August 29, 2012

American Samoa : An American Territory


The Basics 

American Samoa is part of the Samoan Island chain in the South Pacific.  It is a series of volcano islands that is about halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand.  American Samoa is technically the southernmost part of America.

It is considered to be an unincorporated territory of America, rather than a state.  What is a territory?  An American territory is land that is owned by America but not part of any state.  The federal government has authority over all territories, but the territories do not have representation within the American government.  The President is responsible for all American territories, and delegates the day-to-day supervision to the Secretary of the Interior, who is in charge of the Department of the Interior (which is in the Executive branch of our government).

Towards the end of the 19th Century, quite a few countries wanted to control parts of the Samoan Islands.  American, English, German and French ships all stopped in the Samoan Islands – it was a place for ships to get supplies and fuel along their trade routes.  Whaling ships also stopped for supplies.  Finally, these countries signed a treaty that divided up the Samoas (and other islands in the South Pacific) among themselves.  In 1900, America took control of a small group of islands in the eastern part of the Samoas.


Its Claim to Fame

American Samoa was an important military base for many years.  In World War II, there were more military personnel living on the islands than native people.  Now, very few military personnel live in American Samoa permanently.

There was discussion about making American Samoa a state around the time that Hawaii was admitted into the Union.  But, the local leaders fought this and instead asked to be abel to establish their own local government.  In the 1960’s, they got their wish.  The American government no longer appoints the governor of American Samoa – that person is elected by the local residents.  In addition, American Samoa even has its own constitution!


What Makes it Tick

The southern part of the Pacific Ocean is full of tuna!  As a result, tunafish is American Samoa’s largest export.  Both Starkist and Chicken of the Sea have had canning facilities on the islands over the years.  Do you have tunafish in your pantry?  Maybe that tuna was caught in the ocean near American Samoa!

Residents of American Samoa are considered “US Nationals” – they can travel freely within America but are not considered American citizens.


If You Visited

If you visited American Samoa, you would find an unspoiled tropical paradise.  Since American Samoa were formed by volcanoes, much of the land is mountains and forests.   Most of the towns are small communities along the coastline.

If you travel to the island of Tula, you can visit a traditional American Samoa village.    American Samoa has worked hard to maintain its heritage, and many people still live in clans of extended family – these traditional groups are called “aiga.”


Want to Know More? 

Check our American Samoa scrapbook for information we received from the Governor and Board of Tourism.

Have you ever visited American Samoa? If so, we want to hear from you!!  Post a comment at the end of this page.  Do you have any photos of American Samoa to share? Email them to: Or, post them to our Facebook page: