Pacific Languages and Culture Threatened

I came across an interesting article from the Samoa Observer the other day that I would like to share. Dr. Cresantia Frances Koya Vaka’uta, Associate Dean Research and Internationalization from the University of the South Pacific Suva Fiji, told the Pacific Islands University Research Network (P.I.U.R.N) conference at the National University of Samoa (N.U.S) that Pacific languages are threatened and cultures are being raided and even stolen by foreign interests.“At least 50% of the world’s languages are at risk and about 90% of the languages may be replaced by dominant languages by the end of the 21st Century,” she said.

She adds that internal forces including a community’s negative attitude towards its own language. Dr. Vaka’uta uses New Zealand as an example explaining that the state of pacific languages in this country matters because of the large numbers of Pacific people residing there. She states, “The 2006 NZ census showed an estimated 91% of all Niueans live in NZ, as do, 73% of all Cook Islanders, 44% of Tongans and 74% of Samoans.”

Her findings led to the call for Pacific Languages Week, now an established annual event, and the Pacific Languages Commission in NZ. “In 2006 alone, the NZ government devoted about NZ$600,000 [US$437,958] to the preservation of Pacific Island Languages,” Dr. Vaka’uta said. Despite these efforts, she said that the 2013 Census data on Pasifika communities showed all Pacific languages spoken by NZ born populations continued to decline.

Dr. Vaka’uta explained that Pacific Universities should prioritize cultural heritage and sustainability through knowledge and research on contextualized learning experiences in particular Pacific pedagogues. “Encourage focused research and research funding for culture, the arts and languages,” she said.“Contributing to policy and legislature particularly in the areas of national language, Cultural and Educational policies.”

“Knowledge creation and sharing to often academic research only resides in technical reports, academic papers in international journals and publications, or in University library collections.” She also adds,“A lot of that has been done is not widely accessible or presented in easy to consume, non academic or technical language. We could also engage more purpose fully with cultural communities and art practitioners.”

A language revitalization is currently underway in the Cook islands between USP and government, but Dr. Vaka’uta thinks that this has problems. One issue raised was that while NZ efforts are commendable, they focus on conversational Cook Island Maori while the national interest is in safeguarding the depth and proficiency of the full language. Other areas that could be supported through integration of courses and programs included Pacific Literatures, Pacific Art and Culture, Heritage Management, Cultural Statistics, and Heritage & Contemporary Arts.

Dr. Vaka’uta believes that investment is key and there will need to be national support to ensure continued viability of Islands linguistic and artistic offerings. She concludes, “The Pacific Future we seek is one in which we will grow a movement of Pacific Island thinkers, researchers, leaders – who are agents of change and who will continue to hold the land and our people, firmly and safely in their care.”


Village girls making mats, Solomon Islands

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ICA Congress 2016 Update

The International Council on Archives (ICA) Congress took place last week from September 5-10 in Seoul, South Korea. The international conference took place at the Coex Convention & Exhibition Center located in Samseong-dong of Gangnam-gu district and is of South Korea’s largest convention and exhibition centers. Indeed, the place is immense that boasts a four-story center with four exhibition halls and 48 meeting rooms.


The stone statue, Maitreya, Bongeunsa Temple

Most of the participants of the Congress took time from the busy schedule to visit the Bongeunsa Temple which was conveniently situated across the street from the Coex. The Bongeunsa Temple is a Buddhist temple that dates back to 794. In 1939, and again during the Korean War (1950-1953), most of the temple buildings were heavily damaged or destroyed by fire. Between 1941 and 1982, repairs and renovations have been done to try to restore it to its past glory.The highlight of the temple is a 28 meter (91 foot) stone statue of Maitreya, the Future Buddha. This statue is one of the tallest stone statues in the country. The oldest remaining building is a library that was constructed in 1856. The library contains Flower Garland Sutra woodblock carvings and 3,479 Buddhist scriptures including the works of Kim Jeong-hee.

I will have a full report of the Congress very soon. But, until then, I would like to share some photos with you…


The city of Seoul was ready for the conference as banners strewed the streets.


The auditorium was used for participants to have lunch. It was also used as the venue for the Gala towards the end of the conference.


