Old Court house, letter from a friend and S.I.F.A.

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

The inevitable is about to happen. A few nights ago, what many people who fought and expressed views in a bid to preserve the old Courthouse feared, has come true with the announcement that work will soon begin to demolish one of the last remaining historical buildings in Samoa.

Made by Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi on national TV, he promised that the new building will maintain the same colonial design but would be a lot stronger since it would be constructed from steel and modern materials as opposed to wood. 

He also revealed that a hotel is likely to take the top floor while the ground floor will be turned into a museum. 

And who will fund all this work? Well, it’s the Samoa International Finance Authority (S.I.F.A.). Logically, financially and logistically, Prime Minister Tuilaepa and his Government have a valid reason. You see during the announcement, he said the Government has had to step in after many years of efforts by members of the community to find the necessary funding to preserve the building. 

He did not name anyone in particular but he added that these people had tried to solicit funding from as far as Germany but they found no luck. All this time the Government had been a patient silent observer. 

And now that the efforts have been in vain, the Government decided to step in so that the Samoa International Finance Authority has been given the power to do whatever must be done to salvage it. 

In Samoa today, we are staring down at the demolition of yet another iconic and historical building. The old Court house will soon add to the list of historical buildings that have been demolished and forgotten. 

For the uninitiated, what we now call the old Court building was built by the German administration in 1902 and it housed the German and New Zealand administrations of Samoa. Later when Samoa became independent, it also housed Government offices on the top floor.

Needless to say, this building is not just an ordinary building. It is a critical part of history – one that is a testimony of Samoa’s struggle for freedom and stands as a reminder of our past. That past hasn’t always been nice. The building is a constant reminder about the Mau Movement leader, Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III, who was shot dead there by New Zealand police in 1929.

There are two schools of thought. The first is why should we care about a building that reminds us so much about colonialism and one of the worst days in the history of Samoa’s journey to independence and freedom?

The second school of thought asks the question: Does this Government not care about our history at all that it would continue its infamous tradition of demolishing these historical buildings as they look to cement a new legacy for themselves?

Either way, we all have our thoughts and our reasons. We’d love to hear from you. In the meantime, I received an email from friend in Europe yesterday about this very topic. I thought I’d share parts of it with you.

“This news hit me bad,” she writes. “I know how much history of Samoa it represents. German colonial times, NZ Administration, the early Samoan Government, so many important court cases.... I can still feel deeply in my soul the special aura this place has. 

“Yes, it is not an easy job to keep it tidy and preserved. Probably, it has since deteriorated more. Maybe its original structure now really can’t be saved anymore, although there were several attempts to put together a good renovation project.

“However, what hits me is that they now want to construct some Disneyland replica instead and turn that into a fancy hotel. At the place where the heart of Samoan history has been beating for so many years? This is rude. It does not show any respect to the special place this is, and it does not show respect for the people who suffered so many hardships for Samoan Independence.

“What is even more disrespectful: The money which will be used will be the money generated by Samoa International Finance Authority, a body that poses so many questions about its operations. Don’t they have any shame? 

“Samoa was on the EU Blacklist for money laundering and tax havens when there were 17 countries on it. And while eight countries have since improved so  they could be taken off the list - Samoa is still on this list of shame. Every sene generated from these offshore opportunities is born from greed, avarice, blood and tears. 

“Some weeks ago, I was asked by my daughter’s teacher to tell her class about Samoan history. After they heard about the brave seafarers crossing so many thousand miles of ocean, Samoan culture, and especially how the Mau movement struggled for independence in peaceful resistance, giving up all worldly benefits and risking their lives.... you know what these European kids did? At the end, when the Samoan National Anthem was played, they all together stood up in deep respect. Oh, Keni, it was beautiful. But then, I was so scared that they would ask me: “And how is Samoa now?” What should I have told them? 

“If you know your history, you realise what is of real value and what not. You understand how long 100 years are. 100 years ago, Samoa was under NZ military administration and the great flu epidemic was killing a fifth of Samoan population. Independence? Only two generations later! If people would really be aware of how precious this Independence is, Samoans now would never lease their sacred customary land for 100 years, and think of a law to mortgage these leases. They would not place their country into the hands of overseas thugs who entice them to set up offshore financing. 

“The Old Government Building keeps the memory of Samoan history alive. I do believe that the real reason why it is now pulled down is not because the beams of the building are rotten. It is because this memory is not convenient for that type of rotten business. 

“Sorry, I now need to stop, can’t really type cause I can’t see through my tears. You know, Keni, I really do love Samoa. That is why it hurts so very much. Kind regards.”

What do you think? Write and share your thoughts with us.

Have a wonderful week Samoa, God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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