Background Notes: Western Samoa, June 1996
Released by the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
U.S. Department of State
Official Name: Independent State of Western Samoa PROFILE Geography Area: 2,934 sq. km. (1,133 sq. mi.), about the size of Rhode Island. Cities: Capital--Apia (pop. 35,000). Terrain: Mountainous Climate: Tropical. People 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. Religion: Christian. Languages: Samoan, English. Education: Years compulsory--ages 5-14. Elementary school attendance--85%. Literacy--70%. Health: Infant mortality rate--19/1,000 live births. Life expectancy--64 yrs. Work force: Agriculture--90%. Government 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 (SLP). 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. Economy 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, taro, cattle. 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. GEOGRAPHY 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. PEOPLE 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 Polynesian dialect. 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 other assets. 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%. HISTORY 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 development. 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 government. 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 recommendations. 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, 1962. GOVERNMENT 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 account. 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 Legislative Assembly. 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 prime minister. 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 Other Ministers: Deputy PM and Finance--Tuilaepa Sa'ilele Malielegaoi Transport and Civil Aviation--Hans Joachim Keil Post and Telecommunications--Tolofuaivalelei Leiataua Education--Fiame Naomi Mataafa Works--Le'afa Vitale Health--Misa Telefoni Retzlaff Justice, Youth, Sports and Culture--Luagalua Levaula Kamu Lands and Environment--Tuala Sale Tagaloa Women's Affairs--Leniu Tofaeono Avamagalo Agriculture--Milio'o Teofilo Labor--Polaitaivao Fosi Public Trust--Leota Lu II POLITICAL CONDITIONS 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. ECONOMY 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 valuable minerals. 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 1996. 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. FOREIGN RELATIONS 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. U.S.-SAMOAN RELATIONS 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- funded programs. 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). TRAVEL NOTES 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 or consulate. 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. Holidays: 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 FURTHER INFORMATION These titles are provided as a general indication of material published on this country. The Department of State does not endorse unofficial publications. 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: Praeger, 1969. 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: Clarendon, 1970. For information on American Samoa, contact the U.S. Department of Interior, Washington, D.C. 20240.
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