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March 9, 2010


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SamoaIntroductionTalofa, and welcome to Samoa, the treasured islands of the South Pacific, this is often the catch phrase for the businesses seeking tourists. While Samoa has become a popular and somewhat trendy tourist destination in recent times, it is a more than just that. With historical development, culture and the fa’aSamoa (the Samoan way) at the heart of the Polynesian culture. The volcanic islands of Samoa lie halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand and just to the west of American Samoa. Samoa is comprised of two relatively large islands, Upolu and Savai’i, which account for approximately 96% of the total land area, and eight smaller islands. The capital Apia, and Faleolo International Airport are located on the island of Upolu. Total land area is 2,934 square kilometers. The islands are volcanic and dominated by rugged mountain ranges with a fringe of coral reefs and lagoons that surround the islands. While all of the islands have volcanic origins, only Savai’i has had recent eruptions and can be considered volcanically active. Samoa’s tropical climate and fertile soils offer a wide range of flora from tropical rainforests to scrublands, marshes and swamps. Animal species include flying foxes, land and sea birds, skinks and geckos. In the surrounding ocean, dolphins, whales and porpoises migrate through Samoa’s water. The surrounding reefs around the islands are home to some 900 fish species and over 200 varieties of coral.

The eight smaller islands are compromised of Manono, the third most populated island of Samoa. Apolima, the fourth largest, located between Upolu and Savai’i; this island is the rim of an extinct volcano and has one village. Namua is a small tourist island. Fanuatapu is an uninhabited island, but a popular day trip destination. Nuulopa, Nuutele, Nuulua and Nuusafee are the remaining islands and are all uninhabited.

Physical Geography and Overview of Pacific RegionThe region of the Pacific Ocean is the largest body of water on Earth and the underlying geology is driven by plate tectonics. Volcanism normally produces shield volcanoes, which are characterized by non-viscous, rapidly flowing basaltic magma and effusive eruptions. Convergent boundaries in the Pacific Ocean can occur with two types of crust, oceanic and continental crust, which lead to volcanism and orogenesis. When oceanic crust converges on continental crust a subduction zone is formed. The oceanic crust is denser than the continental crust and is driven underneath the continental crust, the subducted plate is melted and magma generation occurs, an example of a subduction zone is the Pacific Ring of Fire where many composite cone volcanoes are located around the perimeter. When continental crust converges on continental crust, one of the crusts is forced up, orogenesis or mountain building occurs.

The four basic island types in this region are continental high islands, volcanic high islands, atolls and raised coral reefs. Samoa is a volcanic high island, these are often built up as a result of hot spot activity. The oceanic crust is permeated by magma and a shield volcano is formed. High islands are of volcanic origin, and many contain active volcanoes, they also have a wide variety of ecosystems.

Early Settlement HistoryThe timeline for people colonizing the Pacific Realm and Samoa begins with modern humans (Homo Sapiens) spreading into Southeast Asia around 75,000 years ago from Africa. From the Southeast Asia region they made their way to the Australian region aided by land bridges about 60,000-40,000 years ago. These land bridges formed by the lowered sea levels caused by glaciers locking up a large portion of the Earth’s water. These initial movement between the New Guinea/Ausralian land mass and the Indonesian land mass would have had needed some type of boat-making technology to cross stretches of water at least 50 kilometers wide, however navigatioal technology would not have been needed. These initial people were hunter-gatherers. The following period of 40,000 years ago Homo Sapiens spread into Europe and Asia. North America spread was 18,000-12,000 years ago via the Bering Strait land bridge and followed into South America 10,000 years ago.

This period of 10,000 years ago is generally the date assigned to the advent of agriculture, chickens, coconuts and taro in Southeast Asia and pigs in South Asia. 9,000-8,000 years ago sea levels begin to rise from the melting glaciers. New Guinea is separated from Australia, consequently New Guinea peoples develop agriculture production with taro crops and Australia remains hunters-gatherers, this is an important development for later island development. The entry of people into the Pacific region begins 4,000-700 years ago. These new areas of colonization required new technological innovations, with agriculture, ocean-going canoes and navigational techniques. The Pacific region colonized in two periods of rapid succession, with the Lapita Expansion and the Eastern Polynesian expansion aided by the art of wayfinding, passed through generations using stars, currents and bird flights, and advanced shipbuilding (double-hulled canoes). The matter of spirituality and authority also played a pivotal role, ancestor worship, mana and social climbing. Samoa was settled during the Lapita expansion, evidence from stamped pottery, bone fishhooks and other archaeological finds support that theory (Kirkham, Lecture 2)ColonizationQuite similar to other areas of the world, discovery by Europeans often led to a colonialeffort on the part of the nation sponsoring these expeditions. Many of the societies of the Pacific region were discovered by European explorers in the midst of an imperialist expansion. Following these encounters, traders and merchants often moved into the region looking for sandalwood, sea cucumbers and other items to exchange for Chinese spices and tea in the growing trans-Pacific trade (Kirkham, Lecture 3)The United States, Britain and Germany colonized the Samoan islands, including current day American Samoa, in the mid 1800’s. A deal was struck between the three countries, in which the British relinquished claims to Samoa in return for other South Pacific territory. The Samoan islands were then split between Germany and the United States. Germany colonized what is today the independent country of Samoa and the Unites States colonized what is current day American Samoa, this was completed in the 1890’s.

