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Archaeological evidence suggests the Samoan islands were first inhabited at least 3000 years ago by the Austronesian-speaking Lapita people, who left a trail of distinctive pottery evidence as they migrated across the Pacific from what is now Indonesia.

Legends and family genealogies tell of frequent contact with Fiji and Tonga from the mid-1300s, no doubt made during long sea journeys in the great wooden boats of the Pacific.

Samoa was first discovered by Europeans when the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen passed by in 1722 looking for the Great Southern Land. It was later named the Island of the Navigators by French explorer Louis-Antoine de Bougainville. There was some European contact in the early 1800s, and early settlers included whalers, escaped convicts and beachcombers. The Christian missionary, Reverend John Williams, arrived in 1830, bringing major changes for the Samoan people.

Britain, the US and Germany all courted Samoa, and in 1889 signed a treaty that gave the islands an independent government with British, American and German supervision. However, later that year, Britain relinquished its interest in the country and Germany annexed Western Samoa (which later passed to New Zealand) and the United States annexed Eastern Samoa.

Taking advantage of the deep harbour, the US Navy established a coaling station at Pago Pago in 1900. The island had strategic importance during World War Two when it became a training and staging area for the Marine Corps. In 1951, the Navy passed the territory to the Department of the Interior, which has since administered it as an unincorporated territory of the United States. Its people are classified as American nationals, but are not citizens.

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