Here is another auditorium where the Congress kicked-off and where the distinguished keynote speakers gave their talks during the week.


The front facade of the COEX convention center.


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ICAS and ICA Congress 2016

The International Council on Archives (ICA) Quadrennial Congress will be held in Seoul, South Korea, from 5th-10th September 2016, and I will be there to represent ICAS. The theme of the confrence is “Archives, Harmony and Friendship” which is very fitting for a nonprofit organization as Harmony and Friendship plays a major role in the mission of ICAS. The conference themes include: the changing nature of recordkeeping in the digital age; opportunities for cooperation within and outside the archival milieu; the uses and role of archives in the support of truth, justice and reconciliation; and opportunities for harmony and friendship in archival endeavours.

Here is the five minute YouTube advertisement for the Congress:

As for ICAS’ role at the conference, I will be helping with a Disaster Management Workshop on the first day. In fact, here’s our abstract to give you more of perspecitve as to what we will try to accomplish during the day:

Emergency Management and Disaster Preparedness workshop: In every geographical area of the world, there are disasters created by man and nature. While each organization plans for evacuating buildings, protecting people and property, the same care and attention to planning should be placed on the records and cultural history. If information is an important asset, the planning for the protection of the records prior to a disaster is paramount. This full day workshop will be conducted by 3 members of the Expert Group on Emergency Management and Disaster Preparedness. It will cover risk assessment/mitigation, disaster plans and supplies, disaster team planning, salvage priorities, response techniques, recovery efforts and resources. By the end of the workshop, attendees will be able to formulate their own disaster management plan and know the proper techniques for response and recovery.

Later in the week I will be presenting a paper titled,  The “Aloha” Archives: A Nonprofit Organization’s View of Collaboration, Peace, and Harmony in Cultural Heritage Organizations of the Pacific Islands. The paper looks at archives in the Pacific Islands through the eyes of our nonprofit organization and how peace, harmony and collaboration is shaping the future of culture hertiage organizations in the region. At the very least, I trust that it will be an inspring paper. It is the first time that I have ever written (and will talk about) the genisis of ICAS and how it was formed. After the conference, I plan to have the paper posted on our Website for your reading pleasure. It’s riveting stuff. I promise!

Here’s to a good congress! I hope to create new relationships and solidfy old ones that will help move ICAS’ mission forward. I’ll try to take some pictures and report from the Congress next week. Stay tuned!

Brandon Oswald


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Teuila Festival 2016- Samoa

You may have noticed that over the years I like to share the different Pacific Islands’ cultural events that take place, well, anywhere in the world.  Many of these take place in the Australia, New Zealand and the USA and usually span over a day or two. However, when one of the Pacific Islands nations has a festival, they really have a festival! They don’t just take place for one day, or a weekend. On the contrary, a true festival in this part of the world can be a week long (or longer) celebration that showcases and shares their unique cultural pride, values and helps communities reunite and reinforce their national identity. A perfect example of this could be seen at festivals such as the Merrie Monarch Festival in Honolulu, Hawaii and the Hibiscus Festival in Suva, Fiji.

Teuila Festival

Today, I would like to share some information regarding the upcoming Teuila Festival that will take place in Apia, Samoa, from September 4-10, 2016. Since it was established in 1991, Samoa’s Teuila Festival has grown to become one of Samoa’s most celebrated annual events, and one of the Pacific Islands’ biggest cultural festivals. 2016 marks the 26th Annual Teuila Festival.

Some of the highlights for this year’s events include:

Choral Exhibition where melodies of Samoan and English hymns are performed by choirs representing the country’s major denominations.

Cultural Show & Teuila International Siva Ailao Afi Competition (Fire Knife Dance) where performers equipped with a metal ornament with flaming towels at each end wow the crowd with their twirling prowess and speed while doing other acrobatic stunts.

Cultural Siva (Dance) Competition as village and church groups compete for the Teuila title. Always popular are the graceful dance performed by the women where the dancer tells a story with her hands, and the fast actions of the fa’ataupati or slap dance which is performed by the men.

Musika Extravaganza where local bands and artists entertain the crowds.


