Paradise Locked: The 1918 Influenza Pandemic in American Samoa


  • John Ryan McLane University of Otago



influenza, quarantine, social impact of pandemic disease


The 1918 influenza pandemic killed roughly 5% of the global population. In Polynesia death rates were greater, reaching as high as a quarter of inhabitants in Western Samoa. Despite being less than 100km from the disaster in Western Samoa, and despite the close cultural links with the New Zealand governed colony, American Samoa successfully excluded the infection for years; becoming the largest known state to avoid any deaths from the pandemic. This success was facilitated by isolation, limited trade, a colonial government with absolute power but little oversight, and a working relationship between the US Navy and the traditional Samoan elites. While the crisis would fracture relations with Western Samoa and further isolate American Samoa, the successful quarantine would be seen as a benevolent act by Samoans under American rule and would contribute directly to ongoing American control of the territory.

Author Biography

John Ryan McLane, University of Otago

PhD student (submitted), Department of History




How to Cite

McLane, J. R. (2013). Paradise Locked: The 1918 Influenza Pandemic in American Samoa. Sites: A Journal of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies, 10(2), 30–51.