A landmark is destroyed

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 19 January 2016, 12:00AM

The building that housed the Savalalo Flea Market, which was demolished by fire during the weekend, was not just another building. 

It was a landmark for Samoa, a place of special significance to thousands of Samoans here and the thousands more who have moved abroad whose humble beginnings started there. 

Indeed, everyone has a story to tell. 

And as the country comes to grips with the devastation over the coming days, there is no doubt these stories will be relayed in different circles all over the world, with much sadness and regret. 

For sure the building is gone and the physical structure will soon be forgotten but it is the sentimental value of the place that will live on in memory. If anything, that was perhaps the most difficult aspect of accepting that it is no longer there.

We say this because before it became the Savalalo Flea Market as we knew it, that building was once considered the heart of Apia. It was the centre of trading in Samoa, the humble maketi where fishermen, farmers, food stall owners all congregated for one reason or another. 

It was where parents made money to raise the leaders of this country today through selling different fresh produce and other locally made goods. 

For many of us, it was where our enterprising spirit was born and developed through the selling of things like green coconuts for 20 sene (yes believe it or not they were that cheap back then), tauaga, lopa, ifi and the lot.

Long before any of these other modern buildings and fancy restaurants came along, everybody met at the market. It was where decisions were made and it is a place most of us hold some very fond memories. 

Countless couples met at the market and that probably continued until last week. Many of us are probably products of friendships formed at that maketi.

The smell was horrible, the place looked absolutely polluted especially with the bathrooms and the stall owners dumping their waste into the ocean but we hardly cared. 

In Samoa back in those days, the maketi was where you wanted to be. 

Over the years, the place underwent many changes. That included the reclaimed area where the bus terminal is now located. 

And with the establishment of other markets, the building was reduced to more of a tourism place. 

But that didn’t diminish its value. It was still a very valuable part of Samoa. 

Sadly, Saturday’s fire has demolished the entire structure. And as the many messages of condolences and prayers for the small enterprises and businesses who once operated out of the ever so popular place roll in, it’s fair to say that we’ve lost another part of our history.

A few years ago, there were talks from the government about tearing it down for another project. That involved a plan for a 15-storey Finance Centre. We don’t know what has become of those plans but whatever the government had planned, their job is now a lot easier in terms of the fact they don’t need to tell the stall owners to move anymore.

Today, spare a thought for those stall owners. Whisper a prayer for the businesses and business owners affected. This is not an easy time.

The reality is that many of them are small-scale businesses. 

Most would have been uninsured which means whatever they have lost in the fire is unlikely to be recovered. And that’s the real tragedy of this fire. Thousands of livelihoods depended on that market. 

Where are these people to go now? 

What will the government do to try and help them? 

It’s difficult but we’d like to think that there is some form of Fund where these people can get help. They have no else to turn to but their families, friends and of course their government.

Having said that, while we mourn and cry with the people affected, let’s be thankful that no one was hurt or killed. It is a miracle that someone was not killed in the inferno. What’s more, it could have easily spread to nearby buildings and the cost of that could have been astronomical in terms of money and lives.

So let’s try and be positive. For the thousands of people affected, we know that the road ahead is difficult but let’s thank God that no lives were taken and believe that from the ashes that remain will rise better fortunes and bigger prospects.

Have a wonderful Tuesday Samoa, God bless!

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 19 January 2016, 12:00AM

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