Commentary: Samoa for Samoans? 2010 Census provides insights

This is one in a series of articles concerning data included in the 2010 Census of American Samoa, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. Warning: there are a lot of numbers to digest.

Samoans and part-Samoans comprised 91% of the population of American Samoa in 2010. (The population in 2010 was 55,519 persons. Samoans accounted for 49,333 of those people and afakasi Samoans totaled an additional 1,342 people.)

The percentage of the local population that is Samoan or part-Samoan in 2010 was unchanged from the percentages found in the 1980 and 1990 and 2000 censuses. In other words, the percentage of the local population that is Samoan has not increased or decreased over the past 30 years and has remained at about 90%.

Who are the non-Samoan people that make up about 9-10% of our local population? Tongans are presently the largest non-Samoan ethnic group in American Samoa, and that has been true for decades. Their percentage of the local population is also unchanged over the past 30 years. Tongans made up 3-4% of the population in 1980, 1990, 2000 and 2010.

Based on the above, Samoans and Tongans together make up about 95% of American Samoa’s population. At the present time, the other 5% is split between Filipinos (2%), Chinese (1%), Palagi (1%) and others.

There are very few Koreans, according to the Census. Only 217 Koreans were counted in 2010, which is hardly any more than the 181 Koreans counted in the 1980 Census.

The stable number of Koreans stands in sharp contrast with the local population of Filipinos. In 1980, the Census counted only 50 local residents from the Philippines. In 2010, the number of Filipino residents had grown to 1,217.

In 1980, there were so few Chinese in the territory that they weren’t even counted separately. When the Census was done in 2010, there were 409 Chinese residents counted, and Chinese now outnumber Koreans almost two-to-one.

One group that has decreased is white people (“Palagis”). In 1990, there were 903 “white” people living here, but twenty years later, in 2010, the number had fallen to only 493. Thus the percentage of Palagis in the local population has dropped from 1.9% to .9%.

 (NOTE: the Census is presumably not 100% accurate about anything, for a variety of reasons, but it seems likely that inaccuracies and under-counts would be especially pronounced for the counts of foreign nationals, many of whom are residing in the territory without proper legal status.)


As a result of 19th century colonialism and international intrigue, there are two Samoas: American Samoa, and Samoa (the independent state of, formerly known as “Western”).

If you are born here, you are considered an American Samoan and a U.S. National. The Census tells us that a large majority of the local population are American Samoans: 58% of the local population was born in American Samoa and another 6% were born in the United States.

But we all know that there are many American Samoans whose family and cultural ties are associated with Upolu, Savaii, and/or Manono, not with the islands of American Samoa (i.e., Tutuila and/or Manu’a).

What does the 2010 Census tell us about how many American Samoans have Tutuila/Manu’a roots vs roots in independent Samoa?

Of the total population of American Samoa, less than one third (30%) were born to parents who were themselves born in American Samoa.

The Census keeps track of where the mother and father of local residents were born. More than half (55%) of the local population were born to parents who had been born in Samoa and whose blood ties are most likely to land and titles and villages in Samoa.

Thus a majority of the American Samoans have roots on at least one parent’s side to independent Samoa.

And the overwhelming majority of the foreign-born local population also have roots in independent Samoa.

The foreign-born population makes up 36% of the local population, and people born in independent Samoa account for 81% of the foreign born. This means that 28% of the local population was born in Samoa. That group does not include the American Samoans who were born here, but whose parents were from Samoa.

The Census cannot tell us exactly how many of the Samoans living here have their roots in Tutuila/Manu’a vs Upolu/Savaii/Manono, but the census figures suggest that the breakdown is roughly half and half.

An analysis of the census figures over the last 40 years confirms what is obvious to local residents: the population of American Samoa with roots in independent Samoa is quite large and has grown considerably with the increase in the local tuna industry and the outmigration of American Samoans to the U.S.

Simply, people from Samoa continue to move here to work for private companies or local families, and people from here utilize their U.S. national status to migrate to America.

I mentioned a few paragraphs ago that people from independent Samoa make up 81% of the foreign born population. Where do the other 19% come from? People from Tonga and the Philippines accounted for 5% each. Chinese people accounted for 2% and remainder came from Fiji, New Zealand, Korea and elsewhere.


American Samoa is a bilingual society and the Samoan language continues to be the dominant language outside of government and business (and perhaps inside of government as well).

In 95% of households, both English and another language are spoken. Samoan is the other language in almost all households (89%), but there are a few households where Tongan, other Pacific Island languages, or Asian languages are spoken.

Only 4% of the territory’s residents speak only English at home. Only 1% of the island does not speak English.

In bilingual households, the vast majority (69%) speak a different language more frequently than English (that “different language” is almost always Samoan). In 22% of the households, the different language and English are spoken in equal measure. In 4% of the households, more English is spoken than a second language.

Looking back at the trend in language usage over the past 20 years, there is only one significant statistic that jumps out: the increase in bilingual households that use Samoan and English in equal amounts.

In 1990, 83% of bilingual households spoke Samoan (or some other language) more than English, but by 2010, that percentage had fallen to 69% and there was a corresponding increase in the percentage of households where English and another language were spoken in equal amounts.

Specifically, in 2010, 22% of households spoke equal amounts of English and a second language, but that was only true of 9% of the households in 1990.

In short, Samoan is still the dominant language in the territory, but more and more households speak English as often as Samoan when at home.


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