Apia grapples with demolition of history
The former Mayor of Apia, Tuiletufuga Siaosi Tuiletufuga, says a plan to demolish the old Courthouse will remove a key piece of national history from the village.
In light of the Government proceeding with the plan to demolish the building, Tuiletufuga told the Samoa Observer that the building is a national treasure that should be preserved.
"The Courthouse: they should never demolish the building because it's historical, this is where they initially raised Samoa's flag, so why should they [demolish it]?" the Mayor said.
But Tuiletufuga noted that the decision ultimately rested with Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi, saying he hoped that the Government would proceed with caution on any redevelopment.
"That's entirely up to the Prime Minister and whatever he is thinking. Maybe building something there is good but they will never get the era this building was built in back in the day," he said.
"If they push through with the demolition, I hope they have something good to replace it."
The Samoa Observer reported last Friday that the Executive Chair of the Samoa Tofia Mai le Atua (S.T.M.A. Inc.) non-profit, Taloto Obed Unasa, accused the Government of lacking vision by pursuing the demolition.
Taloto said the group had met with representatives from the village of Apia and that once Government had committed to the demolition it would have to reckon with local residents.
"In our meetings with local Apia leaders and other Government officials. We were informed that once the Apia Courthouse is removed. The land goes back to the Village of Apia," Taloto said.
"This was part of an agreement between Germany and Apia Village during the German rule of Samoa."
But Tuiletufuga disputed this account in an interview with the Samoa Observer.
"They never came to us," he said. "Maybe if they did, we could have may be helped them but the problem is, the Government have made the decision."
Tuiletufiga was hesitant to delve into details about the Courthouse because of a separate and ongoing legal dispute the Tuiletufuga family and the Government regarding land in the village of Apia.
But he said that the push to save the Courthouse would benefit from local input.
"I don't mind if they want our help, we can all go back to the Prime Minister. Because the Government won't just look to them but also those from the village involved," he said.
But Tuiletufuga balanced his argument by noting that the impact of the demolition plan would only be revealed in the fullness of time
The old Courthouse does not only represent Samoa's treasure of heritage and history but also sadness and pain for the people of Samoa, he said.
"As much as we want to keep the image, there are bad memories there too," Tuiletufuga said.
"The days of Samoa's darkness, and the Mau movement. There is no harm in change, time changes and generations take turns.
"There is importance of history but at the same time, it was a very sad time. It is where the [New Zealand] Administration [opened] fired on our people."
He said that he believed the Prime Minister had astute political vision, but needed to consider the issue of the Courthouse from the perspective of everyone involved.
"[But] I think only time will tell," he said.
"We'll see how it goes, and how it fits into the village of Apia, because these are the things we need to properly look into, whether or not they are suitable."
The 118-year-old structure is believed to be the oldest building in the country and it dates back to Samoa's period of German colonial administration.
*This story has been modified to reflect that Tuiletufuga Siaosi is no longer the Mayor of Apia. The present Mayor is Tuiletufuga Fritz Tuiavi'i.