Documentation of Vaimea Prison to start

By Gutu Faasau 06 July 2023, 7:32PM

The National University of Samoa (N.U.S.) will begin documentation of the old Vaimea Prison next week led by the Archeology and Cultural Heritage Department.

A Senior lecturer at the university's Centre for Samoan Studies, Dionne Fonoti told Samoa Observer in an interview on Thursday, that students from the Archeology and Cultural Heritage Department will hold a class for the next few months at the old prison site as part of their documentation work.

Samoa now has a few buildings left from the colonial era and little has been done by successive governments to preserve these buildings which hold a lot of historical value for Samoans. However, after securing funding, the N.U.S. is now able to proceed with its work of documenting one of Samoa’s oldest buildings.

Ms. Fonoti said for the first part of the project, the team had to clear out the old building which was previously used as a storage unit by the Government.

“Starting next week, we have made it part of our archeological fieldwork courses and for the next 12 weeks, the students will be a big part of the documentation. We are going to go in and basically photograph every inch of that building,” the N.U.S. academic said. “We want to be able to tell the stories of the people impacted by the prison, not just prisoners but also the police officers, wardens and the people who dedicated their lives to keep the place operating. 

"There are a lot of stories we would be interested in bringing forward. The Vaimea Prison is part of Samoa’s march to independence, given that the Vaimea Prison is probably the only site in Samoan history that housed members from both Samoan independence movements."

One of the historical facts about the abandoned colonial prison, according to Ms. Fonoti, is that the Vaimea Prison was also where Samoa's early independence fighters Namulauulu Lauaki and later Ta’isi Olaf Nelson were imprisoned.

“This prison had prisoners from the Mau a Pule where individuals like Namulauulu Lauaki and other members were locked up by the Germans in this prison. Twenty to 30 years later Ta’isi Olaf Nelson who was one of the leaders of the Mau movement against the New Zealand administration was also locked up there.

“Very rarely in Samoa are we able to look and study spaces that we know about, where freedom fighters and people who have fought for Samoa’s independence have occupied the same space and Vaimea is one of those spaces. The German courthouse is another, but as we all know it’s gone and we will never be able to study that place again.”

The N.U.S. academic added that once buildings with a lot of historical significance like the Vaimea Prison are gone, opportunities for Samoans to understand and look at history in a much deeper and intimate way are destroyed.

She said when such historical sites are taken down, it removes everyone’s ability to physically visit, inhabit, understand and study the space.

Samoa’s oldest prison at Vaimea, which is believed to be over 100 years old was built by the German colonial administration and was later used as a government storage area in recent years. 

By Gutu Faasau 06 July 2023, 7:32PM
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