The Independent State of Samoa 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 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.
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.
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.
Head of state: Va'aletoa Sualauvi II
Va'aletoa Sualauvi II was sworn in as head of state in July 2017, succeeding Tuiatua Tupua Tamasese Efi.
He has served as a paramount chief since 1977 and was a member of the council of deputies.
He studied law in Australia and is a former barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Samoa.
He previously worked as a secondary school teacher and also as a police officer in New Zealand before becoming a police chief inspector in Samoa.
Prime minister: Fiame Naomi Mata'afa
An April 2021 election win propelled Fiame Naomi Mata'afa into office as Samoa's first woman prime minister, ending the 23-year rule of Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi.
She emerged from the governing HRPP party to join the opposition FAST party in January, bringing with her decades of experience, including a stint as first female deputy prime minister, not to mention her prominence as the daughter of the first prime minister and royal lineage.
Press freedom is "generally respected", according to US-based Freedom House.
The government and private operators run TV and radio stations and outlets from American Samoa are readily available.
By June 2015, there were nearly 27,000 internet users (InternetLiveStats.com). Internet cafes are widely used.
Some key dates in Samoa's history:
1722 - Dutch navigator Jacob Roggeveen is the first European to explore Samoa.
1830 - London Missionary Society arrives in Samoa.
1899 - Germany annexes Western Samoa, the US takes over eastern Samoa (American Samoa) and Britain withdraws its claim to the islands in accordance with treaty between Germany, Britain and the US.
1914 - New Zealand occupies Western Samoa during First World War and continues to administer it after the war by virtue of a League of Nations mandate (and a United Nations mandate after the Second World War).
1962 - Western Samoa becomes independent, the first Pacific island nation to do so.