The Independent State of Samoa, known as Western Samoa until 1997, is made up of nine volcanic islands, two of which - Savai'i and Upolu - make up more than 99% of the land.
It was governed by New Zealand until its people voted for independence in 1961. It has the world's second-largest Polynesian group, after the Maori.
Samoa's deeply conservative and devoutly Christian society centres around the extended family, which is headed by an elected chief who directs the family's social, economic and political affairs, and the church, which is a focus of recreational and social life. Many Samoan villages hold up to 20 minutes of prayer curfews in the evenings.
The economy revolves around fishing and agriculture, which is vulnerable to cyclones and disease.
Attempts at diversification have met with success. Tourism is growing, thanks to the islands' scenic attractions and fine beaches. Offshore banking spearheads an expanding services sector. Light manufacturing is expanding and has attracted foreign investment.
In a major development for its trading status, Samoa has agreed terms that should allow it to join the World Trade Organisation in 2012.
Despite this, many younger Samoans are leaving for New Zealand, the US and American Samoa. Money sent home by Samoans living abroad can be a key source of household income.
* Full name: The Independent State of Samoa
* Population: 179,000 (UN, 2010)
* Capital: Apia
* Area: 2,831 sq km (1,093 sq miles)
* Major languages: Samoan, English
* Major religion: Christianity
* Life expectancy: 70 years (men), 76 years (women) (UN)
* Monetary unit: 1 tala = 100 sene
* Main exports: Coconut oil and cream, copra, fish, beer
* GNI per capita: US $2,860 (World Bank, 2010)
* Internet domain: .ws
* International dialling code: +685
Head of state: Tuiatua Tupua Tamasese Efi
Former prime minister Tupua was elected head of state by parliament for a five-year term in 2007 on the death of paramount chief Malietoa Tanumafili II, who had been in office since independence. With the election of Tupua, Samoa switched from being a constitutional monarchy to being a republic.
Born in 1938, Tupua is an academic historian and a member of one of the leading extended families of the country.
He entered parliament as a Christian Democrat MP in 1966, and served as prime minister in 1976-82 and deputy prime minister in 1985-88.
Prime minister: Tuila'epa Sailele Malielegaoi
Prime Minister Tuila'epa's ruling Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) gained a landslide victory in parliamentary polls in March 2011, heralding a fourth term for the premier.
The HRPP won 36 seats out of the 49 available in the Samoan parliament, the Fono. The opposition Tautua Samoa Party (TSP), contesting an election for the first time since its formation in 2008, won the remaining 13 seats.
Mr Tuila'epa won his seat unopposed, despite criticism over the government's handling of a deadly tsunami that struck the country in 2009. However, three of his cabinet ministers lost their seats in the election.
He first became prime minister in 1998 when his predecessor, Tofilau Eti Alesana, resigned on health grounds after 16 years in the job.
Born in 1945 and an economist by training, Mr Tuila'epa was educated in Samoa and New Zealand, where he gained a master's degree - the first Samoan to do so.
In 1978 he moved to Brussels to work for the European Economic Community. He entered the Fono two years later, while simultaneously working as a partner in the accounting firm Coopers and Lybrand.
All but two of the seats in the Fono are reserved for ethnic Samoans and only the heads of extended families, known as "matai", may stand for election to them. The Fono selects the prime minister.
From : BBC News