As a people, Samoans share a common language, a warm, generous spirit, a love of tattoos, and a 3,000-year-old cultural code. Fa’a Samoa, the Samoan Way, emphasizes loyalty to family, respect for one’s elders, and a commitment to serving the community, which is considered all-important. But one thing Samoans no longer share? The same time zone.
It is just one of the differences guests on our 14-day Samoa & Tonga: Swimming with Humpbacks expedition will find between the independent island nation of Samoa and American Samoa, an unincorporated US territory. The archipelago was formally partitioned as a result of the Tripartite Convention of 1899, which ended years of civil war. In the treaty, the nine islands that make up Samoa (previously German, and then Western, Samoa) were ceded to Germany, while the United States acquired the five islands that comprise American Samoa.
The entire archipelago, located midway between Hawaii and New Zealand, had shifted east of the international dateline in 1892 to make it easier for US and European merchant ships to conduct business. In the century since then, however, Samoa found its economic interests lied more in Australia, New Zealand, and Asian countries—countries that were operating a full day ahead. So in 2011, the island nation decided to switch back to the western side of the dateline to be on the same weekday as its modern trading partners.
The change, however, means Samoan nationals no longer share the same day with their brethren just 70 miles away. (One benefit: You can celebrate the same birthday or special occasion twice, on the same date, simply by flying between the two island groups!)
Another difference between Samoa and American Samoa is the way in which they are governed. During World War I, New Zealand took then-Western Samoa from Germany and administrated United Nations control over the chain until 1962, when Samoa became the first Pacific nation to gain its independence. While American Samoans elect their own governor, they are considered US nationals, not citizens; indeed, American Samoa is the only US territory that does not grant automatic citizenship at birth. (Despite this seeming indignity, the islands claim the highest rate of enlistment in the US Armed Forces.)
While the Fa’a Samoa traditions are still evident in both island groups, American Samoa is clearly more impacted by US culture. Visitors see the influence in everything from television and music to foods and architecture.