ICAS 2017 Annual Report


Funafuti, Tuvalu

For those of you who are interested, the 2017 ICAS Annual Report is now available to review on our Website. You can access the report, as well as previous annual reports, by simply clicking here.  Some of the highlights from last year include:

Throughout 2017 we ran a series of Pacific Islands Legends that appeared on our WordPress and Facebook pages and attracted many viewers. The goal of this project was to allow readers to become familiar with intriguing and fascinating legends of the region. Artist, Tara Bonvillain, provided the illustrations for each of the stories. In 2018 we plan to have an art exhibition on the ICAS Website showcasing Tara’s incredible artwork.

Our blog, “Island Time,” on WordPress continued to attract many readers throughout the year. Since the start of the blog, we have published 349 posts. Here are some of the most viewed posts of 2017:
“Introducing: The New Palau Archives” January 2017
“New Museum Opens on Rarotonga” February 2017
“Traditional Celebrations for Yap Day” March 2017
“Passing on the Art of Making Mats in Fiji” May 2017
“Preservation of the Niuean Language” June 2017
“Weaving Festival on Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands” August 2017
“Vanuatu’s Customary Taro and Yam Exchange” November 2017
“Preserving Indigenous Pacific Languages” December 2017

People from over 100 countries worldwide visited the post. This practically covered every country in the world! The most visitors came from the United States, Australia New Zealand, Germany and Guam. We even had a few visitors from countries such as Finland, India and Latvia.


Executive Director, Brandon Oswald, had a book published by Dockside Sailing Press titled Mr. Moonlight of the South Seas. The book describes the adventurous life of
American author Robert Dean Frisbie, who lived in the South Seas from 1920 until his death in 1948. Although he is part of a long line of South Seas writers that began with Herman Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson, Frisbie managed to do
what very few of these writers could do — after going to the Pacific, he stayed there for the rest of his life. He first arrived in Tahiti, French Polynesia, where he met author James Norman Hall. The two would remain friends for the rest of
their lives. Hall and Charles Nordhoff wrote Mutiny on the Bounty and later the Bounty Trilogy. After four years in Tahiti, Frisbie left for the tiny atoll of Pukapuka, Cook Islands, where he hoped the solitude would enable him to write his
masterpiece. Frisbie embraced life there; he married, had children and lived a life completely different from those of his American contemporaries. He was also a contemporary of James Michener. Frisbie’s writings would put Pukapuka on
the map and his adventures would become the stuff of Pacific Islands’ lore.


The book is currently part of the San Diego Public Library 52nd Annual Local Author Showcase and is also on display at the library’s Online Exhibit.

The ICAS 2017 Annual Report also features reports from projects and conferences that truly highlight our mission.


Pacific Harbour, Fiji

Thank you to all those who made 2017 an awesome year. Looking forward to an extraordinary 2018!

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Traditional Pacific Storytelling in New Zealand

A couple of months ago I came across an interesting article on the Radio New Zealand Website that was written by Sela Jane Hopgood. It was about sharing traditional Pacific stories throughout New Zealand where a large population of Pacific Islanders reside.

The instigator of Moana Pacific Storytelling says she saw a need for traditional Pacific tales to be told in Aotearoa New Zealand. Pacifica Arts Center’s project manager Tuaratini Ra’a gathered Pacific storytellers to share the lore of the region, including the classic Samoan myth, “Sina and the Eel.”

Stories from Cook Islands, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu was present at the Corban Estate Arts Centre in west Auckland. Ms Ra’a said the Pacifica Mamas, a group of women who travel around New Zealand teaching Pacific culture, was her motivation for this event.

“I started storytelling for the Mamas in 2008 when I worked for their Pacific experience program. One day we were hosting a workshop for school kids around the ‘Sina and the eel’ tale and our Niuean mama usually tells that story. However, she was away sick and so I was thrown in the deep end and stepped in her place on the day. Since then, storytelling has stuck with me,” Ms. Ra’a said.

