The heart of Polynesia, Samoa has been an interesting experiment in preserving culture. The first in the Pacific to free themselves of colonial rule, becoming independent in 1962 as Western Samoa, the Samoans crafted a constitution that allowed only family chiefs, known as Matai, to vote and run for office. Recent reforms have allowed all Samoans to vote, but still only Matai can be elected. The policy slowed development and thousands of Samoans migrated to Australia, nearby American Samoa, or the United States. Yet island groups who did not deliberately try to preserve their culture also lost thousands of islanders seeking employment and a more modern lifestyle. Today Samoa’s culture remains strong and development, slow as it is, has provided enough to help the government stay financially in the black.
Location: Samoa is located in the center of Polynesia, just north of Tonga. It has an area of 2,944 square kilometers, almost all of it on the two main islands of Savaii and Upolu. The islands are volcanic with rugged central mountainous spines and narrow coastal plains.
Population: 217,000 (2008 est)
Religions: Congregationalists 34.8%, Roman Catholic 19.6%, Methodist 15%, Mormon 12.7%, Assembly of God 6.6%, Seventh Day Adventist 3.5%, Worship Center 1.3%, other Christian 4.5%, other 1.9%, unspecified 0.1%.
Ethnic Groups: Samoan 92.6%, Euronesian (Polynesian and European mix) 7%, European 0.4%.
Samoa has been settled for at least 2,500 years. It had frequent contact with Fiji and Tonga, sometimes paying tribute to or being conquered by one or the other. After contact with Europeans, a quickly growing expatriate community of beachcombers, traders, plantation owners, and missionaries developed. In the mid-1800s the Samoans became embroiled in their own civil wars to determine the next Tupu-o-Samoa, or paramount chief of Samoa. The Samoans began selling land to Europeans and Americans to buy guns to fight their wars. The Americans, Germans, and British supported different Samoan factions, each hoping their man would become high chief and bring the stability of a central government. When the wars ended, the Samoans found much of their land in foreign hands, and the Europeans found that the Tupu-o-Samoa was only a ceremonial chief and really had no power to rule over the villages. Rivalries continued, and the expatriates began beseeching their home governments to come in and take over. Eventually deals were worked out that divided Samoa. In 1899 the United States took over what is now American Samoa, with its great harbor at Pago Pago and Germany took over Western Samoa, now called Samoa. The Samoans did not appreciate losing their independence, and began the Mau Movement to regain it. Some leaders of the movement were exiled to the Northern Marianas. New Zealand troops occupied Samoa during World War I, and after the war New Zealand administered the group as a League of Nations mandated territory. The Samoans continued the Mau Movement against New Zealand control. One demonstration ended in violence with several deaths. After World War II, Western Samoa became a United Nations trust territory administered by New Zealand. In 1962, Western Samoa became the first Pacific island group to become independent from colonial rule. The new constitution required preserving the culture, and only family chiefs, known as matai, were allowed to run for office or vote. Economic development was quite slow, and thousands of Samoans migrated to New Zealand and elsewhere. In 1990 the constitution was amended to allow all adult Samoans to vote, but still only matai can run for the legislature. In 1997, the “Western” was dropped from the name and the group became just Samoa.
There have been no serious issues or disputes between Samoa and the United States since Samoan independence in 1962. Samoa is closely tied to New Zealand, with a strong treaty of friendship that includes, among other things, military defense by New Zealand.
The United States maintains a one-officer diplomatic mission in Apia, but there is no ambassador in residence as the U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand is also accredited with Samoa. Relations between the two countries are good. The United States maintains a strong Peace Corps presence in Samoa.
There are more than 90,000 Samoans living in the United States, but there is no data on how many are from Samoa and how many are from American Samoa. There are large Samoan communities in Honolulu, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Salt Lake City. Smaller communities can be found in Laie, Hawaii; Oakland, California; and even Independence, Missouri.
