Fijian Author Calls for More Narratives

Although my heart go out to those in the Pacific Islands who are impacted by the rising cases of Covid-19, as well as Cyclone Harold, which has ravaged Vanuatu, Fiji and heading towards Tonga, I thought I would return with providing more uplifting cultural news from region.

A couple of weeks ago Sela Jan Hopgood wrote an article for Radio New Zealand about how a Fijian author, Paulini Turagabeci, who recently published her debut novel The River, said she hoped that the book will inspire more Fijians to take up writing.

Ms Turagabeci said more Fijian stories were needed to encourage the younger generation. “I hope that other people in the community recognise the essence of themselves in the pages of my new book. I hope they smile when they recognize a place, Fijian idiom or slang, and I hope it inspires others to start writing.”

Ms Turagabeci said when her father heard the news that his grandson was born, he started day dreaming about activities they would do together – including eating fish and chips. “As soon as I heard fish and chips, the whole story line started playing out in my head, with a few twists and turns.”


She said the book’s premise was about a man running away from a past that he was not proud of. “Ilai, the protagonist, loses his wife and daughter in a tragic car accident and is left to raise his grandson alone. He thinks that running away from his past by moving to a new home will solve his problems, but the ghosts of his past resurface in his new home, threatening to separate him from his grandson. His choices will determine if there is healing and forgiveness or if his grandson will also have to carry the burden of his folly.”

The book took three months to be completed and was published in December 2019. “What helped me finish the book in such a timely manner was sticking to a routine. I think all writers can attest that sticking to a routine works for them. I am also a new mum and that means not having a hectic social life, so my energy was spent looking after my son, my home, and writing.”

Ms Turagabeci said she did not see as many Fijian female writers as she would hope to see nowadays. “I feel the word author doesn’t get thrown around a lot in Fiji. Most of the time, authors are holding down a full-time job as well and claim their title to be of that job as oppose to being labelled as an author.”

“Being a full-time author is not the easiest, but when you are passionate about something, money is secondary.”

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Easter Island Turns to Tradition Against Covid 19

Rapa Nui (Easter Island), which is one of the most isolated islands on earth, is not immune to the Covid 19 virus. In fact, as of April 1, the island has confirmed another three cases of Covid-19 coronavirus, bringing its total to five.

An indigenous Rapa Nui resident said those affected are Chilean migrants who all live in the same house. Karen Rapu said she doesn’t know if they’re relatives or friends. “They are in quarantine in their home. The whole island is in quarantine. We are permitted to go out, only for important things, between 5am and 2pm. Some things like mini-markets, bank, gas station.”

Karen Rapu says they’re allowed to open between 8 and 12 in the morning but she’s not sure if this will continue given the new cases.

However, the Agence- France Presse (AFP) recently reported that inhabitants of Easter Island are leaning on a traditional form of ancestral discipline to overcome the coronavirus-imposed lockdown that threatens the Pacific island’s vital tourism sector, and consequently their livelihoods.

Situated 3,500 kilometers (2,200 miles) off the coast of Chile, the island of 7,750 people is renowned for its giant humanoid monoliths called moais that were sculpted from basalt more than 1,000 years ago.

The local population can ill afford the outbreak to spread with just one hospital and three ventilators on the island. Faced with this crisis, the locals have turned to the Tapu, an ancient tradition based on taking care of oneself that has been passed down through generations of the native Rapa Nui people.

“To accompany this self-care concept, we’re applying the Rapa Nui tradition, an ancestral rule based on sustainability and respect,” said the island’s mayor Pedro Edmunds. “It’s called Tapu. You can hear about this concept in all the Polynesian islands.”


Where is Easter Island? Map from

Tapu is a complex concept related to secrecy, rules and prohibitions from which the English word “taboo” derives. “If you say the word Tapu to a Polynesian, they will immediately tell you why we have to do Tapu. That’s precisely because they know and understand what it signifies,” said Edmunds.

It means that the island’s lockdown has been diligently respected, leading to the virus being prevented from spreading far and wide. “We’ve applied the Tapu concept for all Rapa Nui and the acceptance has been incredible,” said Edmunds.