The event was part of the Pacifica Mamas exhibition called ‘Turou’ meaning the call from our ancestors, and featured in the Pacific Heritage Arts Fono (PHAF 2017). Ms. Ra’a was approached by the director of the Pacifica Arts Center, Jacinda Stowers-Ama, to bring storytelling to the community during the fono.


Fire-walkers walking over hot stones, Fiji

The theme for the PHAF 2017 was transmission, preserving, developing and passing on Pacific heritage art forms. Ms. Ra’a asked Tongan academic Hufanga Professor Doctor ‘Okusitino Mahina to represent the Kingdom of Tonga. She said it took some convincing to get Dr. Mahina on board, due to the different styles of storytelling from the Pacific. He said that Tongan storytelling is a dying art and that Tongans don’t do it the way Cook Island people do it.

Ms. Ra’a told him, “No I don’t want you to do it the way I do it. I want to know how stories are told in Tonga.” He said, “Well we tell stories all the time in my faikava group.”

“Can you imagine the kind of stories that come out of the kava bowl?” she asked. Ms. Ra’a wanted to prove that stories in the Pacific language would not be a barrier for the audience to understand.

Pacific poet, writer and musician Daren Kamali represented Fiji, with his bilingual story written on Masi or tapa cloth. Mr. Kamali was initially worried the audience would not understand the plot due to it being in Fijian and English.

Ms. Ra’a told all her storytellers for the event that people tend to observe the storyteller’s facial expressions, gestures and body movement to get the gist. “It’s a rare opportunity to get a taste of this authentic style of storytelling and you won’t see this in the theaters. It is truly an expression of identity, an expression of culture, a vehicle for the language,” she said.

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Melanesian Arts Festival Committee Resumes Planning

Mark your calendar!

Solomon Islands will host the 6th Melanesian Arts and Culture Festival (MACFest) from July 1 to 10, 2018 on the theme “Past Recollections; Future Connections.”  The event is programmed to coincide with the country’s 40th Independence Anniversary.

MACFest was one of the outcome resolutions of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) Ministers meeting in Honiara late last year. During Ministers summit the group also agreed upon MSG countries to provide assistance to support the host country.

The main Committee will be supported by a number of technical sub-committees in various areas including Events, Accommodation, Catering, Health, Security, Quarantine & Customs, Media & Promotions, Protocol, Finance and Logistics.

MAFNOC Chair and Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Culture and Tourism Andrew Nihopara said the Committee is working hard to ensure that all tasks are completed a month before the event.


This week the Committee has focused attention on its budget to ensure the limited funds provided by the Government are strategically spent to host a better and successful festival.

Approximately 2000 delegates from the five MSG countries (Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and New Caledonia) will be attending the event. The Solomon Islands will have 300 delegates. Also there will be invited delegates from West Papua, Timor Leste, and Torres Strait Island of Australia. West Papua has been granted an observer status at the MSG meeting.

The Solomon Islands was the first MSG country to host the Melanesian Arts Festival in 1998. After this inaugural event, the festival has been held every four years on rotational basis in the five Melanesian Countries.

The Festival was conceived in 1995 by the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) to promote and preserve Melanesian cultures, traditions, values and contemporary arts in the region.

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USP Turns 50

I’ve done a lot of volunteer work at the University of South Pacific (USP) over the past several years particularly with the Media Center Archives. I’m proud to announce that the school has a series of events earmarked for the year to commemorate its 50th anniversary.


A Fijian Bure on the campus of USP

The university was set up in 1968 and is owned by the Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Samoa. It is one of only two regionally owned universities in the world.

The Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, Dame Meg Taylor, said: “We must acknowledge and celebrate the vision of our leaders, who began this journey half a century ago, to provide our peoples with higher learning on our shores; cultivating a common sense of identity based on our shared history and geography, and recognizing that we would achieve more together than individually.” She said the USP remained a flourishing symbol of the Pacific’s determination to do and think for itself. Dame Meg said the institution had made a vital contribution, producing generations of leaders academics and public servants.

Today, celebrations were launched with an opening of a time capsule containing important documents and letters from the university students and management in 1997. Other events planned out for the year include memorials, travelling exhibitions, seminar series, library focus weeks, open days, quiz nights, and conferences and dinners.

