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September 2009

Samoan Islands, 1990

Samoan Islands, 1990

The Samoan Islands are comprised of two separate entities - the independent state of Samoa (formerly known as Western Samoa) and American Samoa (formerly known as Eastern Samoa), a United States territory. The total combined population is about 250,000.

Samoa consists of the two large islands of Upolu and Savai'i and seven small islets located about halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand in the Polynesian region of the South Pacific. The main island of Upolu is home to nearly three-quarters of Samoa's population and its capital city of Apia. The "Fa'a Samoa", or traditional Samoan way, remains a strong force in Samoan life and politics. Despite centuries of European influence, Samoa maintains its historical customs, social systems, and language, which is believed to be the oldest form of Polynesian speech still in existence. Only the Maoris of New Zealand outnumber the Samoans among Polynesian groups.

American Samoa is an unincorporated territory of the United States consisting of five volcanic islands with rugged peaks and limited coastal plains, two coral atolls. The main and most populous island is Tutuila, with the Manu'a Islands, Rose Atoll, and Swains Island also included in the territory. Rose Atoll is the southernmost point in the territory of the United States. American Samoa’s capital, Pago Pago, lies within a collapsed volcanic caldera on Tutuila. Most of the islands are mountainous, heavily wooded, and surrounded by coral reefs. American Samoa is part of the Samoan Islands chain, located west of the Cook Islands, north of Tonga, and some 300 miles (500 km) south of Tokelau. According to the 2000 census, American Samoa showed a total population of 57,291. Under the United States Constitution, residents of unincorporated territories, such as American Samoa, do not vote in elections for the United States president and vice president. However, they may vote in Democratic and Republican presidential primary elections. The governor and lieutenant governor are elected on the same ticket by popular vote for four-year terms; Governor Togiola Tulafono has been in office since 2003. American Samoa has a traditional Polynesian economy in which more than 90% of the land is communally owned. Economic activity is strongly linked to the United States with which American Samoa conducts most of its commerce. Tuna fishing and tuna processing plants are the backbone of the private sector, with canned tuna the primary export. Tourism is a promising developing sector.

The climate is tropical on the Samoan Islands, with a rainy season from November to April, and little seasonal temperature variation. Typhoons are common from December to March.

On September 29, 2009, a magnitude 8.0 earthquake took place in the Pacific near America Samoa generating large and devastating tsunami waves to the region. For more information on this earthquake see: United States Geological Survey Earthquakes Hazards Program.

CIA World Factbook, U.S.Dept. of State Background Notes, U.S. Geological Survey,Columbia Gazetteer, 2009/09