“The virus is contained in two families in the same area, so we know where they are, who they are, and they’ve been respecting the (isolation) protocols since the beginning,” Edmunds told AFP.

Plan B

With streets, beaches and parks deserted, the indigenous inhabitants have turned to the knowledge passed down through generations to deal with the crisis.

Some indigenous Rapa Nui inhabitants have already adapted to their new circumstances and started to cultivate their land, like their ancestors did, said Sabrina Tuki, who has worked in tourism for 20 years. “Our family and many families are already applying a Plan B and we’ve already started planting,” said Tuki, whose regular work has completely ground to a halt.

Everyone is worried about the coming months. Edmunds says the island’s inhabitants can last for a month with the borders closed. But at the end of April, 3,000 people “will be seen begging in the streets for food from some local or national authority, because they won’t be able to eat,” said Edmunds.

It won’t be the Rapa Nui, though, according to Edmunds, because the community has begun to rally together behind its concept of Tapu. But the island’s other inhabitants, who make up around half the population and mostly work in the service industry, will be in trouble.

The mayor doesn’t expect the recovery to come until August, when tourists would return to the islands. When it does restart, he’s expecting a reduced capacity compared to the two flights a week the island was welcoming until three weeks ago.

Only one airline, Latam, operated the five-hour flights from the continent, but like many airlines its business has been hard hit by the virus.

“We’re all affected; the whole chain, from the biggest agency to the craftsman,” said Samuel Atan, a hiking guide who says the crisis caught everyone unawares. The pandemic has highlighted the fragility of such a remote location. Without state subsidies, many could not survive, Edmunds says.


Moais on Easter Island- picture from

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More Pacific Nations Heightened Alert from Covid 19

Last week I gave an update on how some of the Pacific Island Nations are dealing with Coronavirus. Below is an update from a few other Island Nations that I missed last week. Social distancing is unimaginable in this sociable region where Pacific Islanders are constantly hugging, embracing, sharing, shaking hands, etc.

Stay Safe!

I promise to get back to culturally relevant stories from the Pacific Islands soon. I promise!

Cook Islands:

The country’s Covid-19 alert status was upgraded to Code Yellow. The security status is timed to coincide with Parliament passing new emergency laws to provide health authorities with the power to control people’s movement. Prime Minister Henry Puna said, “And because our borders are open with New Zealand, which is a must for us, we need to mobilise to the next level. No doubt there will be additional measures that government will be required to make. This is about being prepared.”

Code Yellow empowers authorities to open a 24/7 National Emergency Operations Centre, and to take targeted action to delay widespread transmission of the virus.


On 14 March Governor Leon Guerrero declared a public health emergency. She had also issued several executive orders to close non-essential businesses, government agencies, parks and beaches and for people to limit physical. The governor had also appealed to Washington for test kits and financial assistance.


According to the Ministry of Health there is one person under investigation “who was seen at the Belau National Hospital and may be infected with the coronavirus.

The government said the public should remain calm and continue to practice preventive measures including hand-washing, proper coughing etiquette and social distancing.


The Ministry of Health is continuing to send out warnings and advice for the country to adhere to as it fights to keep Samoa free from the killer Covid-19 pandemic.

“We are undertaking active surveillance to detect cases of Covid-19 in Samoa early,” said Ministry of Health.

The Ministry also encourages all persons who have travelled or transited through countries affected by Covid-19 to monitor themselves for the development of fever, cough and shortness of breath. “We are all at risk for Covid-19, especially persons 60 years and over with underlying health conditions.”

Solomon Islands:

The Solomon Islands government has extended a school closure notice, previously only for institutions in the capital Honiara and Guadalcanal, to the rest of the country.

The Solomon Star reported the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Education, Franco Rodie issued the directive, as part of the country’s Covid-19 response strategy.


All kava bars are expected to be closed starting today (Tuesday) and throughout the State of Emergency (SOE) period. There will be no more kava consumption in public areas in municipal areas throughout the country.

This measure to control the spread of coronavirus in Vanuatu will be made official in an instruction which will be signed by the Caretaker Minister responsible for the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO), Bruno Lengkon.

