Located halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand, American Samoa consists of the main Tutuila island and the 3 Manu'a islands (Ofu, Olsega, and Ta'u). It is an American territory, unlike the independent country of Western Samoa (50 miles to the norhwest). I will be living in a rented house near Pago Pago (pronounced "Pango Pango"), the capital city on Tutuila.
All of the islands are volcanic, and thus have some stunning mountain peaks and geology (example here). With a population of just over 65,000, the vast majority live on Tutuila while the Manu'a islands remain scarcely populated. Samoans have their own language (aptly named "Samoan") and are supposed to be extremely welcoming and friendly. When talking to people about my summer plans, the topic of how people arrived in such a remote location came up a few times. In response, I'll quote my guidebook (Lonely Planet):
"Samoans accept the scientific theory that most Polynesians migrated to the Pacific islands from Southeast Asia. They believe this applies to Maoris, Hawai'ians, Tongangs, Rarotongans, Easter Islanders and Tahitians...but not to themselves. Their land is the 'cradle of Polynesia'. Samoa, they say, was created by the god Tagaloa, and their story is remarkably similar to the account given by the Book of Genesis."The Manu'a Islands are at the center of this creation story, possibly accounting for their currently pristine nature. I am looking forward to taking the quick plane ride over to Osu and Olosega for a weekend of hiking and exploring. I also hope to make a separate weekend trip to Western Samoa, which is supposed to be less Americanized and more rich in culture.
Tutuila, where I'll be spending most of the time, hosts a Tuna factory that can, on bad days, cause quite a stench in the Pago Pago harbor. There are also many restaurants, beautiful beaches, and even a few night clubs. Many villages are scattered across the island, connected by one main road that stretches along the island's southern coast and many smaller one-lane roads. There should be plenty of great hiking and snorkling to keep me occupied when I'm not busy on the research project. A 5km hiking trail stretches along the spine of the central Mount Alava, providing a gorgeous view of the island and surrounding ocean from the top.
I'm very excited to arrive in Samoa (I leave Burlington, VT next Wednesday and arrive in Samoa Thursday night, after traveling more than 7,000 miles. I urge everyone to post questions and comments on this blog. I'll do my best to get quick responses, though I'm not sure how steady or fast my Internet connection will be. I will also post pictures and provide links accordingly.