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What's the Difference Between Samoa and American Samoa?
What's the Difference Between Samoa and American Samoa?

What’s the Difference Between Samoa and American Samoa?

© SamoaPocketGuide.com / Pixabay

Samoa Vs. American Samoa: The Complete Guide!

A clustered archipelago of islands in the South Pacific Ocean, halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii, the Samoan Islands are together geographically but have taken different roads politically. If you’ve been reading Samoa Pocket Guide and wondered where all of the information is about the islands of Tutuila and Manu’a are; well, they are in a different country called American Samoa. That’s right, Samoa and American Samoa are two different countries! We go through just how different yet similar they are in this guide to the difference between Samoa and American Samoa.

Samoa and American Samoa: Two Different Countries

What you need to start with when understanding the difference between Samoa and American Samoa is that Samoa and American Samoa are two separate countries (despite the islands only being 70 km/43.5 mi apart).

Samoa is an independent nation with its own head of state. On the other hand, American Samoa is an unincorporated territory of the United States.

What's the Difference Between Samoa and American Samoa?© SamoaPocketGuide.com

How Samoa and American Samoa Became Separate Countries

So, how did Samoa and American Samoa become separate countries? To answer that, we need to take a little history lesson.

Note that in the following sections, as we go through the history of the Samoan islands, the following terms will be used to describe the islands:

  • Samoan islands (both today’s Samoa and American Samoa)
  • Western Samoa (the islands of today’s Samoa)
  • Eastern Samoa (the islands of today’s American Samoa).

Now, are you sitting comfortably?

Samoan Civil War

Ties between the western and eastern islands of Samoa began to sever in the late 1800s, starting with the first Samoan Civil War (1886-1894). The dispute centred around the Samoan islands’ four paramount ‘aiga (families), particularly the ‘aiga of Malietoa and Mata’afa who disagreed on whose head should be king of all of the Samoan islands. In turn, the Samoans sold their lands to Europeans, namely Germany, the US and Britain, in order to acquire armaments to settle the dispute.

In the meantime, Germany, the US and Britain had their own tensions arising; all colonial powers wished to further their interest in the Samoan islands.

To “settle” both Samoan and European interests, an agreement was made with the Berlin Treaty of 1889 that stipulated an independent Samoa would be established under the rule of a foreign-appointed Samoan king and that Britain, Germany and the US would be given considerably advisory powers on Upolu. But, that was only the beginning of the dividing of western and eastern Samoa…

The Second Samoan Civil War

Although a Samoan king, Malietoa Laupepa, was appointed to the throne in 1894, when he died in 1898, the Second Samoan Civil War broke out with both Samoan factions and Western powers again in conflict.

The Berlin Treaty was declared void on 2 December 1899 and the Tripartite Treaty was drawn up instead, giving control of western Samoa (today’s Samoa) to the Germans and eastern Samoa (today’s American Samoa) to the Americans. The British stepped out of the Samoa arrangement altogether in exchange for all renunciations of German claims to Tonga, the Solomon Islands and Niue.

Samoa’s Independence

Foreign control of western Samoa passed from Germany to New Zealand during World War One. Then, from the 1920s, western Samoa campaigned for independence until eventually on 1 January 1962, the western islands of Samoa gained independence becoming known as Western Samoa up until 1997 when the government dropped the “Western” to become the name the country is known by today, Samoa.

You can read more about Samoa’s road to independence in A Brief History of Samoa.

What's the Difference Between Samoa and American Samoa?© Pixabay

The Differences in the Geography Between Samoa and American Samoa

As it is often agreed, both Samoa and American Samoa are visibly stunning pieces of South Pacific paradise. But, of course, there are differences when it comes to landmass and distribution of islands.

The Geography of Samoa

Samoa is made up of two main high and eroded volcanic islands with narrow coastal plains, called Upolu (1,115 km2/693 mi2) and Savai’i (1,700 km2/1,056 mi²), which sit less than 22 km (13.7 miles) apart across the Apolima Strait. Between the two islands, as well as off the southeast coast of Upolu, are several other islets. Learn more about the islands in What are the 9 Islands of Samoa?