Miss Samoa Pageant where one will be crowned to represent Samoa at the next Miss Pacific Islands Pageant.

Samoa Cultural Village Tour where demonstrations of the ‘umu’ (Samoan ground oven), weaving, tattooing and much more will take place throughout the week.

SIFA Fautasi Challenge which is a Samoan long boat, race. Watch as villages compete for top-honors. The fautasi were used in the past for inter-island transport.

Carving Competition where master artisans create beautiful pieces of art out of nature.

And don’t forget the food! What’s a festival without food?

You can view entertainment from previous Teuila Festivals on Youtube. But, don’t forget to check the site often to watch events from this year’s festival. If you get a chance to attend in person, fantastic. You will be thoroughly entertained!

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ICAS Fiji Project 2016


In the past couple of years ICAS has been taking on many projects in the capital town of Suva, Fiji. It is nice to see how the capturing and telling of Fiji’s history, as well as the importance of safeguarding archives is becoming a hot topic throughout the country. With each visit to the nation’s capital, I am starting to get a real sense that there is much enthusiasm for the collaboration of sharing their culture. I have no doubt that this enthusiasm will only continue for years to come.

ICAS’ latest project took place from June 20 to July 1, 2016 in Suva, Fiji. Feel free to read the full report by accessing it here.

The two main projects in Suva were working at the National Archives of Fiji (NAF) and the archives at the Oceania Marist Province (OMPA), respectively. The NAF have made great strides since my first visit three years ago. It now boasts a staff of more than thirty employees in five archival sections that include, Archives Administration and Advisory Services, the Sir Alport Barker Library, Microfilm and Photocopy Unit, Conservation Unit and the Digital Continuity Unit. Their Facebook page has over 27,000 followers and is growing every day, and the archives has just recently created and launched a new Website. Today, through their vision and mission, the NAF has become the premiere archival institution in Fiji for collecting and safeguarding authentic records, supporting evidence based governance and inspiring Fijians to explore and share their history. The archives has also become very active within the community as well as with the communities of the outer Fijian islands to promote their collections and services. They eagerly and enthusiastically conduct outreach services at Open days, road shows, conferences and festivals throughout the islands and the region.


Some of the historic items on display during the International Archive Day Open Day at the National Archives of Fiji

The OMPA, on the other hand, is a much smaller archives than the NAF that contains a rich history of the Marist’s mission in the Pacific Islands region. The collection dates back to when the Marists first arrived in Fiji in about 1844. The archives also contains documents created by Marist’s work in other islands such as Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Vanuatu and Wallis and Futuna. The archives is safeguarded by one person who works part-time which in the archives field would be known as a “lone-arranger.” Fortunately, over the years volunteers have created a stable environment for the records and easily accessible collections.

Other highlights of my time in Suva included participating at the NAF during their International Archives Day festivity and having meetings with colleagues at the University of South Pacific (USP). It always amazes me how much work, collaboration, outreach and fun can get done in just two weeks! Of course, no trip to Fiji is complete without enjoying a lovo (underground oven) with friends on a lazy Sunday afternoon.


A Fijian Lovo- taro leaves with coconut milk (in tin foil) and taro. Eventually, chicken and fish was added to the hot stones. It was yummy.

ICAS would like to graciously thank Opeta Alefaio and the staff at the National Archives of Fiji, Father Roger McCarrick and the members of the Oceania Marist Province, Jason Flello and the staff in the USP Records Management Department, Javed Yusuf and his staff at the USP Multimedia Department and Paulina Navuku and her family for their wonderful hospitality.

I look forward to working with all of these people and organizations in the near future.

Vinaka vakalevu!


A rainy Fijian day, Viti Levu, Fiji


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International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples was celebrated around the world a couple of days ago on August 9. This year was devoted to ‘Indigenous Peoples’ Right to Education.’ The designated date of August 9th goes back to 1994 when the United Nations General Assembly established the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples to be observed on this date to mark the day of the first meeting of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights back in 1982.

