in Western Samoa before the arrival of the SS Talune from Auckland on 7 November 1918. The NZ administration allowed the ship to berth in breach of quarantine; within seven days of this ship's arrival, influenza became epidemic in Upolu and then spread rapidly throughout the rest of the territory.
The second major incident arose out of an initially peaceful protest by the Mau (which literally translates as "strongly held opinion"), a non-violent popular movement which had its beginnings in the early 1900s on Savai'i, led by Lauaki Namulauulu Mamoe, an orator chief deposed by Solf. In 1909, Lauaki was exiled to Saipan and died en route back to Samoa in 1915.
By 1918, Samoa had a population of some 38,000 Samoans and 1,500 Europeans.
However, Samoans greatly resented New Zealand's colonial rule, and blamed inflation and the catastrophic 1918 flu epidemic on its misrule. By the late 1920s the resistance movement against colonial rule had gathered widespread support. One of the Mau leaders was Olaf Frederick Nelson, a half Samoan and half Swedish merchant. Nelson was eventually exiled during the late 1920s and early 1930s, but he continued to assist the organisation financially and politically. In accordance with the Mau's non-violent philosophy, the newly elected leader, High Chief Tupua Tamasese Lealofi, led his fellow uniformed Mau in a peaceful demonstration in downtown Apia on 28 December 1929.
The New Zealand police attempted to arrest one of the leaders in the demonstration. When he resisted, a struggle developed between the police and the Mau. The officers began to fire randomly into the crowd and a Lewis machine gun, mounted in preparation for this demonstration, was used to disperse the demonstrators. Chief Tamasese was shot from behind and killed while trying to bring calm and order to the Mau demonstrators, screaming "Peace, Samoa". Ten others died that day and approximately 50 were injured by gunshot wounds and police batons. That day would come to be known in Samoa as Black Saturday. The Mau grew, remaining steadfastly non-violent, and expanded to include the highly influential women's branch.
After repeated efforts by the Samoan independence movement, the New Zealand
Western Samoa Act 1961 of 24 November 1961 granted Samoa independence, effective on 1 January 1962, upon which the Trusteeship Agreement terminated. Samoa also signed a friendship treaty with New Zealand. Samoa, the first small-island country in the Pacific to become independent, joined the Commonwealth of Nations on 28 August 1970. While independence was achieved at the beginning of January, Samoa annually celebrates 1 June as its independence day.
Travel writer Paul Theroux noted marked differences between the societies in Western Samoa and American Samoa in 1992.
In 2002, New Zealand's prime minister Helen Clark formally apologised for New Zealand's role in the events of 1918 and 1929.
1997 name change
On 4 July 1997 the government amended the constitution to change the country's name from Western Samoa to Samoa. American Samoa protested against the move, asserting that the change diminished its own identity.
On 7 September 2009, the government changed the driving orientation for motorists: Samoans now drive on the left side of the road. This brought Samoa into line with many other countries in the region. Samoa thus became the first country in the 21st century to switch to driving on the left.
At the end of December 2011, Samoa jumped forward by one day, omitting 30 December from the local calendar, when the nation moved to the west of the International Date Line. This change aimed to help the nation boost its economy in doing business with Australia and New Zealand. Before this change, Samoa was 21 hours behind Sydney, but the change means it is now three hours ahead. The previous time zone, implemented on 4 July 1892, operated in line with American traders based in California.
In June 2017, Parliament voted to amend the wording of Article 1 of the constitution, thereby making Christianity the state religion.