When beloved Pacific academic Dr Teresia Teaiwa died this March following a short illness, it was a loss that reverberated throughout the Pacific community in the region and around the world.
“She was a wonderful Pacific woman and leader who was a role model for all Pacific people. She was hugely committed and passionate about people and social justice in the Pacific, and she will be missed dearly,” said her colleague Hon. Luamanuvao Winnie Laban, Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Pasifika) at Victoria University in Wellington.
Teresia is internationally known for her ground-breaking work in Pacific Studies. Her research interests in this area embraced her artistic and political nature, and included: contemporary issues in Fiji, feminism and women’s activism in the Pacific, contemporary Pacific culture and arts, and pedagogy in Pacific Studies. In 2007, she was awarded a prestigious Marsden Fast Start research grant for her oral history and book project on Fijian women soldiers.
In 1996, Teresia turned down a job with Greenpeace to take up her first lecturer position at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji.
During this time, Teresia enjoyed being part of intellectual communities that stemmed from the University environment such as the Niu Waves Writers’ Collective, the Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific Movement and the Citizens’ Constitutional Forum.
In 2000, she moved to New Zealand to join Victoria University to teach the world’s first undergraduate major in Pacific Studies, of which she was programme director until 2009. She was promoted to director of Va’aomanū Pasifika, home to Victoria’s Pacific and Samoan Studies programmes in 2016.
Teresia’s talents in the classroom were formally recognised in 2015 when she won the Pacific People’s Award for Education, in 2014 when she received the Victoria Teaching Excellence Award and as the first Pasifika woman awarded the Ako Aotearoa Tertiary Teaching Excellence Award. In 2010 she received the Macaulay Distinguished Lecture Award from the University of Hawai’i.
Teresia’s legacy at Victoria includes a number of successful teaching initiatives, such as introducing ‘Akamai’ for 100-level students, where students can choose to present their learnings through a creative interpretation. Teresia advocated that Akamai helps students to understand that art and performance are part of the intellectual heritage of the Pacific.
Outside of her Victoria role, Teresia was the co-editor of the International Feminist Journal of Politics (2008-2011), and was an editorial board member of the Amerasia Journal and AlterNative: An International Journal of Indigenous Peoples.
Alongside her scholarly publications, Teresia was also a celebrated poet and performer whose solo CD I Can See Fiji was described by a reviewer as a ‘groundbreaking collection of poetry’. She is also author of a book of poetry, Searching for Nei Nimanoa.
She achieved a Bachelor of Arts from Trinity College, Washington D.C., a Master of Arts from the University of Hawai’i and a PhD from the University of California.
Teresia was born in Honolulu to an I-Kiribati father, John Teaiwa, from Rabi, Banaba and Tabiteuea and an African-American mother, Joan Teaiwa, from Washington DC. She spent her formative years in Fiji with her two sisters, Katerina and Maria. Teresia is survived by her husband, Sean Mallon, and sons Manoa and Vaitoa.
In 2009, The Guardian, described Teresia as one of Kiribati’s living national icons.
(Compiled from an article originally published on the Victoria University website www.victoria.ac.nz. This portrait of Teresia Teaiwa was first published by the Pacific Community for the 70 Inspiring Women campaign, it is reproduced here with their permission.)
The 70 Inspiring Pacific Women campaign has been produced by the Pacific Community (SPC) in partnership with Australian Aid and Pacific Women. The campaign marks the 70th anniversary of SPC, and leads up to the 13th Triennial Conference of Pacific Women and 6th Meeting of Ministers for Women in Suva (Fiji) from 2nd to 5th October 2017.