WELLINGTON (Asia Pacific Report/Pacific Media Watch): The director of Va’aomanū Pasifika at Victoria University in Wellington, Dr Teresia Teaiwa, has died following a short illness.
She was described in a statement by Victoria University today as a friend, colleague, renowned scholar and poet, and a generous and warm personality of the academic community.
Dr Teaiwa died yesterday in close company of friends and family after a short battle with cancer.
Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Pasifika) Luamanuvao Winnie Laban said the loss would be felt widely among the Pasifika community in New Zealand, the Pacific region and elsewhere 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.”
Dr Teaiwa was 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.
Marsden Fast Start
In 2007, she was awarded a Marsden Fast Start research grant for her oral history and book project on Fijian women soldiers.
In 1996, Dr Teaiwa 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, Dr Teaiwa enjoyed being part of intellectual communities that stemmed from the university environment such as the Niu Wave 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.
Most recently she was promoted to director of Va’aomanū Pasifika, home to Victoria’s Pacific and Samoan Studies programmes.
Dr Teaiwa’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.
Outside of her Victoria role, Dr Teaiwa was 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.
Pacific Media Centre director and Asia Pacific Report editor Professor David Robie, a contemporary of Dr Teaiwa at the University of the South Pacific, described her as an extraordinary academic and creative talent and cultural icon, adding she was “an inspiration to Pacific peoples right across the region”.
The Fiji Women’s Rights Movement farewelled Dr Teaiwa with sadness.
“This is a huge loss for Fiji and the Pacific as Dr Teaiwa inspired many as an educator, researcher, friend and colleague,” said FWRM executive director Nalini Singh.
Dr Teaiwa was a trailblazer in research and education, Singh added.
A memorial service will be held for Dr Teaiwa at Victoria University in the coming weeks.
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