American Samoa, a group of US-administered islands in the South Pacific about 120km east of independent Samoa, is so far under the radar even well-travelled friends looked at me blankly when I told them where I was going. The few who had been there, as sailors in the bad old days of the 1970s and 80s, asked me why I wanted to go to “that dump”. The good news is that since then the tuna cannery — American Samoa’s only big employer apart from the US government — has cleaned up its act, marine life has returned to mountain-ringed Pago Pago Harbour, and the territory is starting to embrace eco-tourism.
The islands’ biggest drawcards are the National Park of American Samoa, the only US national park in the Southern Hemisphere, and virtually untapped snorkelling and diving, especially in the remote Manu’a Islands. Another attraction, for me anyway, is the strange juxtaposition of a deeply traditional Polynesian society with the modern American way of life. The result is a God-fearing people who value ‘aiga (extended family) above all else but drive around their tiny islands in giant pick-up trucks and love McDonald’s as much as an umu (traditional meal cooked with hot rocks). Hopefully these photos will give you some idea of what American Samoa looks like today.