From a prison to a museum

By Jacquelyn Jimenez Romero 11 July 2024, 4:00PM

Vaimea Prison, Samoa’s oldest prison could lead to a museum to further explore Samoa’s history according to research conducted by the National University of Samoa (NUS).

Although there is no official plan yet, researchers and high commission officers shared the idea of having an educational space. 

“I hope that the prison and the future will have the potential to become a multi-purpose educational space, like a museum dedicated to the history of resistance in Samoa and a key site of cultural and historical heritage that families and visitors to sample can all enjoy,” said Si’Alei Van Toor, New Zealand High Commissioner to Samoa. 

The 118-year-old prison is a concrete block building that was built during the period of German Administration from 1900 to 1914. It is one of the oldest and rarest built heritage sites in the country. 

The land was bought by German settlers before colonial rule and eventually in 1903 the land was set aside as the headquarters for the original Samoan native police force. 

Research led by Dr. Dionne Fonoti showed that lack of security was one of the early issues within the prison. 

“Now in some very comical records of the newspapers at the time, as we all know, Samoan houses don't have walls, so there were many escapes and many records of Samoans walking out of the prison and going home because they felt like it,” Dr. Fonoti said. “It's actually quite funny.” 

So in 1906 the German government drew up a plan to build a concrete block with six cells and eventually expanded it to nine cells in 1910 which still stands today. 

The prison held Samoan, Chinese, and white prisoners. 

Dr. Fonoti highlighted the contributions of Samoan men and women in building the police forces and Samoan governance.

It is the only site still standing that witnessed the incarceration of the freedom fighters against German and New Zealand colonial rule who helped engineer the independence of Samoa, according to Dr. Fonoti. 

The NUS Centre for Samoans Studies (CCS) launched its Viamea Prison Historic and Heritage Report at a ceremony in NUS on Wednesday. 

This was a 12 month project funded by the New Zealand High Commission.

By Jacquelyn Jimenez Romero 11 July 2024, 4:00PM
Samoa Observer

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