The dismantling of history one building at a time

Co-Heads of State Tupua Tamasese Lealofi and Malietoa Tanumafili II raise Samoa's flag July 1, 1962 after achieving independence in January of the same year.

I was not present that day, July 1 1962.

I did not have the privilege of watching a flag being hoisted that same day to proclaim a country’s independence from foreign rule.

There must have been fanfare, music and a grand celebration.

I am sure that my forefathers who lived to see that day must have cried, along with thousands upon thousands of their countrymen.

I was not present that day, July 1st, 1962 when Samoa’s flag was raised near that steps of the grand Fale Fono and a sovereign nation was born. But I did not need to be present that day to know the historical and life altering significance of that day and the days leading up to it. One only has to utter the names Olaf Friedrick Nelson, Namulau’ulu Lauaki Mamoe, Mata’afa Faumuina Fiame Mulinu’u and Malietoa Tanumafili II for Samoans to reflect on their collective past before silently uttering prayers of gratitude for their present and future.

Black Saturday (December 28, 1929), the Mau Movement, SS Talune are all as evocative and suggestive in the memories of Samoans as the burial grounds at Mulinu’u and the historical structures that dot that sliver of land on the outskirts of Apia; remnants of our past and reminders of the struggles of our people to hold on to our culture, our lands and every fiber of our ‘Samoaness’

Imagine what it must be like for those who fought the valiant struggles of sovereignty, even for those who witnessed and supported from afar, when it was recently announced that one of Samoa’s relics, the Fale Fono would soon be demolished. Devastating.

For those of us who were still too young to remember those struggles, but were old enough to walk through and marvel at its grand yet simplistic architecture and feel the palpable reverie of a bygone era it was soul stirring. Awe-inspiring.

And for those who have not and may never have the opportunity to appreciate that place, you have our current Samoan government and officials to thank for this stroke of genius. Yes, I admit, I am a sentimental old fool, but it is old fools like me who believe that the past is the key to our future.

Tautua Samoa MP, Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi voiced the opinion of those who are in favor of the demolition when he said in an interview with the Samoa Observer, “…there are big plans for our 50th Independence celebrations and the building will get in the way.”

This appears to be an all too common occurrence in a land where we have adopted the mantra, ‘If it’s not bigger/shinier it’s not better.’ This mentality in Samoa still strikes me as odd. Are we so determined to not be, look, or act Samoan that we will disfigure ourselves and demolish our past in order to conform to a Western standard that our forbearers tried so hard to avoid?

In their haste to leave their own mark on history, Samoa’s government officials have conveniently forgotten another age old adage, ‘All that glitters is not gold.’ Is this a case of laziness or is that hallowed ground destined to be the new home of some gaudy casino, a high rise hotel or some other monstrosity that will ‘get in the way’ both literally and figuratively?

Our Samoan leaders seem to be enamored with new, shiny, prettier toys and are casting off the popular vote to keep the building without regard to historical significance. After seeing wonderful pieces of architecture salvaged and maintained in Europe, it is hard to believe that a country and its truly infant government would disembowel our past simply because things are ‘getting in the way.’

Compare the sentiments of MP Aiafi to the entreaties of people like Lyvia Hansell Black and others like her (myself included) who believe that, “Once the building is gone it takes all its historical significance with it,” as she pleaded with government to reconsider their decision.

I am a fan of history and for a people with very little recorded history save for the bits and pieces that have been passed down orally from one generation to the next I would think that allowing this relic of Samoa to stand as a testament to what was once possible and is now coming to fruition would be reason enough to restore it over and over again for generations to come. Historical edifices like the Fale Fono are bookmarks in the making of modern day Samoa and a portal for the present to relive the past. Sadly, just as the colonial buildings that once lined the sleepy streets of Apia are slowly giving way to modern high rises on Beach Road, the Fale Fono is now destined to be an afterthought thanks to those who would cut off their noses out of spite. For them and for our ancestors I reprise the rally cry that was once the standard of our people, “Samoa Mo Samoa!”

Tupua Tamasese Lealofi (seated in white) with Mau officers at Mau Headquaters, circa 1929.

3 thoughts on “The dismantling of history one building at a time

    1. I don’t know that it’s even been considered. The government has it’s mind set and they are going to carry it out. Sad for me but probably great for them. Let the ax fall?

  1. 2nd June 2021. Somehow after all these years, I have only now come across this article! Absolutely apt timing to see this, as Samoa has just yesterday, 1st June commemorated 59years of Independence, Tuto’atasi, virtually, online and television screens, as it faces a Constitutional crisis where we have a newly elected, by the people of Sāmoa’s first Lady Prime Minister, Hon. Fiamē Naomi Matā’afa, daughter of Sāmoa’s first Prime Minister Hon. Fiamē Mulinu’u. Hon. Fiamē, was sworn in last Monday, 24th May 2021, on the same Malae o Tiafau, where her father also took his Oath of Office as Samoa’s first Prime Minister on 1st January 1962 ! As the first Pasefika Nation that reclaimed it’s Independence from Colonial grasps, the demolition of this Historical Maota Fono by our own Malo of the day, demonstrated a lack of vision to preserve the few Architectural Maōta / buildings Samoa has, of crucial Historical value !!! The first Independent Nation’s Parliament building, i le Pasefika, – and we destroyed it ! A sad disgrace.

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