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Controversy of 1889 / 1st Apia Expedition

The Navy's history in American Samoa dates back to Oct. 10, 1839 when Lt. Charles Wilkes first sailed into Pago Pago Harbor, island of Tutuila, aboard USS Vincennes as part of the U.S. exploration expedition. On March 2, 1872 a treaty was signed by Paramount Chief Mauga granting coaling station construction privileges in Pago Pago Harbor.

A controversey involving the U.S., Great Britain, and Germany over the Samoan Islands in the Pacific ocean threatened to break out into armed conflict. In 1889 warships of the three nations converged in the region, reflecting the three powers' interest in the civil war being fought on the islands. A showdown among the naval vessels in the harbor of Apia was averted only when a fierce storm destroyed all the warships except one English vessel. This act of god in late March 1889 destroyed most of the ships where they were anchored or when they tried to escape to the open ocean. The storm caused great destruction and loss of life among both sailors and Samoans, but it stopped the potential war.

On April 29 a conference opened in Berlin, and on June 14 the three nations agreed on a treaty that provided for a three-power protectorate to guarantee Samoan independence. Germany and the US divided the Samoan archipelago. The US formally occupied its portion-a smaller group of eastern islands with the excellent harbor of Pago Pago-the following year.

On April 17, 1900 the U.S. flag was raised for the first time over Fagatogo and the document officially creating the American Samoa territory was read.

American Samoa is an unincorporated and unorganized territory of the United States, and administered by the U.S. Department of Interior. It consists principally of five volcanic islands and two coral atolls, for a total area of 76 square miles. It is located approximately 2,300 miles southwest of Hawaii. The largest and most populated island is Tutuila, on which are located the territory's historic capital (Pago Pago), and the seat of the legislature, judiciary, and the office of the Governor.

The Territory of American Samoa lies roughly 14 degrees south of the equator between longitude 169 and 173 west and about 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii. The principal islands are Tutuila, Aunu'u, and the Manu'a islands (a cluster of three islands, Ta'u, Ofu and Olosega, located about 65 miles east of Tutuila). Swains Island, a small island with a population of less than 25 and Rose Atoll, an uninhabited atoll about 120 miles east of Tutuila make up the remainder of the territory.

The Samoan Archipelago is a typical Pacific Ocean Volcanic Island arc. As the Pacific Ocean plate moves across a stationary hot spot (a place where molten rock from the Earth's mantle pierces the lithosphere plate) it forms a line of volcanoes, some of which reach the ocean surface to form a string of islands.

The Samoan culture is Polynesia's oldest. It is believed that, the first people on the Samoan Islands came by sea from southwest Asia some 3,000 years ago. Over the centuries, distinct cultural traits emerged that we now call fa'asamoa (fah-ah-SAH-mo-ah). From Samoa, seafaring explorers and settlers journeyed to other Polynesian island groups hundreds of miles away.

Except for perhaps a few thousand individuals--nearly all inhabitants of American Samoa are indigenous Samoans of Polynesian ancestry. More than any other U.S. or Polynesians peoples Samoans are tradition-oriented and closely follow social customs and hierarchies from long before arrival of the first Europeans. This Samoan way-or faasamoa-is still deeply ingrained in American Samoa culture.

The most apparent character is the Samoan matai system of organization and philosophy. In general each village is made up of a group of aiga or extended families which include as many relatives as can be claimed. Each aiga is headed by a chief, or matai, who represents the family on all matters including the village council, or fono. Matais hold title to all assets of the aigas, or families, they represent and are responsible for law enforcement and punishment of infractions occurring in their villages.

The fono consists of the matais of all the aiga associated with the village. The highest chief of the matais of all the village aigas is the highest chief or the ali'i and heads the fono. Also, each village has a pulenu'u (somewhat like a police chief or mayor) and one or more talking chiefs, tulafale.



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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:22:21 Zulu