Flag Day is celebrated in commemoration of the American Flag being raised for the first time above the islands of American Samoa on April 17, 1900. At the time, it was a declaration of the United States of America’s ownership and protection. Today, it is a celebration of the union of America and fa’a Samoa (Samoan traditions).
Flag Day History
Throughout the 19th century, the Samoan islands were being divided between Great Britain, Germany and the US. In 1899, lines were drawn; the US claimed the eastern islands and everything west belonged to Germany. By 1904, the secession of the islands was finalized by the local chiefs, with the US government officially recognizing it in 1929.
Samoan government affairs were administered by the US Navy until 1951, when the control was transferred to the Department of the Interior, through federally appointed governors. Due to local pressures, 1977 found American Samoa with the first locally elected Samoan governor. Since then, all governors and Fono (Senate and House of Representative) members have been locally elected or appointed.
Before the Europeans came, Samoa had no flags. American Samoa adopted the US flag until the 1950’s, when government control was being moved more towards the local leadership. The American Samoan flag became official in April, 1960, on the 60th anniversary of the first US flag being raised above the territory. The design bears both US and Samoan influences. The US symbols influenced the bald eagle and the red, white, and blue. Fa’a Samoa was represented through the fue (fly wisk) and uatogi (war club).
US Government’s Role in American Samoa Today
Today, the people of American Samoa enjoy the status of being US nationals, but not US citizens; they are able to travel, live, and work anywhere in the US but are unable to vote or assume the full rights, privileges, and responsibilities of US citizens. The territory is the only inhabited US territory to never be organized and incorporated. This is largely due to the traditions of matai (chief) law and communal/aiga (family) land. The people have largely been able to keep their fa’a Samoa, while enjoying the protection and aid of the US government. In return, the US maintains military presence, with the American Samoa Army Recruiting Station ranking #1 worldwide. Also, American Samoa gets bragging rights to the only US National Park south of the equator, well worth a visit if you’re traveling to the islands.
Flag Day Celebrations
Today, Flag Day is a multi-day celebration. On the main island of Tutuila, efforts to beautify and decorate in preparation for this special holiday are visible all over. For weeks before, crews move from one bus stop to the next, and from lamppost to retaining wall, touching up paint and overall aesthetics of the island. The week before is spent weaving/braiding palm fronds and flowers around street signs, lampposts, and coconut trees. It’s one of my favorite Samoan traditions and I have to learn how it’s done while we’re here!
Every school and church group practices Siva Samoa (traditional Samoan dances), used to tell the stories of the islands. Public performances run for nights, leading up to Flag Day. The day before are the fautasi (long boat) races. Rain or shine, the fautasi races bring crowds rarely seen on this quiet, tropical island. Almost every village is represented, with the strongest and most able men ready to compete for that year’s victor title.
The morning of Flag Day brings people from all over the island to Veteran’s Memorial Stadium for the Flag Day parade. Government officials and employees are encouraged to participate in the celebration. The parade begins with a prayer, as with all things on the island. Next, comes the raising of the flags, both the US and American Samoan. After that, the US National Anthem and “Amerika Samoa” are sung. Each government department and agency, as well as churches, schools, villages, and sports teams, take their turn parading around the stadium. The program wraps up with more Siva Samoa, performed by local school groups.
The rest of the day is spent in company of friends and family. People participate in informal sports competitions or relax at the beach. Families prepare and then, indulge in umu (Samoan BBQ).
How We Celebrated
The kids and I celebrated American Samoa with another homeschooling family. We had a Samoan Day. We ate panikeke (delicious fried, banana pancake balls). The kids learned about traditional Samoan tatau symbols and got to make their own designs.
The kids made paper boats and then we had our own “fautasi” races.
Our family spent this rainy Flag Day enjoying the natural beauty of the island at a new beach. Just when I think we’ve been to every beach on the island, we stumble across a new one.
All the days and weeks of preparation were rewarded with pride in this rare US gem. The tropical beauty and traditions radiate through the spirit, friendliness, and hard work of the people of American Samoa. May I take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the people of American Samoa for welcoming us and sharing your stunning island with us!