Samoa seems, on archaeological evidence, to have been inhabited at least as far back as 1000 BCE by Austronesian- speaking people. Evidence from legends and from genealogies shows that the country had frequent contact with Fiji and Tonga from the mid-13th century. There was some European contact in the first half of the 18th century, and settlement by refugees and beachcombers until the early 19th century. The Christian missionary John Williams came to Savai’i in 1830.
In 1889, Britain, the USA and Germany, all seeking influence in Samoa, held a conference in Berlin and signed a treaty giving the Samoan islands an independent government, with British, American and German supervision. Later in the same year, Britain relinquished its interest in the country, and the other two agreed that Germany should annex Western Samoa and the US Eastern Samoa. In 1914 the New Zealand army occupied Western Samoa, and in 1919 the League of Nations gave New Zealand a mandate to administer the country. An epidemic of influenza broke out in 1918; the Samoans at the time had no immunity to the disease and 20 per cent of the population died in a few weeks.
Samoans resisted New Zealand’s rule, with non-violent action (1926–36), culminating in the Mau uprisings. After World War II, the country was made a UN trust territory, with New Zealand’s role now being to guide Western Samoa to independence.
A legislative assembly was set up in 1947. A constitution, which aimed at combining the traditional lifestyle with modern-style government, was adopted in August 1960. At a plebiscite organised by the UN and held in 1961, the nation voted for independence. The country achieved independence on 1 January 1962, the first South Pacific island country to do so.
In 1970 Western Samoa joined the Commonwealth as a full member. Since 1962 it has had a Treaty of Friendship with New Zealand.
At elections in 1991, the Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP), led by Tofilau Eti Alesana, won 30 of the 49 seats in the Fono, defeating the other main political party, the Samoan National Development Party.
In April 1996, the HRPP was returned, Tofilau retaining his position as Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs with the support of 34 members of the new Fono.
In July 1997, by act of parliament, the country changed its name from Western Samoa to Samoa. This change had been under discussion for some time, but was delayed by awareness of the sensitivities of American Samoa which, in the end, offered no opposition.
In November 1998 Tofilau resigned as Prime Minister; he became Senior Minister without Portfolio and his deputy and Finance Minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, succeeded him. Tofilau had been Prime Minister from 1982 to 1985 and from 1988 to 1998. He was 74 and had had problems with his health for several years. In March 1999 he died.
In January 2000, a memorandum of understanding was signed with American Samoa for mutual assistance on trade, health, education, agriculture and policing.