From German marks, to New Zealand pounds, and now finally a currency all its own, Samoa’s currency history is as fascinating as the island nation itself. Find out why its position in the South Pacific is both a blessing and a curse in our Currency Spotlight on the Samoan tālā.
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- Symbol: WS$
- Currency Code: WST
- Subunit: sene (1/100)
- Coins: 10, 20, 50 sene, 1 and 2 tālā
- Banknotes: 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 tālā
- Samoa GDP (nominal): $785.9 million
- Inflation: 6%
- Central Bank: Central Bank of Samoa
Prior to WWI Samoa used the German mark, but after Germany was defeated Samoa was ceded to New Zealand. The pound it used was known as the Western Samoan pound but it did not have unique coinage. Instead it used first British and then New Zealand coins. The currency was on par with British pound sterling until 1930 when the Great Depression caused the value of the New Zealand pound to break from that of the British pound. The New Zealand pound later returned to parity with the GBP in 1948.
Samoa gained independence in 1962 but continued to use the pound until 1967 when the New Zealand dollar was introduced. The name tālā is the Samoan spelling of dollar, and the sene is the Samoan spelling of cent.
The tālā was introduced at a rate of 2 tālā to 1 NZD.
From an initial rate of 2 WST to 1 NZD, the WST has strengthened slightly to around the 1.78 WST to 1 NZD mark at the time of writing.
The modern tālā coins were minted by the Royal Australian Mint in 2011.
|10 sene||Fautasi canoe racers|
|20 sene||Teuila flower|
|50 sene||Manumea bird|
|1 tālā||Kava bowl and fly swatter|
|2 tālā||National crest of Samoa|
|2 tālā||Blue and yellow||The capital Apia, and Malietoa Tanumafili II (the late head of state)||A family in a fale (a Samoan house)|
|5 tālā||Red and pink||A Samoan fale (house) and trees in a bay||Former residence of Robert Louis Stevenson in Mount Vaea|
|10 tālā||Blue and green||Manu Samoa 7s (national rugby team) winning the Hong Kong Sevens in 2007||Children|
|20 tālā||Yellow and orange||The Sopoaga Waterfall on Upolu island||Manumea pigeon, the national bird of Samoa|
|50 tālā||Purple and blue||Government of Samoa office in Apia||Central Bank of Samoa|
|100 tālā||Green and yellow||Malietoa Tanumafili II (the late head of state)||Cathedral of Apia|
Samoa’s economic prosperity is hampered by the island’s extreme vulnerability to Pacific storms. Agriculture employs about 66% of all workers, and the country is heavily dependent on agricultural exports. Remittances and developmental aid make up a significant portion of GDP. The tourism sector has grown from 70,000 visitors in 1996 to 120,000 in 2014. The country does have a flexible labour market which could bode well for future development.
The bottom line
Samoa is a unique country and its position in the South Pacific serves as both its greatest strength and greatest weakness. The expanding tourist sector will see many people visit Samoa’s tropical waters, but these same waters can be potentially devastating should a major storm hit the country.
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