President of Fiji Major General (Ret’d) Jioji Konrote today launched the University of the South Pacific’s 50th anniversary and opened the 1997 time capsule at the Laucala Campus in Suva. He highlighted the anniversary marked the legacy of leadership that USP maintained throughout the years. Meanwhile, USP vice-chancellor Professor Rajesh Chandra said the 50th anniversary was a milestone for the university and it was looking to perform better and deliver more to the region in the future.

Emeritus geography professor, Randy Thaman, has taught there since 1974. He said the USP had been very successful in providing education to the region, and part of the reason for that is it brings together students from the 12 member countries. “You almost have a USP Mafia. I say that in a good way although sometimes it can be bad, that have these relationships built up over 40 years or so. For example in the time I have been here I have probably taught five or six PMs and presidents of countries and they all have relationships with each other.”

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Nauru’s Independence Day

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Nauru gaining its independence from Australia. The island is celebrating the occasion in a grand way with many dignitaries from the around the world arriving on the island to pay their respects.


Where is Nauru?

The Republic of Nauru became an independent nation on January 31, 1968. The date is very significant in the history of Nauru, as this day marked the 22nd anniversary of the return of the Nauruans from Truk. Since then, the Independence Day of Nauru is celebrated as a national holiday.

In the years leading to its independence, Nauru had been ruled and governed by a number of nations. Towards the end of the 19th century, Nauru was colonized by Germany. The Germans soon discovered Nauru’s huge phosphorus reserves and started mining its natural resources. After the end of World War I, Nauru was governed jointly by Australia, New Zealand, and Great Britain, in accordance with the League of Nations mandate.

During World War II, Japan occupied Nauru and used it as an air base. Post World War II, Nauru was again placed under the governance of these three nations, Australia, New Zealand, and Great Britain, with Australia providing the actual administration.

After the Japanese troops captured Nauru on March 22, 1945, they sent 1200 Nauruans to the Chuuk Islands as laborers. Following the defeat of the Japanese, 737 Nauruans returned to their homeland on January 31, 1946. To commemorate this historic event, January 31 was chosen as the Independence Day of Nauru.

A former Nauru MP now living in New Zealand, Roland Kun, says the 50th anniversary is a big deal and it’s right that the people are marking the occasion, but he agrees the island remains economically reliant on Australia. “Nauru is also hosting the offshore processing center for asylum seekers in partnership with Australia and that is bringing in a significant part of the economic base of the country at present. Unfortunately, as that happens, I am of the view that a large part of the development work on the island has fallen on the wayside.”


Flag of Nauru

The national flag of Nauru was chosen through a local design competition. The flag depicts the geographical position of Nauru, a degree below the equator. Equator is represented by a golden horizontal line while Nauru is represented by 12-pointed white star. While each of the 12 indigenous tribes of the island symbolizes a point, the white color represents phosphate, the source of this island nation’s wealth. The flag has a blue background, which symbolizes the Pacific Ocean.

Happy Birthday Nauru!

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How the Bat Got Its Wings

Our first Pacific Islands Legend of the new year comes to us from Fiji. I found the story in the book Tales from the South Seas. Bats in the region are also known as the flying fox, and believe me, some of them seem to be as big as a fox! If you ever wondered how the bat got its wings, then, please, read on…

How the Bat Got Its Wings

In the olden days there was a rat who became tired of running to and fro upon his short little legs. He envied the beautiful wings of the heron, and watched it fly from rock to rock as it fished for food at low tide. One day he thought of a plan, and asked the heron to have a race with him, and the heron agreed. They chose a bay where the sand was firm and on which the rat could run easily, and the heron allowed the rat to start first.

“You are very kind,” said the rat. “See, here under this tree it is cool and shady. Rest here awhile and sleep a little, for you fly so swiftly. When you think that I have gone about half way, wake up and follow, for it will not be difficult for you to catch up with me with those strong wings of yours.”


“How the Bat Got Its Wings,” Illustration courtesy of Tara Bonvillain, copyright 2017.

