Historian delves into the fight to save old Court House
The Old Court House on Beach Road in Apia, built by the German administration in 1902, is one of the country's last remaining historical heritage sites and is worth saving.
This is the opinion of Academic and Historian, Professor Leasiolagi Dr. Malama Meleisea, in light of efforts by another emerging group called Samoa Tofia Mai le Atua (S.T.M.A.) fighting to preserve the building.
Leasiolagi said losing the historical building will mean Samoa will be poorer in terms of historical evidence of its heritage.
“I think all those buildings including the current Court House is part of our history,” the Academic told the Samoa Observer.
“Never mind who ran the country at the time, but it is part of our history."
"The old Parliament building, the Court House and as you say correctly there is very little to remind us of that heritage."
“Parliament house was the simple of the struggles of those days by Samoans and whatever the finance and economics of keeping and maintaining it I think the value of it is its historical evidence in our history outweighs any financial management.”
Furthermore, Leasiolagi said there were other events that occurred at the Old Court House, which were perpetuated by different people and for different reasons which is crucial.
“We would be poorer and certainly the next generation, if they are deprived of those buildings,” said the historian.
“It is not the same as looking at the pictures, looking at the real structure gives you a different feeling and perspective.
“When the historical and cultural heritage is being deliberately, however sensible the financial argument it is, and however reasonable financial argument is - I think if we lose those we’re losing a large part of our heritage.
“If you look at the wars ravaging the old cities in the Middle East, they are not just knocking down houses they are actually destroying history, cultural heritage.”
Leasiolagi urged that what is left of Samoa’s heritage should be preserved.
The academic was a member of the previous Court House Trust that worked on a project to turn the Old Court House into a living heritage.
The Trust was established in 2010 with the support from German and N.Z. governments, and with technical assistance from UNITEC Institute of Technology to conduct a feasibility study for the preservation of Court House.
Following the feasibility study, Leasiolagi said a sum of $20 million was required to repair the timber structures of the German colonial designed building.
On top of this, the condition of the building deteriorated over the years and the cost continues to grow.
“After meeting for so many years we just couldn’t get anybody to finance the repair that we needed,” he said.
“Unfortunately the deterioration accelerated and the last report from engineer we had it was too late to repair and the best option is to try and build something at least a similar façade.”
With this in mind, Leasiolagi feels that people need to be sensible about the matter and come up with a negotiation to save the building.
He also spoke about perspectives that the colonial era evidence should be done away.
In his opinion, Leasiolagi added the building represents the past and that past is one that belongs to the people of Samoa.
He said colonizers did not operate in a vacuum and whatever was achieved at the Independence was a culmination of what those people try to do.
“When history changes as it does inevitably with that in mind we should try and preserve as much of that history,” he explained.
“Yes it was built by Germans and lots of Europeans worked there but it also housed the first Prime Minister’s office there and even my father worked there as a Magistrate Judge.
“There was also a Cabinet room there and a lot of decisions were made there after Independence so it certainly part of us.
“It would be silly to say we should not keep old building from Europe because it was constructed by the Germans or whoever.
“There were old buildings in Asia which was built by invaders but it’s not a good reason to knock it down because they were part of our history and part of their history.
“I wish people stop saying that because its selective memory of which that is not going to benefit anybody.”
Leasiolagi reiterated that if Samoa wants to have evidence of its history it should save what is left at whatever cost.
The Court House is an asset registered under the Samoa International Finance Authority (S.I.F.A.)
When asked for a comment, S.I.F.A., Chief Executive Officer, Tootooleaava Dr. Fanaafi Le Tagaloa said any matter pertaining to the Court House is handled by Cabinet.
The old Court House is one of the few remaining timber structures of German colonial design that exists anywhere in the world.
It was designed by Albert Schaafhausen, the government architect, and built by master builder Friedrich Stunzner in 1902.
The Court House was opened in 1903 as a Court house for the German colonial administration from 1900 to 1914.
It was later taken over by the New Zealand occupying forces in 1914 and was used as their administration office.
It became the Government’s own Court House and seat of the Prime Minister after the Independence in 1962.
The Prime Minister’s office was located in the Court House and Cabinet meetings were held in the first floor till 1993.
A second courtroom was added on the ground floor.
Some years later, the national Museum occupied the upper floor of the western wing from May 1999 until July 2008.
The Court House was no longer in use in 2010 after the inauguration of the new Ministry of Justice building in Mulinu’u.