Our Island Community
American Samoa is a US Territory, like Guam and Puerto Rico, located in the South Pacific. (See map.) There are about 55,000 people living in our group of seven islands, but the vast majority of us reside on Tutuila, whose capital is Pago Pago. Over 90% of us are Samoan or part Samoan. Most of us speak both English and Samoan. We use US currency, US voltage and the US Postal System. Due to the rugged and mountainous interior of Tutuila, most of us reside on its southern coast. Our main road, which also runs along the coast, is narrow and curvy and has a speed limit of only 25 mph!
Although consumerism has certainly had an impact on our environment and culture, the latter has survived. The Fa’a Samoa (Samoan way) holds as its focus strong family ties that are strengthened through land and title ties, and through the fa’alavelave, an event which literally takes over the lives of its participants. This gathering of families, which frequently occurs after a death, a marriage, a title ceremony, an opening of a church, etc., includes gift exchanges, political displays of family clans, and feasting. Although consumerism has found its way into this traditional event, (i.e., bundles of bills are now found rolled up into fine mats, the traditional unit of exchange, and sodas are now served instead of coconut water), the show of family pride and generous spirit of this occasion remains the same.
Compared to America, our standard of living is relatively low. In 2010, our average household income was $34,000 compared to a $51,000 average in the US. Of course, many of us also supplement our incomes with plantation foods (banana, taro, breadfruit, papaya, etc.) which we grow. In addition, over 90% of our land is communally owned; most of us live on family land that is never sold or bought. In general, we are quite happy to be a US Territory. We, undoubtedly, would struggle without US aid. Just over a third of our labor force is employed by the local government which is mostly funded by the US Federal government. About 15% work in tuna processing plants, another third works for the private sector, and about 20% of the workforce is unemployed. You will find few places that cater to tourists here, but it is an industry which is growing and which has great potential.
The last time I, personally, was traveling to the mainland from our little island of Tutuila, I was standing behind an older palagi (a person of European descent) woman who was beside herself in tears. She turned to me and offered, “This is the most beautiful place. I have never met such wonderful people. The whole time we were here we were treated like royalty. Really. Like royalty,” she sobbed. She had experienced the kind of hospitality that the Samoans are famous for; traditionally, guests are treated as royalty. I’m not guaranteeing that you will be treated this way if you come our way, but you will definitely never forget our island and its people.
Craig, Peter. Environmental Trends in American Samoa. Year 2000. National Parks of American Samoa, 2000.
Samoa News, Tutuila’s daily paper online. http://www.samoanews.com
Household Income: 2012 – Census Bureau. http://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/acsbr12-02.pdf
If you are interested in learning more about the Samoan culture, check out the novel My Samoan Chief by Faye Calkin. Not only does this book offer an insight into the culture from an outsiders perspective, but it is both heart warming and funny.
http://www.nps.gov/npsa/– National Park of American Samoa. Information about the only US National Park south of the equator.
http://fagatelebay.noaa.gov/ – All about our National Marine Sanctuary, Fagatele Bay.
www.samoa.as – Samoa chat website. This is a place where Samoans and friends around the world can meet and chat includes language lessons, movies by Samoans around the world, and much more!
http://www.ipacific.com/samoa/samoa.html – A rather eclectic collection of tidbits on American Samoa – including a book list, a picture gallery, and information on Samoan weddings.
http://www.saolelei.com/ -Music, recipes, plus a good online language course for $100 annually.
http://www.waste.org/~danger/samoa_language.html – Beginning Samoan language lessons, pro bono.
http://samoanews.com/ – Our local newspaper.
http://khjradio.com/ – One of the local radio stations. You can even listen live!
http://www.talanei.com – Online local news and more.