Thoughts on American Samoa

I’m leaving American Samoa today and will be in Tonga tomorrow. I have several hours to kill while I wait for my flight to Apia, so I might as well get my thoughts down now before I leave.

I didn’t know what to expect before I came to American Samoa. This is a place that usually just gets a footnote in US geography courses. Guam and Puerto Rico get way more attention than American Samoa does.

  • American Samoa is more Samoa than America. Spending time in Apia before coming here really drove the point home. Several cab drivers also pointed out the same thing. But for the government and a few other institutional things (school calendars and high school sports), there are no real differences between the two Samoas. The division is really artificial.
  • In both American Samoa and Samoa, there were two facts that I noticed that seems at odds with each other.
    1. Everything from signs, radio stations, TV, newspapers was in English. I could go anywhere and speak with anyone in English.
    2. No one spoke English. Not to each other at least. Everyone spoke Samoan to other Samoans.

    I think Samoan never being a written language is probably the reason for it. I think its a good decision for Samoans. They can keep their language and culture yet be connected to the rest of the English speaking world.

  • I flat out asked a cab driver if there was any movement for an independent American Samoa or to merge with Samoa. Without hesitation, he said “No”. They got a good deal going. For all practical purposes, they are independent, but they get benefits of being part of the US. They probably have seen what has happened to other small Pacific nations and don’t want to make the same mistake. There is a very steep price for a seat in the UN. I’ll have more to say on this subject I’m sure when I go through Tuvalu and Nauru.
  • It is pretty cheap here. I could take a cab from the airport to Pago Pago for about $13. Nothing really stuck me as expensive compared to urban areas in the US.
  • Pago Pago isn’t really a city so much as a village. It just happens to be the village where the harbor is. It isn’t even the biggest village on the Island.
  • When you go through immigration at the airport, I was expecting a US customs officer. I got an American Samoa stamp in my passport and it was American Samoan customs, not US Immigration.
  • Lots of the Western Union and money transfer places here. Many people come from Samoa to American Samoa to work and send money back home. Per capita GDP in American Samoa is about $8,000 vs $5,600 in Samoa.
  • Samoa (both) is more religious than the southern US. That is in no way an exaggeration. They call it the Pacific Bible belt. Everywhere where I went they had Christian music playing, often Samoan Christian music. Everything shuts down on Sundays.
  • All the buses here and in Samoa are private. It is very similar to what I saw in Tahiti. Buses are everywhere and cheap. The system seems to work well. The quality of the buses would turn off most westerners, but it gets the job done efficiently and cheaply.
  • I purchased a lavalava while I was here. In fact, I’m wearing it as I type this. It is basically a kilt that men wear here. I’ve had requests for photos of me wearing it. That will have to wait for at least a few days. I’m only going to wear it for the next few weeks while I’m in the region, then I’m sending it home. Mine is a solid color with pockets, not just a big hunk of cloth. It’s more of a formal one than what some guys wear. It cost a whopping $8. I got it at…and I kid you not….Mr. Lavalava in downtown Pago Pago.
  • Samoans are just really nice people.

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