So the heron folded his wings and went to sleep under the tree and the rat set off in the direction of the winning-stone. He had not gone far, however, before he stopped and looked round to see if the heron was asleep. Then running back he quietly started to gnaw off the heron’s wings. The heron having eaten a large meal slept soundly and did not wake. When the rat had finished has task he fastened the wings to his own furry body, turning himself into a “flying fox” or bat, and flew off.

By and by the heron awoke, and finding that his wings had gone he uttered sad cries and ran about peering here and there under stones and behind bushes looking for them, but not even a feather could he find.

It is said that in olden days there was a wingless bird in these islands that looked like the kiwi. We have not seen him nor do we know where he has gone. But ask the bat- he knows!

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Digital Cultural Heritage

Over the weekend I came across a (portion?) of an article from Kirk Huffman about digital modern technology and traditional heritage collections that I believe was a must to post as soon as possible. The text below might be found on the ICH Courier Online: Intangible Cultural Heritage Courier of Asia and the Pacific Website, although it’s tough to tell.

Nevertheless, the text is quite intriguing and is a terrific reminder to all of us in charge of safeguarding cultural heritage. If we are digitizing materials such as documents, photos, films, and audio, do not throw away the originals!


From the National Archives of Fiji

Modern digital technology is a useful tool for the listing of and work on cultural heritage, but it does have disadvantages as well. First of all, it should not be confused with ‘the real thing’, which is living culture (i.e. ongoing traditional cultural practices). The best way to ensure that culture, and intangible culture, survives, is to make sure that it is passed on to the next generation in the proper way. If you are from an oral culture, then it should be passed on orally. That is normal. ‘Digitizing’ it, etc, is useful and can be so in cultural renewal/re-awakening/re-vitalization and can also be seen as a safety back-up measure. It does have, though, the advantage – or disadvantage –  of making  that  cultural information potentially more easily available worldwide through the internet.

Therein lies, however, one of the dangers of this wondrous modern technology. It has the possibility of making free for everyone cultural information that may not necessarily be free to openly distribute. Many Melanesian – and Aboriginal – cultures, for example, have highly-developed levels of knowledge access prohibitions and secrecy which need to be protected. It may therefore not be in the interests of those particular cultures to have much  of their cultural information put in digital form. Once it is put in electronic form, moreover, it will never be completely safe, in spite of what the technocrats may tell you.

Many foreign academics may say that such and such a digitization project is being done to ‘benefit the creator communities’. In some cases this may be true and could be very worthwhile, but one should also bear in mind that most ‘creator communities’ in, say, Melanesia, may have very limited access to electricity and the digital world, if any at all. The  spread of mobile phone technology throughout Melanesia is rapidly changing aspects of this situation, but poses real problems for protection of traditional knowledge. In general, digital approaches to culture, at least at this point in history, tend to currently benefit foreign art and cultural researchers – and art dealers – just as much, if not more-so than various creator communities.

Even in electronic form, the information may not be as ‘permanent’ as the digital industry would like one to believe. Libraries, archives, photo, film and sound collections that have been digitized are easy to work with, but periodically will have to be digitally ‘upgraded’ (so that the files are still readable) as new formats take over. Many Pacific museums and cultural centers may not regularly be able to afford the time, the expertise and expense of doing this, time after time, ‘until the end of time’, so to speak. It is hard – and will be increasingly expensive – work.

There is also the little-talked-about problem of digital ‘loss’/’rot’/’bleed’, where the edges of the digital riches being upgraded each time suffer a certain amount of damage. After a number of centuries, this loss may be increasingly noticeable. If the ‘original’ document is, say, a rare 13th century parchment, it will still be just about the same (if properly looked after). No-one yet knows if the same will be able to be said about digital data 800 years in the future. Sadly, much of it may have vanished not just through digital upgrade problems but also through the fact that the institutions responsible for the digital collections may have disappeared or collapsed themselves. Don’t forget, ‘even Google and Facebook will not be around forever’!

Most modern civilizations don’t seem to last that long, either (but traditional oral cultures do tend to outlive and outlast the modern ones – if only the modern ones will let them alone!). 

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