Epeli Hau’ofa (1939-2009)

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Tongan writer and cultural theorist Epeli Hau’ofa passed away on Sunday 11 January 2009.

Hau’ofa was born in Papua New Guinea in 1939 of Tongan missionary parents. He was educated in a variety of countries, eventually receiving his PhD at the Department of Anthropology, Australian National University. His positions included Keeper of Palace Records in Tonga, Head of Sociology Department and Head of the School of Social and Economic Development of the University of the South Pacific.

In 1997, he was the founding Director of the Oceania Centre for Arts and Culture in Suva. This became an important cultural base for exchange and expression in the Pacific.

Hau’ofa was a novelist of satiric fiction, such Tales of the Tikongs and Kisses in the Nederlands. His most recent publication, We are the Ocean, included essays about the nature of the Oceanic, and how the sea connects Pacific peoples together, from the east coast of Australia to California.

In 2004, he visited Melbourne to give a presentation at South 1, the inaugural meeting of writers and artists from across the South. His expansive notion of the Oceanic provided an important platform for connecting together the island people participating, particularly from Rapa Nui.

His conversation with ABC radio host Philip Adams at the time dwelt on his pride in cabbages. The fruits of Epeli Hau’ofa will be enjoys for many years to come.