The Geography of American Samoa

American Samoa comprises of seven islands and a few rocky islets with a total landmass of 197 km² (76 mi²) but scattered across a larger ocean area, especially considering the atoll of Etena sits 355 km (220 mi) north of the main island, Tutuila (145 km2/90 mi2). The narrow island of Tutuila consists of a sharp winding ridge and plunging valleys. About 100 km (60 mi) east is the Manu’a Group with three steep volcanic remnant islands.

What's the Difference Between Samoa and American Samoa?© Pixabay

Cultural Differences Between Samoa and American Samoa

The traditional aspects of the Samoan culture, known as Fa’a Samoa, prevail in both Samoa and American Samoa. The tribal structure and emphasis on family are similar on both sides with the dominant language being Samoan, locals wearing lavalava (sarongs) and churches full of song on a Sunday.

The main differences, however, lie in the foreign affiliations the two countries have. For example, Samoa drives on the lefthand side of the road, uses Type 1 electrical plugs and has a fondness for rugby, much like its close ally of New Zealand. On the other hand, American Samoa drives on the right, uses 120V Type A & B electrical sockets, uses US dollars as its currency and locals tend to prefer NFL football over rugby.

What's the Difference Between Samoa and American Samoa?© Pixabay

The Differences in Tourism Between Samoa and American Samoa

For visitors, Samoa is much more geared towards tourism, with a wealth of accommodation options across the islands, as well as organised tours, activities and attractions – just take a look at the 101 Best Things to Do in Samoa: The Ultimate List and Where to Stay in Samoa: The 50 Best Accommodations in Samoa for an idea of what’s available.

On the flip side, American Samoa has a much smaller tourism industry. Compared to Samoa’s 100+ accommodation options, American Samoa only has around 25. On Airbnb (at the time of writing), Samoa has 180+ listings, while American Samoa has 10. On top of that, American Samoa has a limited flight schedule to the islands compared to Samoa. But for those visiting Samoa, it’s very easy to “hop across the pond”, so to speak, to experience the best of both worlds with Samoa Airways.

What's the Difference Between Samoa and American Samoa?© SamoaPocketGuide.com

Frequently Asked Questions About the Difference Between Samoa and American Samoa

Finally, here are some of the most popular questions travellers are asking across the internet about the difference between Samoa and American Samoa. Here, we answer them for you!

Why are Samoa and American Samoa Separate?

On 2 December 1899, the Tripartite Treaty was drawn up giving control of western Samoa (today’s Samoa) to the Germans and eastern Samoa (today’s American Samoa) to the Americans. Samoa, since then, has gained independence with its own head of state.

What is Better, Samoa or American Samoa?

This depends on who you ask! But in the context of visiting a country, for instance, most would agree that Samoa is only “better” to visit due to the ease of visiting with more flight options and availability of tourist accommodations and attractions. Nevertheless, those who prefer to get off the beaten track may just prefer American Samoa.

What is the Time Difference Between Samoa and American Samoa?

Due to Samoa and American Samoa being on opposing sides of the International Date Line, there is a 24-hour time difference between Samoa and American Samoa. Learn more about the time zone of Samoa in What is the Samoa Time Zone?

What is the Distance Between Samoa and American Samoa?

The distance between Samoa and American Samoa is approximately 70 kilometres. That’s 43.5 miles!

How Do You Get Between Samoa and American Samoa?

It is possible to travel between Samoa and American Samoa via frequent daily flights or a weekly cargo ship. Learn more about flights in Which Airlines Fly Directly to Samoa? and ships in our Samoa Ferry Guide.

More About Samoa Vs. American Samoa

That’s it for our guide to the difference between Samoa and American Samoa. For more context on the separation of the islands, as well as more about what our travel guide is all about, Samoa, check out the following:

Finally, if there’s anything that we’ve missed about Samoa, you’re likely to find it in The Best Samoa Travel Guide: Plan a Trip to Samoa the EASY Way.

Author

Laura S.

This article was reviewed and published by Laura, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Samoa Pocket Guide. Since arriving solo in the South Pacific over 10 years ago with nothing but a backpack and a background in journalism, her mission has been to show the world how easy (and awesome) it is to explore a paradise such as Samoa. She knows the islands inside out and loves sharing tips on how best to experience Upolu and Savai’i’s must-dos and hidden gems. Laura is also the editor of several other South Pacific travel guides.

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