The people of Samoa continued to live this lifestyle for thousands
of years until the first Europeans arrived. Although Europeans
may have spotted the islands earlier, most people agree that the first European
to spot the islands was Jacob Roggeveen from the Netherlands
in 1722. However Roggeveen didn't actually stop and after him other Europeans
explorers also came and went without stopping. It wasn't until the early 1800s
when Europeans and Americans began to land and settle the islands. By 1830 both
the United Kingdom and the
United States had a presence on the islands and their presence vastly changed
the culture and people of Samoa (then known as the Navigator Islands).
The British and the
Americans didn't make a true effort to colonize the islands; however
some people did settle the region and each set up trading posts on the islands.
It wasn't until the Germans arrived in the mid- to late-1800s
that the culture changed as the Germans began to use the islands for commercial
gain, hence altering the culture to a significant degree.
Although missionaries were already present prior to Germans
arrival, the Germans increased the number. The Germans also created large plantations
to grow coconuts, cacao, and rubber. As German presence increased, so too did British and American
presence with each expanding their trading posts, their influence, and their claims
on the land. These three powers also began dividing the people as each built strategic
alliances with local chiefs on varying islands.
These foreign powers destroyed much of the historic culture of Samoa.
The missionaries converted most of the people to Christianity, leaving behind their
historic religion, but keeping much of the symbolism from that religion (for example
round houses and tattooing are still common). In other ways, the historic culture
survived or even thrived. Local chiefs not only maintained, but increased their
power as they were working with powerful European and
American allies. In another way though, these chiefs eventually lost most
of their power to these foreigners as the political and social structure were slowly
altered to be run on a larger level and by outside powers.
These foreign powers were so powerful that their influence led to civil war in Samoa in 1886. This war was led and fought by the chiefs,
but the chiefs were each supported by a foreign government. The
Germans, British, and
Americans all supplied arms and training to the local chiefs and on
a few occasions even got directly involved in the war. Although the civil war was
one fought by the locals, foreign powers sparked, or at least encouraged the prolonging
of the war. Even famed author, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about the war in his
book A Footnote to History, which he wrote while living in Samoa during
After this first civil war a second one broke out in 1898, but this war was more
openly between the three foreign powers vying for control over the islands (primarily
a war of Germany versus the United
Kingdom and the United States).
In a way this was fought as a domestic war, but the foreign powers supported different
local chiefs and supported them through supplies, but in this war the foreign powers
were directly involved.
This war ended like it started, with the foreign powers dictating terms. The
Germans gained control over what is today Samoa, while
the Americans gained control over what
is today the American Samoa, and the British stepped
away from the islands in exchange for other German lands in the South Pacific.
More than anything, these wars divided the local people and destroyed much of the
culture in Samoa as each side gained more of an affinity to
the culture of their ruling power. The local chiefs became quite supportive of their
foreign supporter as they gained their technology, language, religion, and political
structure at the sake of many traditional items. Again though, numerous aspects
of their religion continued on and the Samoan language was never lost.
The wars also led to independence movements as many people were upset at the complete
control over the islands by these foreigners. These movements began in the early
1900s and were strongest in "Western Samoa" (modern day Samoa).
However, these calls for independence went nowhere at the time since in 1914 World
War I broke out in Europe and New Zealand
quickly came in to take control of Samoa ("Western Samoa" at the time)
from the Germans. Under the rule of New Zealand the independence
movement continued, primarily in a peaceful fashion and little changed in the way
of the Samoan culture other than the fact that English became the second language
instead of German.
Despite the calls for independence, "Western Samoa" remained under the
control of New Zealand until 1962. They declared independence
under the name "Western Samoa" (this was changed to "Samoa"
in 1997) and were led by chief Fiame Mata'afa Faumuina Mulinu'u II and became
a part of the British Commonwealth of Nations. The
American Samoa is still a dependency of the United
Since independence, Samoa has continued on its path of westernization,
but their economy has struggled numerous times. Samoa has, in many ways, adopted
a culture not unlike that of New Zealand, or many other
western countries. They have all the technology and amenities that any other country
has as their lifestyles reflect that of much of the world. However, their economic
struggles prevent most people from purchasing cars and other modern technology as
farming and fishing tend to remain the primary forms of the economy.