Germany retained control of Western Samoa, as it was then known, until Germany’s loss to the Allied powers in World War I. After World War I, Western Samoa was given to New Zealand as a United Nations trusteeship. Western Samoa remained under New Zealand administration until January 1, 1962, when it was the first of the South Pacific island nations to gain independence. Western Samoa officially changed its name to Samoa by altering its constitution in 1997.

Traditional Social Organizations (Agriculture and Chiefdoms)The agriculture in Samoa is largely based on a limited range of crops for its own subsistence needs and for export. Taro, coconut products and cocoa have dominated exports for some considerable time, although other primary products such as timber and beef have also been developed. Agriculture plays an important role in the economy of Samoa with at least two-thirds of households reliant on a mixture of subsistence and cash income. Even those employed in the wages and salary sector often supplement their incomes with agricultural production.

Agriculture production is controlled by chiefdoms within the islands, Samoa is an example of an open chiefdom,however it was once highly stratified. There are many levels of chiefly title; papa, ao, tulafale and ali’i. Changes over time include the evolution of the papa; orator groups took possession of bestowing the papa from the lineages, and warfare became frequent. This shifts the chiefdom from stratified to open around the 16th century and the creation of the Tafa’ifa possessing all the papa (Kirkham, Lecture 5)In Samoa there are two categories of chiefs, the ali’i and the tulafale. As heads of families both are called matai but the status and role of each is very different (Meleisa, 1987). Ali’i titles are those that have historical ties in the genealogy of Samoans. In this regard ali’I titles were sacred titles that carried the mana of the gods, the older the title, the more sacred and close to the origins of ancestors it would be. The tulafale does not depend on mana or ancestor sanctity, although they originated in the same ancestral titles as ali’I, they are more executive titles and carried special privileges. These privileges varied from village to village and were associated with service to an ali’I, from war or house building to hunting and reciting oral traditions (Meleisa, 1987).

ReligionSamoans traditionally had a pantheistic religion, where family elders performed most rituals; they appear not to have had a dominant priestly class. The Samoans have been Christians for over 150 years; they officially adopted Christianity in 1830 (Holmes, 1987). They readily adopted Christian teachings following European contact, and even the more remote villages built churches, often of grand proportions. The Congregational Christian Church in Samoa, formerly the London Missionary Society (LMS) was dominant until the late 20th century, but it has since lost many adherents to the Mormon church. Mormon and Congregationalist groups now account for roughly one-fourth of the population each. About one-fifth of Samoans are Roman Catholics, and about one-ninth are Methodists. Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, and other Christian groups have more limited memberships. The LMS played a large role in reducing the Samoan language into writing in 1834, they have also had a profound effect both religiously and educationally upon Samoan lives (Holmes, 1987)Development IssuesThe economy of Samoa has traditionally been dependent on development aid, family remittance from overseas, agriculture and fishing (The World Factbook, 2007). The country is vulnerable to devastating storms which occurred in the early 1990’s that largely wiped out some crops. Agriculture employs two thirds of the labor force, and provides 90% of exports, featuring coconut cream, coconut oil, and copra. The fish catch declined in the years from 2002-2003, due to the El Nino, but returned to normal by 2005. The manufacturing sector mainly processes agricultural products, which include coconuts, bananas, taro, yams, coffee and cocoa. One factory in the Foreign Trade Zone employs 3,000 people, exporting auto parts to Australia. Tourism accounts for 25% of the GDP, and about 100,000 tourists visited the islands in 2005.

Tradition and ModernizationThe times of Samoa have changed significantly in recent times, while in the long lost history they had no written language, and their traditions were passed down orally from generation to generation, the future of their culture relies on this recognition. (Rose, 1959) A good example can be found in the art of wayfinding, this art was almost forgotten as the culture of Samoa modernized and oral traditions were lost. The art of wayfinding also is incorporated in the regional themes of the Polynesian realm, the influence of the ocean, transportation and interconnectivity, and human-environment interaction. These ancient people crafted boats with natural materials, made with stone tools. They felled large trees for the hulls, braided senet for the lashings, and wove luhala for the sails. The whole community helped build these vessels that carried them for weeks on the open seas. Legendary navigators guided the canoes to distant islands and returned home to share their discoveries; their survival was dependent on knowing the paths of the stars, the currents of the ocean and the flight paths of birds. By 1000 A.D. they had left their footprint on every island in the South Pacific, they carried with them on these double-hulled canoes everything they would need to settle the islands they encountered, seedlings to plant, animals to breed, traditions of rituals and worship, oral history and languages all made there way through the islands. These journeys also brought forth much of the species and change in island habitats, from deliberate and accidental introductions. The flora and fauna of this region was influenced by the people that traversed from island to island, a good example is that the only two native species of mammals are fruit bats, humans introduced chickens, dogs and pigs to this region.

