“Epeli”:http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/CU0901/S00096.htm “Hau’ofa”:http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=112135 “passed”:http://fijidailypost.com/news.php?section=1&fijidailynews=21483 “away”:http://solomontimes.com/news.aspx?nwID=3381 on 11 January 2009, and with his death the Pacific looses one of its most important intellectuals and anthropologists. Ethnically Tongan, born in Papua New Guinea, educated in Australia, and a naturalized citizen of Fiji, Hau’ofa’s life exemplifies the vibrant, diverse, and connected image of Oceania he promoted throughout his life. Those of us who study Papua New Guinea will remember him as an ethnographer of the Mekeo, but his influence expanded far beyond his ethnographic work — indeed, he is most often remembered as a novelist and author of short stories, and his humorous, satirical writings about the fictional but too-close-to-home Tikongs are widely read both in and out of the Pacific.
Most central for, as someone who was not raised in the Pacific (or at least, grew up on its right coast) was his essay “Our Sea of Islands”:http://savageminds.org/wp-content/image-upload/our-sea-of-islands-epeli-hauofa.pdf. In Our Sea of Islands Hau’ofa argued against the then-common (and still-common) presumption that Pacific Islanders lived in small, isolated, remote communities separated by a massive ocean. Instead, he argued that Pacific Islanders were connected by an ocean which facilitated movement and connection. Like all great ideas, it was an inversion of popular understandings that was so true and so timely that in retrospect is seems impossible to imagine how we lived without it.
If anyone reading this blog teaches courses on the Pacific, or simply wants to learn more about the area, this seminal essay is a must read. As unfortunate as his passing is, I hope that it will refocus attention on his life and work — even though his pen is stilled, we still have much to learn from Epeli Hau’ofa.