Author Robert Louis Stevenson, who spent the last four years of his life in Samoa, remarked, “War is Samoa’s favorite pastime.” In the 1800s Samoans had gained a reputation of warlike ferocity, as they had clashed with French, British, German and American forces. Conquest and warfare permeate Samoa's heritage.
Today, competitive sports – especially rugby – have taken the place of war in Samoan life. Samoan people live a community-oriented lifestyle, and are famous for their hospitality and generosity. Indeed, the fa’a Samoa, or traditional Samoan way, remains a strong force in Samoan life and politics.
The Samoan culture is rich in seafaring folklore and mythology, and Samoan people trace their roots back to an epic sea voyage. Historians hypothesize that the first Polynesians to arrive on these islands came from Southeast Asia, via Fiji and Tonga.
In the center of Polynesia, the islands of Savaii and Upolu rise from the sea, surrounded by a collection of smaller islands and uninhabited islets. This is Samoa, halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand.
After a Samoan civil war, during which the United States, Germany and Britain sought to gain access to the islands, a treaty split the islands into two parts. Eastern Samoa (now American Samoa) became a territory of the U.S.; Western Samoa was ceded to Germany. At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, New Zealand seized control of Western Samoa and continued to administer the islands until 1962, when Samoa became the first Polynesian nation to reestablish independence in the 20th century. The country dropped "Western" from its name in 1997.
In 1830, the family of English missionary John Williams, commissioned by the London Missionary Society, became the first missionary family to arrive in Samoa. They were well received by Malietoa, the leading Samoan chief. Williams brought Tahitian Christians with him as long-term teachers for the Samoan people, and Christianity began to spread among the islands. About 97% of Samoa's people adhere to the Christian faith. The New Testament in Samoan was completed in 1848 and the Old Testament in 1855. The Samoan Bible underwent revision in 1969.