Wallis and Futuna:

Customary leaders in Wallis and Futuna have called for the territory’s complete isolation by stopping all shipping in the face of the Covid-19 threat. To date the territory had no confirmed Covid-19 cases and passenger air links had been suspended, allowing only freight to be flown in. Shipping services had been reduced to allow only fuel supplies and the off-loading of containers, but there were calls to stop them completely.

The prefect Thierry Queffelec has told the local broadcaster some supplies were still needed, saying a container or a box didn’t kill. He said it was not the time to put one’s head in the sand but to trust science and share its findings. Meanwhile the territorial assembly approved the release of $US160,000 to assist residents stuck overseas.


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Pacific Nations on Heightened Alert from Covid-19

As the Coronavirus begins to spread throughout the Pacific and more Island Nations are reporting more cases, I thought I’d take the time to share some of the ways how the Pacific countries are taking proactive measures to control the spread of Covid-19 in the region, amid the global pandemic. Most of these updates come from Radio New Zealand:

American Samoa:

In American Samoa, all schools are closed and gatherings are restricted to no more than 10 people from today. In a television address last night, Governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga said the government was doing everything to protect people from the coronavirus.

Under the new alert level – Code Blue – all education institutes will be closed, public service work hours staggered, and public gatherings suspended.

Under the heightened security restrictions, all public parks and sports fields are also closed.


Fiji Airways has suspended all international flights due to the coronavirus crisis. The suspensions will be in place until the end of May. The airline said the shutdown of its international flights was necessary to respect the various border control restrictions now in place including from its Nadi hub.

Also, the Fijian government announced a ban on any gatherings of 20 or more people. Workplaces, banks, supermarkets, open-air markets, pharmacies and other areas where essential services are offered are okay for now, given you keep a safe distance apart.

French Polynesia:

The government has unveiled an economic support package to cushion the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak. Economics Minister Teva Rohfritsch said that would give relief to businesses and benefit those who are out of work.

Various taxes due by businesses can be deferred by two to three months.

Employees who are out of work are eligible for $US1000 a month.

A special allocation of $US500 is being made available for families in difficulty and urgent situations.

The public has also been assured that during the next three months there will be no cuts to water, power and phones for failing to pay the bills.

Canteens will be open at some schools to prepare meals for the poor and homeless.

He said the government goes as far as it can go, noting the assistance is falling short of what some demanded.


Hawaiian Airlines has announced the reduction of its long-haul flights to the US mainland and to American Samoa starting this week, when Hawai’i starts its 14-day quarantine requirement due to the pandemic.

Travellers into the US state will have to serve 14 days in quarantine.

Hawaiian Air has committed to providing one daily nonstop flight between Honolulu and Los Angeles and one flight between Honolulu and American Samoa in order to provide baseline of out-of-state access.

New Caledonia:

More than 1000 people have been in isolation in hotels, but some of them have been allowed to leave under strict conditions.

Restrictions on movements have been in force in the French territory since Monday midnight.

To cope with the economic impact, the government has asked France to give it half a billion US dollars as a gesture of national solidarity.

The government has assured the public that there is no shortage of supplies and that cash machines will remain stocked.

Restrictions will come into force at midnight on Tuesday morning, meaning all meetings and events will be banned for two weeks.

Papua New Guinea:

Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister James Marape has declared a national state of emergency and warned the public to prepare for a two-week national lockdown.

Mr Marape said as part of the state of emergency all domestic flights in the country would be grounded from tomorrow and all public transportation on the country’s roads are asked to cease operations.

All schools in the country are also being closed.

“Starting Tuesday 24th of March this country will come to a lockdown for a period of 14 days,” he said.

Solomon Islands:

The Solomon Islands government yesterday closed the country’s border to non-citizens as a preventative measure against the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.

The country is yet to register a case of Covid-19. Samples from three suspected cases sent to Australia last week all came back negative for the coronavirus.

Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said the border closure was a necessary precaution to try and prevent the entry of the coronavirus and also to prepare health authorities to respond to an outbreak if it did get through.

The government was implementing price control measures for basic goods and essential services and would take all necessary measures and actions to first prevent and – if it comes to it – control the infection and spread of Covid-19 while also maintaining economic and social stability.