Not only was the flora and fauna impacted but so were the linguistics of the region, making its way to the islands as each was settled and colonized, similarities are found in many of the islands that are close together. The most unique feature of the Samoan language is the special set of honorific terms known as the “chiefs language”. This is a class of polite or respectful words, which are substituted for ordinary words when one is speaking to someone of chiefly rank. For example, an untitled manhas an ‘aiga (meal), but a chief has a taumafataga; an untitled person puts his hat on his ulu (head), but a chief places it on his ao (Fox & Cumberland, 1962).

Environmental IssuesEnvironmental issues in Samoa are in large part becoming more and more a problem with regards to population growth and the pressure it exerts on the environment. Beginning with ocean, problems here are over fishing, inshore environmental degradation, ongoing coastal developments, loss of mangroves and reef nurseries and destructive fishing practices. In earlier times, when population levels were low, the ocean and the reefs flourished. Now with large populations and growing urban areas, reef habitat is being destroyed. Many of the reefs are also being polluted by agriculture run off and high chemical residues.

In Samoa there is also high rates of deforestation, especially lowland forest. With this occurring, soil erosion and loss of biodiversity becomes problematic. The problem of soil erosion is two-fold, not only does it degrade the land for agriculture and infrastructure, the sediments that are washed into local rivers and streams turn the water into a murky, sediment laden mess. When the water reaches the lagoons and reefs it inundates the entire area with sediment deposits making it difficult for the coral and other reef habitat to live. Other problems include management of water supplies and environmental issues with natural disasters. With these problems there have been some conservation efforts with the establishment of National Parks, marine reserves, private lowland rainforest preservation and village-based ecotourism. SOPAC, has also become a factor, it is the Pacific Islands Applied Geoscience Commission. It is an inter-governmental, regional organization dedicated to providing services to promote sustainable development in the countries it serves (SOPAC, 2007)Environmental issues in Samoa also includes the concept of transported landscapes and are based on species and land management practices that have been spread by people throughout the region. Beginning with animal introductions from outside the Polynesian region, both deliberate and accidental. Deliberate animal introduction include dogs, chickens and pigs. Some pigs would become feral and cause environmental damage; feral animals refer to animals that were once domesticated escaping back into the wild. Accidental introductions include rats, geckos, skinks, centipedes, cockroaches and snails. Many of these accidental introductions would occur as human transported themselves from island to island in canoes. Plant introductions also include deliberate such as crops as food sources and accidental such as weeds, with some from outside of the area and some from within the Polynesian area, especially Western Polynesia.

Modern SamoaTraditions, culture, beliefs and other historical events make Samoa what it is today. The integration into the world system has changed traditional institutions in a variety of waves. Similar to The Whale Rider, centuries of traditions must not be lost through modernization. However, in the state of a changing society, some type of adaptation must transpire to keep with changes in a global community. Changes in village life have occurred by nominal means, traditions are still taken seriously. The tourism trade has changed some of the representation of the culture to the masses. Polynesian life is put on exhibit on a grand stage in the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC), is this a true depiction of life in Samoa? While it makes a commendable effort to exemplify the region it lacks the true meaning of tradition and culture. To witness a commercialized venture such as the PCC is similar to taking a picture in contrast to shooting a video, you miss a lot of the important aspects. The islands of Samoa play an integral part in the regional themes of Polynesia, from the influence of the Pacific Ocean, transportation and interconnectedness, and the human-environment interaction. These themes have proven to both helpful and hurtful as the islands attempt to make the transition into the global society and economy.

Works CitedFox J.W. & Cumberland K.B. Western Samoa. Christchurch, New Zealand: Whitcombe & Tombs Ltd., 1962.

Holmes, Lowell D. The Quest for the Real Samoa. Massachusets: Bergin & Garvey, 1987.

Kirkham, W.S. Geography of Polynesia: CSU Stanislaus, 2007Meleisea, Malama. Lagaga: A Short History of Western Samoa. University of the South Pacific, 1987.

O’Meara Tim J. Samoan Planters. Chicago: Holt, Rinehart andWinston, Inc., 1990.

Rose Ronald South Seas Magic. London: Robert Hale Limited, 1959.

Shore Bradd. Sala’ilua A Samoan Mystery. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.

SOPAC. 2007. 28 January 2007 .

The Whale Rider. South Pacific Pictures, 2002.

The World Factbook. 18 January 2007. CIA. 23 January 2007.

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