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Savai'i

History

All Polynesians who migrated around the Pacific carried with them legends of the homeland they had left, and many named their new home after the old. Thus, when settlers left Samoa in about AD 300, for what is now the Society Islands in French Polynesia, they named an island there after Savai’i. Hundreds of years later, when settlers again departed the Society Islands for other parts of Polynesia, they still carried with them that ancient name.

New Zealand’s Maori people remembered the ancient homeland as Hawaiki, Cook Islanders as ‘Avaiki, and Society Islanders as Havai’i (though the Society Islands’ Havai’i is now named Ra’iatea). The largest island of the Hawai’ian group was also named after it. So in a sense, Samoans are right when they claim that Savai’i is ‘the cradle of Polynesia’.

It was on Savai’i, in the village of Safotulafai, that the Mau Movement was formed. Its original objective was to replace the German administration with one more respectful of Samoan affairs, an aim that was extended throughout the years of the New Zealand administration.

During the 20th century, Savai’i experienced several natural disasters. The first was the eruption of Mt Matavanu between 1905 and 1911, which caused wholesale devastation in the island’s northeast. Savai’i was also devastated by Cyclones Ofa and Val, which struck in February 1990 and December 1991, respectively. Many of the villages in the northwestern corner of the island were completely destroyed.