Epeli Hau’ofa 1939 – 2009
The Pacific writer Epeli Hau’ofa died last month – and somehow, I seem to have missed the obits in our newspapers.
I once mentioned to a Tongan friend how much I had enjoyed Hau’ofa’s Tales of the Tikongs and he replied, “Well of course Epeli can be funny because he doesn’t have an elder sister.”
He must have noticed the look of total confusion on my face because he went onto explain that in Tongan culture causing your older sister shame is an absolutely no, no.
As an anthropologist Hau’ofa would have been well equipped to explain the full significance of my friend’s comment. But it’s as a satirist that I suspect he will be best remembered.
A Fijian citizen, born in Papua to Tongan parents, Hau’ofa was truly a man of the South Pacific, and it’s in the South Pacific that he is best known.
As a nation we pay lip service to being part of the Pacific but the fact that the only publication which seems to have noted Hau’ofa’s passing is, the excellent, newsletter of Victoria University’s Center of the International Institute of Modern Letters tells a different story.
Here’s what it had to say:
We were deeply saddened to learn of the recent death of Epeli Hau’ofa, one of the Pacific’s great writers and thinkers, though perhaps he would have preferred to be called a citizen of Oceania. He was a writer of fiction as well as a distinguished academic. His two wickedly funny satirical works, Kisses in the Nederends and Tales of the Tikongs, are not only admired but also enjoyed. He had a rich vision of the Pacific. As a tribute in the Fiji Times puts it: ‘. . . it is the conceptualisation of our place in Oceania, both within and beyond, that made Epeli such a towering figure. He inspired us to rethink and broaden our notions of identity in the context of the ocean that links us all. Not to jettison our heritage, but to enrich it by exploring common points of reference with others.’ We will be looking for his recent book, We Are the Ocean (University of Hawaii Press, 2008), which brings together thirty years of writing in a range of styles and genres. At the time of his death, Epeli Hau’ofa was Director of the Oceania Centre for Arts and Culture at the University of the South Pacific.
:JR – Editor Scoop Review of Books