Remembering the legacy of the late Epeli Hau’ofa


Last night marked a significant milestone for the Oceania Centre for Arts, Culture and Pacific Studies (OCACPS) and the School of Pacific Arts, Communication and Education, as well as the School of Law and Social Sciences at The University of the South Pacific (USP) with the launch of Remembering Epeli Hau’ofa His Life and Legacy book.

The Remembering Epeli Hau’ofa His Life and Legacy book is a tribute to one of the Pacific’s most renowned writers, Epeli Hau’ofa and his literary work that has influenced most of the Pacific and shaped the global perception of the region as a large ocean state.

The book editors Eric Waddell, Vijay Naidu and Claire Slatter, contemporaries and close friends of the late Hau’ofa, expressed that “Epeli Hau’ofa played a crucial role in reimagining the place and status of the people of the Pacific Islands in the global community.”

They explained that Hau’ofa, who is Tongan by name, Papuan by birth, Tongan, Fijian, Canadian and Australian by upbringing and education, and Fijian by citizenship, embraced the lives of everyone whose destiny is wedded to Oceania, a maritime continent whose islands are woven into a thriving web of seaways.

Speaking as the chief guest at the event, the Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of the South Pacific, Dr Gulio Massasso Paunga, said that the late Professor Epeli Hau’ofa was a quintessential Oceania who sought to restore pride among Pacific Islanders whose ancestors had traversed the largest ocean in the world to settle the ‘Sea of Islands’. Because of their navigating and sailing prowess, they were not confined to small islands.

Like their ancestors, modern-day Oceanians travel the Pacific in search of new lands to settle and share their cultures and traditions across the globe.

“USP is very proud of having had the late Professor Epeli Hau’ofa as a staff member for 37 years who provided academic leadership.”

“He was an exemplary mentor of several cohorts of artists widely recognised for their creative works.”

The editors remarked that Remembering Epeli Hau’ofa offers insights into the enduring legacy of the thoughts and actions of a man who, in the view of his many contemporaries, was perhaps “the finest Pacific Islander of our time”.

Eric Waddell pointed out that the call for contributions to the book was received with unequivocal enthusiasm.

“From here in Fiji, from Tonga, Hawai’i, Guam, New Zealand, Australia, etc., it was like a tsunami traversing the Ocean; from friends and colleagues of Epeli, members of his generation, from those in the next generation who he had mentored and marked for life. And finally, there were those who had only met him “on the page.”

As Julian Aguon, from Guam, said, “I would read him and think, this is what it looks like, this is what it sounds like when we stop carrying someone else’s water.”

Vijay Naidu said that writing about Epeli’s work at the regional university brought back fond memories of when USP started to provide a space to debate novel ideas that challenged established orthodoxies and when all sorts of creative writings blossomed.

Claire Slatter mentioned that the book project was a labour of love in memory of a leading scholar, creative thinker, and a man that “most of us admired and respected. His impactful ideas should be shared with new generations of Pacific islanders and more generally.”

Oceania Centre for Arts, Culture and Pacific Studies Acting Director Larry Thomas said the Tongan poet, writer and academic has influenced generations of Pacific Islanders.

Larry added that in 1997, “Hau’ofa became founder and director of OCAPS at the Laucala Campus in Suva, Fiji, and under his leadership became a world-class centre for showcasing and disseminating Pacific cultural performance and artistic expression.”

“This has been in the works for years. The timing is right, and the stars have aligned, allowing this significant event to happen.”

The event was attended by academics, USP current and former staff, USP Senior Management Team members, Pacific artists and stakeholders.


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