American Samoa, officially Territory of American Samoa, unincorporated territory of the United States (2010 pop. 55,519), comprising the eastern half of the Samoa island chain in the South Pacific. The group (76 sq mi/197 sq km) consists of several major islands: Tutuila, the Manu'a group (Ta'u, Ofu, and Olosega), Rose and Sand Islands, and Swains Island. Pago Pago, the capital, is on Tutuila. Most of the islands are mountainous, heavily wooded, and surrounded by coral reefs.
Polynesians account for a large majority of the population. Christian Congregationalism and other Protestant denominations are practiced by 80% of the people; some 20% are Roman Catholic. Most Samoans are bilingual, speaking the native Polynesian tongue and English.
Subsistence agriculture and the export of canned tuna and handicrafts became the mainstays of the economy after the U.S. naval base at Pago Pago closed in 1951. There is also some light industry. Economic activity is strongly linked to the United States; Australia, Indonesia, and India are also important trading partners. Nearly all the land is communally owned by the Polynesian natives.
The territorial government is headed by a popularly elected governor. There is a bicameral legislature (Fono), consisting of a senate (18 members chosen by local chiefs) and a house of representatives (20 members elected by popular vote, plus one nonvoting member from Swains Island, which is privately owned). There is also an independent judiciary. The inhabitant are considered American nationals, not citizens, and do not vote in U.S. elections, but they do send one nonvoting delegate to the U.S. Congress.
American Samoa was defined by a treaty in 1899 between the United States, Great Britain, and Germany, which gave the United States control of all Samoan islands east of 171°W. American Samoa was under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Dept. of the Navy until 1951, at which time administration was transferred to the Dept. of the Interior, which appointed the governor. In 1978 the first popularly elected Samoan governor was inaugurated. Tauese P. F. Sunia, first elected in 1996, died in 2003; Lieutenant Governor Togiola Tulafona succeeded him as acting governor, and was himself elected governor in 2004 and 2008. In Sept., 2009, a tsunami caused signifcant coastal destruction in parts of American Samoa. Lolo Matalasi Moliga was elected governor in 2012.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.