Samoa country profile - Overview
- 12 September 2014
- From the section Asia
The Independent State of Samoa, known as Western Samoa until 1997, is made up of nine volcanic islands, two of which - Savai'i and Upolu - make up more than 99% of the land.
It was governed by New Zealand until its people voted for independence in 1961. It has the world's second-largest Polynesian group, after the Maori.
Samoa's deeply conservative and devoutly Christian society centres around the extended family, which is headed by an elected chief who directs the family's social, economic and political affairs, and the church, which is a focus of recreational and social life. Many Samoan villages hold up to 20 minutes of prayer curfews in the evenings.
The economy revolves around fishing and agriculture, which is vulnerable to cyclones and disease.
Attempts at diversification have met with success. Tourism is growing, thanks to the islands' scenic attractions and fine beaches. Offshore banking spearheads an expanding services sector. Light manufacturing is expanding and has attracted foreign investment.
In a major development for its trading status, Samoa joined the World Trade Organisation in 2012.
Despite this, many younger Samoans are leaving for New Zealand, the US and American Samoa. Money sent home by Samoans living abroad can be a key source of household income.