The government is using a two week border closure to set up essential measures to cope with Covid-19 – should it arrive.

The government has closed the country off to all incoming flights until at least 6 April.

That would be to set up testing facilities, to train people for the response, and to prepare protective measures for health workers.

“This step is absolutely necessary for us to make sure that every citizen remains where they are. I do not intend to raise hype and tension and panic. It is just about you staying at home so we can take stock,” he said.

Health ministry chief executive Siale ‘Akau’ola said supplies were being freighted to the country.

“There should be ample time for medical equipment and protective clothing for medical officers to be delivered to Tonga on a cargo aircraft, enabling us to be ready for when the virus arrives.”

In addition to the training of civil servants, there is also a government move to reactivate community cluster groups that were last formed during the 2018 Cyclone Gita to assist the community efforts, Matangi Tonga reports.

Asian Development Bank:

Meanwhile, the Asian Development Bank is considering the deployment of a $US6.5 billion Covid-19 rescue package for developing countries, including those in the Pacific.

The director general of the bank’s Pacific Department, Leah Gutierrez, said she was closely monitoring how the coronavirus was affecting Pacific countries.

The bank was also in discussions with governments in the Pacific to ensure its aid reflected the health and economic priorities the Pacific was facing.


Everyone be safe!

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Pacific Artists Inspired by Tupaia Exhibition

Radio New Zealand recently posted an article written by Christine Rovoi about how Pacific Islanders who visited an exhibition about Tahitian navigator Tupaia, said they have been inspired to share his story.

Tupaia and the Endeavour at Auckland Museum tells the story of the navigator’s journey to New Zealand with Captain Cook in 1769. The exhibition followed last year’s Tuia 250 Voyage, a 10-week journey around New Zealand by three seafaring vaka and a replica of Cook’s Endeavour.


The voyage commemorated 250 years since Cook and Tape arrived in 1769. The voyage also recognised the Pacific voyagers who reached Aotearoa New Zealand many years earlier. This week, Tupaia’s exhibition was visited by artists due to perform at the cancelled Pasifika Festival. Hawai’i-based Tahitian musician Kainalu Tolentino had not heard of Tupaia prior to arriving in Auckland.

But Mr Tolentino said after visiting the exhibition, he was proud of Tupaia’s achievements and would seek to learn more when he returned home. “I’m trying to educate myself with the experience here as I’ve heard stories so would like to learn more,” he said. “So far I’ve learned that he was on the same ship as Captain Cook.”

Captain Cook was killed in Hawaii in 1779 and Mr Tolentino said a 27-foot Captain Cook Monument sat at the Waimea Bay off Kaua’i Island. He said many Hawaiians did not think very highly of Cook. “It’s not a really good thing for us as Hawaiians because of all of the plagues and diseases he brought,” he said. “For a lot of Hawaiians, it hurts us. But in order for me to learn more, I have to see both sides of the story. I’m here to persuade myself to change my thinking and learn more.”

Ena Manuireva is a cultural advisor from French Polynesia. He said in order for people like Mr Tolentino to learn about Tupaia, the history books on Cook must be re-written to include the Tahitian navigator who accompanied him.

Mr Manuireva said more emphasis needed to be put on Tupaia’s legacy. Mr Manuireva said more emphasis needed to be put on Tupaia’s legacy. He wanted a round-table discussion of all parties involved to work together to tell and spread Tupaia’s story. “What about the person who was next to Cook? What about the Tahitian guy or the savage? What about him? We need to set the record straight. Cook would’ve died if Tupaia didn’t tell him ‘we need to change course otherwise we are going to go down south Antartica and die over there.”

Ingrid Niuola lives in Noumea and said while her Wallisian heritage had little to do with Tupaia, she was happy to share his story with her people. Ms Niuola had not heard of Tupaia. But she said when she learned he was Tahitian, it warmed her heart.”The relation we have with Tahitians is really close,” she said. “For our community, we are trying to get the exhibition to teach us more about Tahitian people.”