In 2007 the United States imported goods worth $5.4 million from Samoa. The largest category was in fruits and fruit juices. That same year the United States exported goods worth $16.7 million to Samoa, with the main categories being fish, meat, other foods, and electric apparatus. The U.S. aid request for Samoa for 2008 was only for $40,000 to help its police force enforce maritime laws. There is also a large Peace Corps presence in Samoa
Samoa’s ambassador to the United States is Aliioaiga Feturi Elisaia. He is also Samoa’s Permanent Representative for Samoa’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations and Samoa’s ambassador to Canada. Elisaia earned a degree in political science and administration from the University of the South Pacific and also studied diplomacy at Oxford. Most of his career has been spent in Samoa’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, although he was first secretary to the Samoa High Commission in Wellington, New Zealand. Elisaia took over his ambassadorial posts in April 2003 when the previous ambassador, Tuiloma Neroni Slade, was chosen to serve as a judge on the International Criminal Court.
In an effort to calm gay rights supporters who have grown impatient with President Barack Obama’s dithering over revoking the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, David Huebner was chosen to serve as ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa. Sworn-in December 4, 2009, Huebner became just the third openly-gay ambassador in U.S. history and the first in the current administration.
Born in 1960 in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, a small coal mining town in Schuylkill County, Huebner attended Mahanoy Area High School. In college he studied at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, earning his bachelor’s degree, summa cum laude, in 1982.
While earning his Juris Doctor at Yale Law School, Huebner served as editor-in-chief of the Yale Journal on Regulation and was a member of the Yale AIDS Law Project. He spent a year in Japan (1984-1985) thanks to a Henry Luce Fellowship that allowed him to serve as an aide to Koji Kakizawa, a member of Japan’s House of Representatives (Diet).
After completing law school in 1986, Huebner joined the Center for Law in the Public Interest.
In 1995, he joined the international law firm, Coudert Brothers. He served as its chairman and chief executive officer from 2003 until shortly before the firm’s dissolution in 2005.
He joined Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton in 2005, and two years later became the firm’s regional managing partner in China. Working out of Shanghai, Huebner led the China Practice and International Disputes Practice, specializing in international arbitration, mediation, and cross-border litigation, and advising clients on corporate compliance and governance issues.
In addition to teaching at Gould, he has been a guest lecturer at USC’s Marshall School of Business on various dispute resolution and intellectual property issues, at Tsinghua University on international dispute resolution, and at the East China University of Politics and Law on international dispute resolution and intellectual property.
The U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand is also accredited to Samoa. Currently this is William P. McCormick, who presented his credentials on November 9, 2005. McCormick was born in Rhode Island and attended Roger Williams Jr. College and Boston University. After graduation he moved to Northern California, where he worked for Connecticut General Life Insurance Company as a broker until 1965. He then left the insurance business and became a partner in the Refectory Steak House Restaurant chain. He sold out of that and moved to Oregon where, in 1973, he purchased “Jake’s Famous Crawfish” restaurant and partnered with Doug Schmick. They changed the name to McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurants and eventually opened 56 restaurants in 24 states. Meanwhile, McCormick attended the Harvard Graduate School of Business, Executive Management Program, in 1979. McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurants is now publicly traded on NASDAQ and McCormick is Chairman Emeritus.
McCormick has been heavily involved in charitable and service projects. These have included providing thousands of pounds of food for a food bank and 10,000 books for disadvantaged children in Los Angeles County. He started the Shamrock Run to benefit many service organizations in Portland, Oregon. He also raised money to keep the Portland Opera Foundation functioning. McCormick and Schmick’s restaurants provide complimentary meals to veterans visiting the restaurant on Veteran’s Day, for which he received the Secretary’s Award from the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs. McCormick was also appointed to the President’s Committee of the Arts and Humanities. He was also Bush for President Finance Co-Chair, the Oregon Chairman for the Republican National Committee Finance Committee, and a heavy donor to the Republican Party and its candidates.