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From archaeological evidence, it would appear that Samoa was first inhabited at least 3000 years ago by the Austronesian-speaking Lapita people, who left a trail of distinctive pottery evidence as they migrated across the Pacific. It is thought the Lapita people came from Fiji, which had been settled from what is now Indonesia.
Legends and family genealogies tell of frequent contact with Fiji and Tonga from the mid-1300s, no doubt with long sea journeys in the great wooden boats of the Pacific. Samoa was first discovered by the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen in 1722 as he passed by looking for the great Southern land, and later named the Island of the Navigators by French explorer de Bougainville. There was some European contact in the early 1800s, and early settlers included refugees and beachcombers. The Christian missionary, Reverend John Williams, arrived in Savai'i in 1830, heralding in major changes for the Samoan people.
Britain, the US and Germany all courted Samoa, and in 1889 signed a treaty in Berlin that gave the Samoan islands an independent government with British, American and German supervision. However, later that year, Britain relinquished its interest in the country and Germany annexed Western Samoa and the United States annexed Eastern Samoa. The New Zealand army occupied Western Samoa in 1914 and the League of Nations gave New Zealand a mandate to administer the country in 1919. But from 1926 the Samoans resisted New Zealand's rule with non-violent action culminating in the Mau uprisings. After the Second World War, the country was made a UN Trust Territory, with New Zealand's role being to guide Western Samoa to independence.
The Legislative Assembly was set up in 1947 and a constitution that combined traditional leadership and modern-style government was adopted in 1960. On 1 January 1962, Samoa became the first South Pacific island country to achieve independence.
In 1997, the country changed its name from Western Samoa to Samoa by an Act of Parliament. The country's legal system is based on English common law, with a system of lower courts and an Appeal Court.