Lush rainforest and river in Samoa

Early Samoa

Samoa’s first people were seafarers who, guided by the stars, arrived on outrigger canoes around 1,000BC.

Ancient myths and legends say the first people descended from the heavens and gods to inhabit these islands, however It is believed they came from Tonga.

Samoa’s oldest known site of human occupation is a Lapita village (Lapita is a prehistoric Pacific Ocean culture named for their style of pottery), now partially submerged in a lagoon at Mulifanua on Upolu. Carbon dating from this site revealed it to be around 3,000 years old.

Early inhabitants

There are many ancient archoeological sites around Samoa that hint at what life was like for its earliest inhabitants. Of note are more than a hundred star-shaped platforms. Known as “star mounds”, it is believed these were used to snare wild pigeons. The largest such mound in the Pacific is Savai’i’s Pulemelei Mound.

Traditionally, Samoans lived in fortified villages on the coast with their extended families. Each village was ruled by one or more matai, or elder. This social structure still exists in modern Samoa.

New arrivals

During the centuries that followed settlement of the Samoan islands, its people travelled often between other Pacific islands, particularly Fiji and Tonga, for trade, battle and intermarriage. This was particularly necessary as the population grew, spurred by Polynesian migration from 200AD, and more food was required.

Around 950AD, warriors from Tonga arrived. They took Savai’i to rule, and then tried to do the same on the island of Upolu but were defeated by chief Malietoa Savea, whose name, Brave Warrior, came from that battle. Although wary, Samoan’s relations with Fiji were more peaceful and are said to have influenced tattoo art in Samoa.

Within Samoa itself, villages began to clash with each other, vying for more space along an increasingly populated coastline.

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