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Samoa - History

Migrants from Southeast Asia arrived in the Samoan islands more than 2,000 years ago and from there settled the rest of Polynesia further to the east. Samoas oldest known site of human occupation is Mulifanua on the island of Upolu, which dates back to about 1000 BC (about 3000 years ago). Stonework pyramids and mounds in star formation found throughout the islands have inspired various theories from archaeologists about this stage of Samoan history.

Over the millennia, the Samoan people engaged in trade, battles and intermarriage of nobility with the neighbouring islands of Fiji and Tonga. The interweaving of the cultures and bloodlines has helped strengthen the ties of these South Pacific nations.

Before first European contact in the 1720s, the Samoan Islands experienced long periods of contact with both Tongans and Fijians. As with other Pacific Island groups, intermittent European visitations followed.

European whalers and traders started to arrive in the late 1700s. By far the most important agents of change in Samoa were the western missionaries, converting the people from belief in Gods for the sun, earth, heavens and sea to the one God.

Contact with Europeans began in the early 1700s but did not intensify until the arrival of English missionaries and traders in the 1830s. Dutchman, Jacob Roggeveen was the first European to sight the islands in 1722, but it wasnt until 1830 when the Reverend John Williams arrived in Savai'i, that the Christian gospel had an impact on Samoan life. Visitors to Samoa may be shown the monuments to John Williams on both main islands. Samoans are now a devoutly religious people with much time devoted to church activities. For many Samoans, Christianity and Faa Samoa (Samoan culture) are inextricably interwoven.

Samoa became a German colony in 1899 after a succession of wrangles between the UK, the USA and Germany. In 1899 after years of civil war, the islands of the Samoan archipelago were divided the Germans taking the islands to the west and the Americans taking the islands to the east, now known as American Samoa.

At the turn of the 20th century, the Samoan islands were split into two sections. The eastern islands became territories of the United States in 1904 and today are known as American Samoa. The western islands became known as Western Samoa (now the Independent State of Samoa), passing from German control to New Zealand in 1914.

New Zealand assumed control of Samoa following the outbreak of the Great War and the islands became a mandated territory of New Zealand under a League of Nations mandate. Between the wars there was a considerable agitation for the removal of foreign control over Samoan affairs.

After the Second World War Samoa was administered by New Zealand as a UN trust territory, and measures were gradually introduced to prepare the islands for self-government. New Zealand administered Western Samoa as a UN trusteeship until independence in 1962. Western Samoa was the first Pacific Island country to gain its independence.

In July 1997 the Constitution was amended to change the country's name from Western Samoa to Samoa (officially the "Independent State of Samoa"). Western Samoa had been known simply as Samoa in the United Nations since joining the organization in 1976. The neighboring U.S. territory of American Samoa protested the move, feeling that the change diminished its own Samoan identity. American Samoans still use the terms Western Samoa and Western Samoans.

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