Pulemelei not included in Letolo sale: Board reveals

The owners behind a controversial land sale in Savaii have announced they are engaging a consulting firm Mau Studio to orchestrate the preservation of the historical sites in the land.  

In a press release, marking the first public communications from Nelson Properties since the sale of the Letolo Plantation was announced, the owners say the archaeological sites contained within their land will not be sold.

“Please note that given the historical value of the Pulemelei mound to Samoa that it will not be part of any land sale but part of a separate management arrangement for the benefit of Samoa,” the press release by the Board of Directors states.

In March, the Pulemelei mound and the 1150 acres of freehold land it sits in was thrust into the spotlight when the owners published a website seeking expressions of interest in buying the land, either in parts or as whole.

The move shocked the National University of Samoa (NUS) Centre for Samoan Studies, who were under the impression they were nearing a partnership deal of some kind to guarantee access for research and potential tourism developments there, and were not warned the family was moving to sell.

Pulemelei is the largest man-made structure in Polynesia, and its surrounding archaeological features suggest Samoans may have lived further inland, and in much more populous communities than has been theorised.

C.S.S. Adjunct Professor Leasiolagi Dr. Malama Meleisea said the land should be preserved, in partnership with the Government and the villages in Palauli for heritage preservation, further archaeological research and eventually a potentially lucrative, unique tourist site. 

Previous requests for interviews or comments from the owners, board of directors or shareholders to date have been unanswered or declined, save for former Chair Tuiloma Sina Retzlaff who said the website did not reflect the intentions of the owners.

In an email, she told the Samoa Observer that the board of directors and shareholders have been keen to preserve Pulemelei as a national heritage site for Samoa.

“During my time as Chairperson of the Company, the shareholders did show a keen interest to preserve the Pulemelei as a national heritage site for Samoa, and did pass a resolution to explore the interest shown by the NUS Centre for Samoan Studies and the Ministry of Education to have Pulemelei nominated as a World Heritage Site for Samoa,” Tuiloma said.

“The advertisements you see for sale, in my view, does not and should not impact the family’s commitment to preserve the area surrounding the Pulemelei as an important archaeological site.”

The Board says it is finalising a memorandum of understanding with Mau Studios to bring “experts in Pasifika heritage fields” to help guide the process of preserving the Pulemelei and any land around it. 

Mau Studios was co-founded and is managed Managing Director Lynette Hunt. Its websites says it is inspired by the Mau Movement that helped lead Samoa to Independence, and by oceanic navigation and identity. 

It is a New Zealand based architecture firm that also engages in education and advocacy work, that conducts cultural landscape assessments, feasibility studies, community engagement, and architecture/ landscape/ interior/ urban design development.

“We specialize on projects which have an emphasis on community engagement, participatory design and cultural/ contextual appropriateness,” their website states. 

Previously in Samoa, Mau Studio has designed the Le Maota o Tina, a community women’s centre in Poutasi for the Poutasi Development Trust, which was founded by Tuatagaloa Joe Annandale, a shareholder of the Letolo Plantation. 

“This consultancy draws the well-known experts in Pasifika heritage fields to help guide the development and or preservation of historic sites,” the Board states.

“They have extensive experience in working on historical projects in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific to balance social and economic interest of the parties involved. The collaboration with the Mau Studios will help to shape the historical and economics of this unique property.”

Should the Pulemelei join the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) World Heritage List, it would join just seven other such sites in the region. Globally there are 1,121 listed sites. 

The Government of Samoa is required to file any submissions for World Heritage Site listings. 

Tuiloma suggests this process is still going to happen. 

“The initiative to register a site on the World Heritage List means it will be protected for future generations to continue to research, appreciate and enjoy,” she said.  

The company is still accepting expressions of interest until 01 December 2020 via their website. 

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