On Monday, I flew to Pago Pago (pronounced “pung-o pung-o”), capital of American Samoa on a day trip. American Samoa was created in 1900 when Germany and the United States split the Samoan Islands among themselves. German Samoa subsequently became a New Zealander colony and then became independent in 1962 as the Independent State of Samoa. American Samoa has remained an American territory. It has a population of 70,000 but a much greater Samoan-American community live in Hawaii and California. There is also a Chinese and Korean community that runs most of the supermarkets and restaurants.
Pago Pago is located on a beautiful sheltered harbor on the 132 sq km Tutuila Island, flanked by steep mountain ridges covered by lush green tropical jungle. Upon arrival, I dropped by the Holy Family Cathedral to admire its sculptures and stained glass depicting a Samoan version of Christ and the Holy Family, complete with topical flower garlands and kava bowls.
I dropped by the friendly tourist office which negotiated a taxi to bring me around the island for US$60. I was driven round the scenic southern coast and through the American Samoa National Park on the island’s north central coast. What a beautiful island! Steep mountain slopes and cliff-hanging roads that suddenly ends in remote villages that resemble forgotten paradises. There are hardly any tourists…most Americans seemed to have forgotten they own a little piece of paradise in the South Pacific!
American Samoa is a self-governing territory whose inhabitants are American citizens who elect their own governor. For a long time, the US Government has maintained a hands-off policy that allows American Samoans to run their own affairs while enjoying generous subsidies from the US. This also meant there is little support for independence. The huge amount of financial support has also made American Samoans much richer than their ethnic cousins in independent Samoa.
But times are not good. President Obama has begun moves to align American Samoa (and other US overseas territories) with US laws and national policies. Some say the autonomy American Samoa has enjoyed so far might be eroded. In fact, the recent imposition of the same US national minimum wage rate in American Samoa has led to the closure of a tuna cannery – the largest private sector employer in American Samoa - and threatens the survival of the sole remaining factory. American Samoa was also severely affected by the tsunami of 2009, which devastated Pago Pago as well as many villages on the southern coast of Tutuila. I passed ruins of many villages and even a damaged fishing vessel which ended up on dry land in Pago Pago.