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Posthumous honorary doctorate for visionary scholar ‘Epeli Hau’ofa

Almost three decades after transforming how the world viewed the Pacific, the late Professor ‘Epeli Hau’ofa, visionary poet, writer and academic has been awarded a posthumous honorary doctorate from Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland.

Oceania is vast, Oceania is expanding, Oceania is hospitable and generous, Oceania is humanity rising from the depths of brine and regions of fire deeper still, Oceania is us. We are the sea, we are the ocean.

– Professor ‘Epeli Hau’ofa (1939-2009)

The University’s Fale Pasifika was bursting at the seams during a special graduation ceremony on 14 October, with more than 200 in attendance for what guests called ‘Epeli’s day’ complete with music, song and dance. The honorary degree of Doctor of Literature was received by his son ‘Epeli Hau’ofa Si’i, who arrived a day before the event from Suva.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Dawn Freshwater said honouring Professor Hau’ofa was important and his ideas remained highly relevant for the region and Pacific peoples, despite his passing more than 14 years ago.

“The University today is built upon the mahi, the mana and the academic achievements of many who have gone before us. With this degree, as well as two other posthumous honorary doctorates awarded during our 140th year, we honour and celebrate these trailblazers.”

Family representative Sione Tu’itahi said the posthumous recognition for Hau’ofa as an academic, poet and novelist was an honour, and the recognition was fully appreciated by not only the extended family but all of Tonga.

“His ideas were transformative; they were about empowering people. He changed our worldview in that we are guardians of the biggest continent and not defined by our smallness.”

Hau’ofa’s upbringing helped to produce one of the Pacific’s most unique and visionary scholars. Born in Papua New Guinea to Tongan missionary parents, the experience shaped his childhood with an academic career that involved studying in New South Wales, Canberra and Montreal. He gained a PhD in Social Anthropology at the Australian National University.

Hau’ofa went on to teach at the University of Papua New Guinea and held influential roles at the University of the South Pacific. Notably, in 1997 he became founder and director of the Oceania Centre for Arts and Culture at USP, Suva which under his leadership became a world class centre for showcasing and disseminating Pacific artistic expression.

A regularly invited lecturer at Waipapa Taumata Rau, Hau’ofa’s significant contributions and impact on Pacific scholarship and literature across the region, included this University. His earliest involvement was as a Visiting Senior Fellow in Māori Studies and Anthropology at a time when discussions on establishing the Centre for Pacific Studies were taking place and in which Hau’ofa played a part.

As part of his Fellowship he delivered the paper, ‘The New South Pacific Society: Integration and Independence’, one of a collection of critical essays in the pivotal book, Class and Culture in the South Pacific.

Pro Vice-Chancellor Pacific, Associate Professor Jemaima Tiatia-Siau said that ‘Epeli Hau’ofa’s 1994 essay ‘Our Sea of Islands’ was another that was particularly groundbreaking.

“‘Epeli was transformative in that he reshaped the way people viewed the Pacific; he opened up opportunities for Pacific peoples and reindigenised Pacific scholarship.”


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