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“The Leap of Faith,” Vanuatu

A couple of weeks ago I ran a post about how the Sa tribe on Pentecost Island, Vanuatu, had become famous throughout the world for the land diving ritual (Nagol or N’gol) that occurs every Saturday between April and June.

It’s all about the yams and the Sa tribe’s desire for a bountiful harvest. It’s also, not so subtly, a male fertility ritual, a rite of passage, and a tale of escape and redemption. Each year men of the Sa tribe build a 98-foot tall tower out of jungle wood, climb to the top, and jump off, tethered by vines tied around their ankles. If the vine is too short, he will swing back into the tower. If it’s too long, the land diver will at a minimum experience pain, possibly break some bones, or even die.

Recently, I found the legend that ties-in with this annual event…

The Leap of Faith

Legend has it that a young woman began arguing with her husband, Tamalie. When the argument turned heated, the woman ran from Tamalie, seeking safety in the lush jungle that surrounded the village.

Seeing that her husband had followed in pursuit, the young woman frantically climbed to the top of the tallest tree she could find. But even that could not stop Tamalie from following. As he began making his way to the top of the tree, leaping from branch to branch, the young woman was left with no other option. She threw herself from the top of the tree only to see Tamalie jump right behind her.

Tamalie plummeted to his death. But the young woman was not so foolish as to plummet from her perch unprepared. Before jumping, she had tied vines around her ankles, which broke her fall moments before crashing to the earth, saving her life.

The Leap of Faith (Vanuatu)

“The Leap of Faith,” illustration courtesy of Tara Bonvillain, copyright 2020.

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Samoan Artist Inspiring Others to Paint

Recently Radio New Zealand ran an article written by Sale Jane Hopgood about how a Samoan artist in her eighties hopes to encourage more Pasifika to explore their creative talents.

Pusi Urale, 81, celebrated the female form in her exhibition Mafine which was held at Te Uru Waitākere Contemporary Gallery in West Auckland last month.

For her solo exhibition, Urale has dabbled in acrylic paintings on canvas exploring abstract painting and pointillism, a technique of painting in which small, distinct dots of color are applied in patterns to form an image.

Urale, who is based in Auckland, said her inspiration for the exhibition stemmed from her daughter Sima’s documentary work about velvet painting. “I saw that the people like Gauguin and other Europeans went to the Pacific Islands and painted the female form on velvet, so that gave me the idea to do something like that with the female form on canvas,” she said. “I paint the woman naked, the woman with a baby, a pregnant woman, all kinds of forms.”


Pusi Urale, photo by

Urale has been blind on the right eye for 30 years and her left eye is not as strong as it used to be. She said her eyesight had not stopped her from painting but she had had to improvise ways to be able to work. “I bought myself a table easel to see if that would help with my work, but it doesn’t, so I have tried using equipment to help me see my work better. The best way for me is to put my canvas on the dining table and get very close to it. If it is a big canvas, I move around the dining table.”

Urale has been a practicing artist since her husband died in 2014. One of her daughters, Natasha Urale-Baker, said the new chapter in her mother’s life had been positive and added value to the Pacific art circle. “She is seen as a kaumātua, an elder to the young Pacific artists across New Zealand. She’s like a mentor to them all as well as their nana who asks about their work, how their family are doing, what’s new in their children’s life and so forth.”

Te Uru Contemporary Gallery director, Andrew Clifford, said the response from the public had been enthusiastic. “People have just really responded to the vibrancy of it, but also the amazing story and just the idea, which I think a lot of people hope for, aspirations that we can be just as lively and vibrant as Pusi is at that age. It’s quite inspiring for people to see an exhibition of work from an artist in her eighties and going strong.”


Pusi Urale Painting, photo by

Mr Clifford said Urale had always spoken about the need for opportunities for older people – especially Pasifika – to delve into art. The West Auckland gallery is hosting workshops led by Urale to encourage more participation in the arts. “She has spoken very interestingly about opportunities for older artists and for them to spend time together and do workshop and classes and how many opportunities is or isn’t is targeted to that demographic.”

Pusi Urale was a finalist in the Wallace Art Awards in 2017 and 2018 and sold most of her paintings in her previous solo exhibition on the first day.

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