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Originally inhabited as early as 1000 BC, Samoa was not reached by European explorers until the 18th century.

International rivalries in the latter half of the 19th century were settled by an 1899 Treaty of Berlin in which Germany and the U.S. divided the Samoan archipelago. The U.S. formally occupied its portion-a smaller group of eastern islands with the noted harbor of Pago Pago-the following year. The western islands are now the independent state of Samoa.

After the U.S. took possession of American Samoa, the U.S. Navy built a coaling station on Pago Pago Bay for its Pacific Squadron and appointed a local Secretary. The navy secured a Deed of Cession of Tutuila in 1900 and a Deed of Cession of Manu?a in 1904. The last sovereign of Manu?a, the Tui Manu?a Elisala, was forced to sign a Deed of Cession of Manu?a following a series of US Naval trials, known as the "Trial of the Ipu", in Pago Pago, Ta?u, and aboard a Pacific Squadron gunboat.

During World War II, U.S. Marines in American Samoa outnumbered the local population, having a huge cultural influence. After the war, Organic Act 4500, a U.S. Department of Interior-sponsored attempt to incorporate American Samoa, was defeated in Congress, primarily through the efforts of American Samoan chiefs, led by Tuiasosopo Mariota. These chiefs' efforts led to the creation of a local legislature, the American Samoa Fono, which meets in the village of Fagatogo, the territory's de facto and de jure capital. (See the Trivia section below for more information on Fagatogo.)

In time, the Navy-appointed governor was replaced by a locally elected one. Although technically considered "unorganized" in that the U.S. Congress has not passed an Organic Act for the territory, American Samoa is self-governing under a constitution that became effective on July 1, 1967. The U.S. Territory of American Samoa is on the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, a listing which is disputed by territorial government officials.

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US citizens can visit American Samoa visa-free as long as they have a valid passport and an onward ticket. Nationals of the following countries equipped with a valid passport and an onward ticket will receive a free one-month visa on arrival in American Samoa: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Federated States of Micronesia, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, San Marino, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK. Nationals of all other countries must apply in advance for their one-month visa (US$40).