News @ USP

USP mourns the passing of Emeritus Professor of Pacific Studies, Ron Crocombe

Back to News »

Professor Ron Crocombe pictured (right) with the Hon. Jim Marurai, Prime Minister of the Cook Islands. The picture was taken at the 2005 USP Cook Islands Graduation Cocktails.

Colleagues and the University Community will be saddened to learn of the death on 18 June 2009 of Emeritus Professor of Pacific Studies, Ron Crocombe. 

Professor Crocombe joined The University of the South Pacific as its founding Professor of Pacific Studies in 1969, a key position that was intended to define and guide teaching and research in sociology, anthropology, history, land tenure and reform, local government,  politics, and regionalism at the University of the Pacific, and what an amazing job he did! 

It is fair to say than R.G. Crocombe remains the leading academic of our region, a man whose career was peppered with awards and public addresses at leading international conferences, and whose publication list runs to 30 pages.  He was a prolific writer, so passionate and so knowledgeable about his Pacific, that it is almost impossible to summarise his oeuvre.   

He was the author of more than 20 books, beginning with the influential Land Tenure in the Pacific Islands (Oxford University Press, 1963) and culminating in the 644-page Asia in the Pacific Islands: Replacing the West (USP, 2007).  His encyclopaedic book The South Pacific went into its 7th Edition in 2008. In the section on regionalism he wrote:  

More than some regions of the world (e.g. Latin America), each Island nation differs from others in language, culture, and feelings of identity. Despite more language fragmentation than anywhere else on earth, when people want to cooperate in negotiations with non-indigenous partners, their ‘Pacific-ness’ is emphasized and has some reality. Likewise with the culture areas, which are distinguished by broad ethnic and geographical criteria. (p. 558) 

Oceania regionalism became pronounced from 1972 with the formation of the South Pacific Forum (since 2000 named the Pacific Islands Forum) which deals with political and economic issues. Harmony has often been achieved by avoiding contentious issues within countries (the things that matter) while criticizing similar issues in countries that are not members. From time to time Australia and New Zealand will take a stance in the Forum which is contrary to the others, usually on issues of industry or ethnicity, and there will be talk of doing without them. (p. 560) 

Ron will also be remembered, particularly during his time at the helm of USP’s Institute of Pacific Studies, as an energetic facilitator of the publication of research by Pacific Island peoples. Around 1700 such people had their work published by IPS when Ron was there. He also mentored many Pacific islanders many of whom are now prominent leaders in various circles in governments and regional organizations. 

Yet of all the island countries in the Pacific, it was his home country of the Cook Islands with which he felt the closest ties, something manifested by his numerous writings on the country, the last major one of which was the splendid Cook Islands Culture (USP, 2002), edited with his wife Marjorie Tua’inekore Crocombe.  

Ron was a humble man, disdainful of hypocrisy and of self-proclaimed experts, who devoted his professional life to explaining the Pacific to those from elsewhere, and both rationalizing and glorifying the Pacific to those from within it.  A scholar and a gentleman,  Ron Crocombe is sadly missed by his numerous friends and admirers at The University of the South Pacific

He will be remembered with enormous respect by all those with whom he worked and  those he taught. 

Our thoughts and prayers are with Marjie and family as we bid farewell to one of the Pacific’s most illustrious and loved academic, colleague and friend.   

Konai Thaman wrote this beautiful poem on Ron on the eve of his departure from the University in 1989. I share this with you all.  


this global life
gives us light
and love
but it also gives 
us death
like living inside a dream
like being buried alive
turning into grass
a heilala hidden
amidst the exotic flowers
of our lost salusalu
their soft fragrance drowned
in the strenuous sounds
of our rational minds
you came
took away our fears
heard our silent songs
felt our pain
of not being able to go back
you asked questions
we never pondered
noticed what we took for granted
(or didn’t want to notice)
and we followed barefooted
along the path you paved
now we look
at tomorrow
with different eyes
the truths about us
weigh us down

Konai Helu Thaman (from Kakala, 1993)

Professor Rajesh Chandra
The University of the South Pacific

This news item was published on 22 Jun 2009 03:37:54 pm. For more information or any High-Res Images, please contact us on email

News @ USP


Disclaimer & Copyright | Contact Us |
© Copyright 2004 - 2018. All Rights Reserved.
The University of the South Pacific
Laucala Campus, Suva, Fiji
Tel: +679 323 1000