The Talamua Online News (Samoa) ran a very interesting article about the day. You can read it in its entirety by clicking here. I have selected a few paragraphs to share below:

There are around 370 million indigenous peoples worldwide, living across 90 countries and representing 5000 diverse cultures. They make up less than 5 per cent of humanity, yet represent around 15 per cent of the world’s poorest people. Two thirds of the world’s indigenous peoples live in Asia and the Pacific. They include groups often referred to as tribal peoples, hill tribes, adivasis, janajati, orang asli, aboriginal or native.

Indigenous peoples make significant contributions to humanity’s cultural, intellectual and economic wealth. Across Asia and the Pacific, they are sharing essential knowledge and skills in conservation and the sustainable use of land, forests and natural resources – key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Yet many indigenous peoples remain unprotected and unrecognized. They face forced assimilation, exclusion and systemic discrimination. Their cultures, stories and knowledge are in danger of being lost. Indigenous children, in particular, are often deprived of opportunities to fulfill their full potential. The promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is to ensure a life of dignity for all, leaving no one behind, so special attention must be paid to the needs and rights of indigenous peoples.

Education is essential to preserve the unique identities of indigenous peoples, as well as for the full development of their potential as individuals and as communities. This is why the United Nations has chosen ’Indigenous Peoples’ Right to Education’ as the theme for the 2016 International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. The UN Declaration recognizes the right of indigenous peoples to be educated in their own languages and cultures and calls on states to guarantee this right.

Yet there are many barriers to fulfillment, including a low prioritization of education for indigenous peoples in allocating public resources, language barriers and discriminatory and racist attitudes in education systems that are often reflected in textbooks and materials. Indigenous communities in Asia and the Pacific also face obstacles in accessing health services, including quality sexual and reproductive health care and family planning. As a result, maternal and child mortality rates are higher, life expectancies are lower and people die younger among indigenous groups.


Children “ringing the bell” for school, Rarotonga, Cook Islands

It is hoped that more progress will be made to urge all governments to better prioritize the lives and livelihoods of indigenous peoples in policy planning and to offer more opportunities for their participation in policy planning and implementation. There is also a need and desire for governments to gather, analyze and disseminate accurate and disaggregated data on indigenous groups for sound policy formulation.


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Te Maeva Nui Celebrations- Cook Islands

The Te Maeva Nui celebrations on Rarotonga, Cook Islands, began last week and will continue to run for about nine days ending on August 6, 2016.

The Cook Islands Constitution Celebrations is the nation’s celebration of nationhood, self- government and independence. Held annually around the national day of 4th August since 1965, it is the one event that involves the whole country, all the islands, vaka, oire and tapere. Since 2001, it has been re-named as Te Maeva Nui, in recognition of the cultural basis upon which the event is based. It has also developed into an event with significant public participation and therefore economic activity, creating the environment and potential for investment and returns. The celebrations include a float parade & opening ceremony, international night, choir competition, island days and cultural performances.

Several Te Maeva Nui participants say they’re enjoying the spirit of sharing their culture and camaraderie among the teams and the 2016 festival already has an atmosphere of unity and joy.

The event typically starts with a colorful float parade along the main road of Avarua, on Rarotonga. Click here to view some pictures of the parade.


The cultural performances will feature original compositions, original choreography and original costumes, take place throughout the celebrations. In addition to the Imene Tuki  (known as the”hymn of grunts” which is a traditional hymn of the Cook Islands. It is unaccompanied singing noted for a drop in pitch at the end of phrases, and rhythmic nonsensical syllables, comparable to Scat singing. Similar nonsense syllables and improvisations are found in Tahitian Himene tarava) and Choir sections these performances display unique and vibrant performances in 4 categories:

  1. Ura Pau – Fast upbeat dance displaying stamina, creativity and endurance of the dance team to a composer rhythm of the drums.
  2. Kapa Rima – Slow pace item showcasing technique and grace in the hand movements of the dancers.
  3. Ute –Traditional chant, all performers sit in a U‐shaped formation with the women sitting down in the middle and men standing up around them.
  4. Pe’e ‐ Traditional chant performance showcasing the strength, courage and unity of the island performing.

All these performances portray a sense of Cook Islands Culture through the art of dance displaying strength, courage, uniqueness and many other traits that all Cook Islander possess.

Click here to access the official program.


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