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Fiji's Greatest Hotel: Remembrances of the GPH--Memory (Part 6)

(This is the sixth in a series of blogs by Norwegian anthropologist Solrun Williksen.  These next few excerpts cover the glorious history of the GPH).

It is clear from all this that saving the Grand Pacific has not been of a very high priority in the country, though some may say otherwise. Stuart Huggetts is convinced that the government has the hotel very high on their list of heritage buildings and that, when they let Nauru buy it, they did so with the best of intentions. Stuart Huggetts, The National Trust of Fiji and people interested in old buildings have assured me that the GPH has a high priority in the politicians mind.

So far mind has not won over matter. At the time of take-over by the Nauru government, Nauru had money, which Fiji had not. And since the hotel was closed in I 992 Fiji has had, as we have seen, tough political and economical problems to deal with. What are the prerequisites for a joint interest in anything as exotic to Fiji as the Grand Pacific Hotel? For whom is this building important at all? To whom are the memories of buildings like this significant  and with whom can those who do miss the Grand Pacific Hotel exchange experiences, with whom do they share what Connerton calls "legitimate currency of memories"? (Connerton: 3).  

Sir Len Usher is one of the few who can be called a true witness of the past. He is the former mayor of Suva and with his 96 years of age, many of which spent as an official figure of Fijian social and political life, he was able to dwell at length on the festive occasions, the dinner suits of the gentlemen, the evening dresses of the ladies.  As he rightly commented  it is hard to remember details now as it has been closed for so long and there is nobody to talk to about it. "It belonged to a time", he says, when there was style, formality, dignity. At Saturday's  dinner there was black tie".

He says that the restored building, if it will ever  be  restored, will be a different thing altogether (personal communication  28.10.02). Sir Len Usher here illustrates a point made by Halbwachs: "One cannot in fact think about the events of one's  past without discoursing upon them" (Halbwachs1992:53). In his work on memory Halbwachs emphasizes again and again how individual remembrance  is dependent on a social group in order to stay alive.

In the case of The Grand Pacific Hotel we may assume that only as long as people live and talk about all the events that took place there will the hotel have real significance. Though a momentum to national grandeur and a "landmark" to the politicians (who as easily give their dinners at the Travelodge a stone's throw further up the road), to the woman and man in the street it is an eyesore as long as it hovers in a derelict state along the seawall, but if it disappears altogether and a modern building rises instead, would they worry?

Photos courtesy of Fiji Museum

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