25 interesting facts about Samoa

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The most interesting facts about Samoa, from jumping back and forth over the International Dateline to the origins of tattoos.

A beach fale in Samoa
Many facts about Samoa are a result of its geography (Shutterstock)

Fast facts

Official name: Independent State of Samoa
Capital city: Apia
Population: 203,774
Area: 2,831 sq km
Major languages: Samoan, English
Time zone: UTC+13 (West Samoa Time)
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

Interesting facts about Samoa

1. Samoa is an island nation located in Oceania made up of nine volcanic islands.
– Source: The Commonwealth

2. Just two of the islands – Savai’i and Upolu – account for more than 99% of the country’s land with around 95% of the population living on the two islands.
– Source: BBC News, Samoa Bureau of Statistics

3. Lapita village has the oldest evidence of human occupation in Samoa, with carbon tests dating the site to around 1000BC. The village is partially submerged in a lagoon on the island of Upolu.
– Source: Lonely Planet


4. In 1722, Dutch navigator Jacob Roggeveen became the first European to explore Samoa, although it’s likely that whalers, pirates and escaped convicts had previously visited unofficially.
– Source: Lonely Planet

5. Samoa was annexed by Germany in 1899 and then taken over by New Zealand in 1914 who administered the country until independence.
– Source: BBC News

6. In 1962, Western Samoa became completely independent, becoming the first Pacific island nation to do so.
– Source: BBC News

7. In 1997, Western Samoa changed its name to Samoa. The move caused some tension with American Samoa as the change implied Western Samoan authority over the Samoan archipelago.
– Source: BBC News, Encyclopedia of the Stateless Nations: Ethnic and National Groups Around the World A-Z

8. More than a hundred star-shaped stone platforms have been discovered by archaeologists in Samoa. It is understood these platforms, known as ‘star mounds’, were used to trap wild pigeons, a hobby of matai (chiefs).
– Source: Lonely Planet


A star mounds in Samoa
A star mounds in Samoa (Bill Code: Fair Use)

9. Samoa is the world’s ninth most obese country with 77% of adults classified as overweight.
– Source: World Health Organisation

10. In 2009, Samoa became the first country in decades to officially switch from right- to left-side driving. The change was made to bring Samoa in line with Australia and New Zealand as it is cheaper to import cars from there than from right-side-driving countries such as the US or Europe.
– Source: The Guardian

11. In 2011, Samoa (along with Tokelau) jumped forward one day and skipped December 30th. By moving to the west of the International Date Line, Samoa would be just one hour ahead of New Zealand and only three hours ahead of eastern Australia, rather than nearly a day behind both.
– Source: New York Times

12. As such, Samoa is only 164km and a 30-minute flight away from “yesterday”. Despite only a short distance separating Samoa from its closest neighbour, American Samoa, the countries are on either side of the International Dateline. This also means Samoa celebrates the new year a whole day earlier than American Samoa.
– Source: CNN

13. Oddly, this wasn’t the first time Samoa had changed their calendar. In 1892, the country did the opposite and shifted to the east side of the dateline. As such, Samoa celebrated 4th July – US independence day – twice.
– Source: The Guardian


Map of Samoa near to the International Dateline
Samoa is located close to the International Dateline (CC 2.0)

14. There is a “third gender” in Samoa known as fa’afafine which translates as “in the manner of a woman” and has long been recognised and accepted in Samoan culture. Genetically male, fa’afafine live as women and are taught the traditional duties of Samoan women.
– Source: Reuters

15. Hollywood actor and ex-professional wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is half-Samoan. Johnson performed the Siva Tau in his recent movie, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.
– Source: Encyclopedia.com Movieclips (YouTube)

16. Scottish author, Robert Louis Stevenson, most noted for Treasure Island (1881) and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), lived in Samoa from 1890 to his death in 1894. His home is now a museum.
– Source: Britannica, Lonely Planet

17. King Malietoa Tanumafili II, who ruled Samoa from 1962 for 45 years, was the world’s third-longest reigning monarch. He was 94 when he died in 2007.
– Source: BBC News

18. Samoa’s flag is made up of a red background with a blue rectangle in the corner featuring the Southern Cross constellation – which can be seen in many Southern Hemisphere national flags – in white. The white stands for purity, the blue for freedom and the red for courage.
– Source: Britannica


The Samoan flag
The Samoan flag (Shutterstock)

19. Kilikiti, an adapted form of cricket, is Samoa’s national sport. The game was brought to Samoa by English missionaries and seafarers in the 19th century and features two teams of batters, bowlers and fielders, but has different bats, balls, a scoring system and bigger stumps.
– Source: The Telegraph, Australian Broadcasting Corporation

20. The word tattoo is believed to originate from Samoa. Dating back centuries, the Samoan “tatau” is regarded as a right of passage for many Samoans. The male tattoo, known as pe’a, covers the body from waist to the knees and represents the journeys of ancestors from Asia to Polynesia.
– Source: Reuters

21. Significantly more Samoans live outside Samoa than in their home country, mainly in New Zealand, Australia and the USA.
– Source: Australian Broadcasting Corporation

22. Traditional Samoan houses, known as fales, do not have walls. In their simplest form, a fale is a wooden platform with poles supporting a thatched roof, surrounded by woven blinds for privacy.
– Source: Lonely Planet, Britannica

Samoan houses known as fales
Samoan houses known as fales (Shutterstock)

23. In 2009, Samoa was hit by a deadly tsunami triggered by an undersea earthquake. It killed 149 people, injured hundreds and caused huge amounts of damage.
– Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)


24. Samoa is home to Polynesia’s largest ancient structure, the Pulemelei Mound. Built between 1100AD and 1400AD, the pyramidal structure measures 65m by 60m at its base and rises to a height of more than 12m.
– Source: Lonely Planet

25. One of Samoa’s most recognisable sites is the To Sua Ocean Trench, a giant 20m-deep sinkhole with an underwater passage linked to the sea.
– Source: Lonely Planet

The To Sua Ocean Trench
The To Sua Ocean Trench (Shutterstock)

Every effort has been made to verify these facts about Samoa. However, if you find an error or have any questions, please contact us.