On 29 December 2011 Samoa advanced the clock by one day, moving to the west of the international date line, so as to be in the same time zone as its main trading partners such as Australia and New Zealand.
Samoans enjoy a life expectancy of 73 years.
Two Samoans have been regional winners in the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize: Albert Wendt, born in Apia in 1939, won with his novel, Ola, in 1992, and again with The Adventures of Vela in 2010; and Sia Figiel, born in Matautu Tai in 1967, won with her novel, Where We Once Belonged, in 1997.
The name Samoa, from Sa (‘sacred’) and Moa (‘centre’), means ‘Sacred Centre of the Universe’. Samoa (formerly Western Samoa) is an archipelago of nine islands at the centre of the south-west Pacific island groups, surrounded by (clockwise from north) Tokelau, American Samoa, Tonga, and Wallis and Futuna. The nine islands of Samoa are Apolima, Manono, Fanuatapu, Namu’a, Nuutele, Nuulua, Nuusafee, Savai’i (the largest, at 1,708 sq km including adjacent small islands) and Upolu (second largest, at 1,118 sq km including adjacent small islands). Five of the islands are uninhabited.
Apia (capital, pop. 36,726 in 2011), Vaitele (7,182), Faleasiu (3,745), Vailele (3,647) and Leauvaa (3,168) on Upolu; Safotu (1,500 in 2010), Sapulu (1,200) and Gataivai (1,100) on Savai’i.
There are 2,337 km of roads, many being rural-access roads, 14 per cent paved. Apia on Upolu is the international port. There is a ferry service between Upolu and Savai’i, and weekly services to Pago Pago in American Samoa.
The international airport, at Faleolo (34 km west of Apia) can take Boeing 747s, but Samoa, like other Pacific island countries, is remote from world centres and too small for commercial airlines to run frequent flights. The national carriers, Polynesian Blue and Polynesian Airlines, fly to several regional and international destinations.
Samoa is a member of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, Pacific Community, Pacific Islands Forum, United Nations and World Trade Organization.
At the Eighth World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference in Geneva in December 2011, Samoa’s terms of entry were adopted and the country became a full member on 10 May 2012.
Topography: The islands are formed of volcanic rock, but none of the volcanoes have been active since 1911. The highest point, about 1,858 metres, is on Savai’i. Coral reefs surround much of the coastline and there is plentiful fresh water in the lakes and rivers. Much of the cultivated land is on Upolu.
In September 2009 a violent earthquake in the South Pacific, some 190 km south of Samoa, caused a huge tsunami, which devastated coastal regions of the islands, killing at least 129 people and destroying hundreds of houses.
Tropical maritime. Hot and rainy from December to April and cooler, with trade winds, from May to November. Samoa is prone to hurricanes and cyclones which sometimes cause devastation. Cyclone Val, in December 1991 – the worst storm to hit the islands in over 100 years – destroyed over half the coconut palms. The country was again devastated in 1998.
The most significant environmental issue is soil erosion.
Dense tropical forest and woodlands cover 60 per cent of the land area, having increased at 1.4 per cent p.a. 1990–2010. Arable land comprises about three per cent of the total land area.
Animal life is restricted to several species of bats and lizards and 53 species of birds. Birdlife includes the rare tooth-billed pigeon, thought to be a living link with prehistoric tooth-billed birds. Due to over-hunting, all species of native pigeons and doves are approaching extinction. Two mammal species and five bird species are thought to be endangered (2014).