Samoa factoids: Did you know?

In the wake of news from the September 29, 2009, earthquake and tsunami damage in Samoa, I was recently reading some Samoa history, and the following few factoids caught my interest enough to share them:

August 1830: Rev. John Williams of the London Missionary Society sailed from Vava’u, Tonga, to begin Christian missionary work in Samoa. They sighted Savaii on August 15 that year. He began teaching High Chief Malietoa Vaiinupo that same week at Sapapali’i, Savaii. (Rev. Williams was martyred in 1839 on the island of Erromango in Vanuatu when he was mistaken for a “blackbirder” who intended to kidnap the islanders for slave labor in northern Australia.)

c 1840: A Samoan village by Alfred Agate

December 23, 1862: Hawaiian Elders Kimo Pelio and Samuel Manoa unofficially established a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Tutuila.

February 17, 1887: Hawaii King Kalakaua’s minister plenipotentiary and Samoa’s King Malietoa Laupepa signed a Treaty of Confederation between the two island kingdoms.

October 10, 1888: Missionaries William and Louisa Lee, Edward J. Wood and Adelbert Beasley arrived on Tutuila to officially begin missionary work for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka the Mormons). They began on the small off-shore island of Aunu’u.

August 1905-September 1911: Volcanic activity from Mount Matavanu in the Lealatele district of Savaii caused residents to relocate to Leauva’a and Salamumu on the island of Upolu.

April 7, 1917: When the U.S. declared war on Germany, the U.S. Navy seized two German ships that had been berthed in Pago Pago harbor since 1914.

December 17, 1920: After Germany lost World War I, the Council of the League of Nations confirmed a mandate on Great Britain’s King George V on behalf of New Zealand to administer German Samoa, which thereafter became known as British or Western Samoa.

December 1918: An estimated 23 percent, or about one-fifth, of the population of Western Samoa died in the Spanish influenza pandemic — the highest percentage of “flu” deaths of any country in the world at that time.

August 11, 1925: Columbia anthropology doctoral student Margaret Mead arrived in American Samoa to begin her fieldwork that would eventually be published as Coming of Age in Samoa.

August 1926: There were a total of 20 cars, 15 trucks, 1 ambulance and 4 buses in American Samoa.

March 1937: The Pan American World Airway’s “flying boat” Pan American Clipper (later renamed the Samoan Clipper)established a route between San Francisco and Australiasia. In January the following year, the first commercial flight of service from Pago Pago to Auckland, New Zealand, ended in disaster when the Samoan Clipper exploded.

February 1940: The population of American Samoa was record as 12,908 (2,597 of them in Manu’a and 147 on Swains Island), including 31 palagi, 4 Japanese, 2 Filipinos and 1 Chinese.

January 11, 1942: A Japanese submarine surfaced near Pago Pago and fired about 15 shells over a 10-minute period at the U.S. Naval Station. Light structural damage and minor injuries were reported.

November 1942: World War I fighter pilot “ace” Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker, recuperated at the U.S. Navy Mobile Hospital No. 3 in Mapusaga, American Samoa. He and his companions spent 22 days on a raft after their Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress went down en route to Australia and were rescued near Funafuti in the Ellice Islands (now Tuvalu).

August 1943: Future U.S. President John F. Kennedy spent time recuperating in American Samoa after his U.S. Navy torpedo patrol board PT-109 was rammed by a Japanese destroyer near New Georgia in the Solomon Islands.

June 1, 1955: Uifa’atali Peter Tali Coleman became the first Samoan to be appointed Attorney General of American Samoa. He went on to become American Samoa’s first appointed and then elected Governor.

January 26, 1956: American Samoa receives its first official U.S. air mail delivery.

October 18, 1966: U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson and his wife, “Lady Bird” Johnson, visited American Samoa where the First Lady dedicated the Manulele Tausala elementary school named in her honor in Nuuuli. President Johnson is the only U.S. president so far to visit American Samoa, however Eleanor Roosevelt was the first First Lady to visit there on August 23, 1943.

1968: Toilia “Tony” Solaita from Nuuuli, Tutuila, became the first Samoan to play major league baseball in the U.S.

May 26, 1969: The Apollo 10 astronauts splashed down near American Samoa and stopped over briefly in Tafuna.

April 17, 1970: The crew of Apollo 13 splashed down near American Samoa on the 70th anniversary of Flag Day, and briefly visited Tutuila before going on to Hawaii.

1980: Wallace Ali’ifua Rank became the first Samoan in the NBA when he was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the 5th Round (99th overall).

January 24, 1982: Cincinnati Bengal’s quarterback Jack Thompson, the “Throwin’ Samoan,” became the first member of a Super Bowl team (XVI, but he did not play in the game). San Francisco 49er Manu Tuiasosopo became the first Samoan to actually play in a Super Bowl game (1985). San Francisco 49ers’ center Jesse Sapolu was the first Samoan to play in two Super Bowl football games (1990); and Dallas Cowboy O-tackle Mark Tuinei was the first Samoan to play in three Super Bowls.

1987: Konishiki Salevaa Atisanoe became the first American to achieve the rank of ozeki in Japan’s traditional wrestling sport of sumo.

October 31, 1988: The U.S. Congress authorized the National Park of American Samoa, which was officially established in 1993 when a 50-year lease was signed.

July 1999: Musashimaru Fiamalu Penitani became the first Samoan and only the second foreign-born yokozuna or grand champion in the traditional Japanese wrestling sport of sumo.

September 29, 2000: The first McDonald’s restaurant in Samoa opened in Tafuna.

November 7, 2006: Mike Gabbard, originally of Leloaloa, American Samoa, became the first Hawaii State senator of Samoan ancestry to serve in the Hawaii legislature.

A much more detailed history can be found at, The Samoan Historical Calendar, 1606-2007, by Stan Sorensen and Joseph Theroux.

By Mike Foley: Originally published October 27, 2009.


  1. Good work. Bizarre however that you did not mention the deaths of our leaders including our head of state Tupua Tamasese during the mau movement which lead to Samoa becomming the first independant nation in the south pacific. We recently celebrated our 50th anniversary of independance in 2012.

  2. Faafetai tele, Rei. Sa’o lava oe. Samoa has had great leaders deserving of their places in the history of the islands. My tama’i talaaga (little timeline) is far from comprehensive and was only intended to point out a few interesting things about Samoa, in hopes of getting more people interested.

  3. Genesis says:

    This is cool. Thank you for this. I did not know we had such a … eventful … history. It’s awesome. Thank you, again.

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