Creative New Zealand mourns the passing of Pasifika poet, author and historian Teresia Teaiwa
22 Mar 2017
Teresia Teaiwa was a respected and well-loved poet, writer and historian in the Pacific arts community and mentored many young Pasifika people. She was the Director of Va'aomanu Pasifika at Victoria University which provide teaching and research in Pacific knowledge, skills and understandings. She passed away peacefully on Tuesday 21st March 2017 after a short illness.
“We have lost an amazing Pasifika leader in academia and Pacific studies at Victoria University who also embraced her creativity in the Pacific Arts genre of poetry and performing arts and celebrated our Pasifika women identity,” says Hon Luamanuvao Winnie Laban, QSO, member of the Arts Council and Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Pasifika) at Victoria University.
Teresia was born in Honolulu to an I-Kiribati father and an African-American mother and raised in Fiji. Her surname Teaiwa is a name from the island of Tabiteuea in Kiribati, which is the largest island in the Gilbert Islands group.
Over the years, Teresia provided Pacific arts expertise in arts funding for Creative New Zealand. She was a board member of The Conch which recently produced and toured the acclaimed work for theatre, The White Guitar. She was also an active member of PACIFICA, the national organisation of Pasifika women in Aotearoa.
She held a Bachelor of Arts from Trinity College, Washington, DC; a Masters of Arts from the University of Hawai’i and a PhD from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Teresia has lectured at the University of the South Pacific in Suva and was a founding staff member in Pacific Studies at Victoria University of Wellington, the first university in the world to offer Pacific Studies as a major in a BA degree.
Her research interests covered militarism and gender in the Pacific, contemporary issues in Fiji, feminism and women's activism in the Pacific, contemporary Pacific culture and arts and pedagogy in Pacific Studies. In 2014 she received an Ako Aotearoa Tertiary Teaching Excellence award, in recognition of her innovative approaches to Pacific Studies. She was also co-editor of the International Feminist Journal of Politics.
Radio New Zealand reports that Teresia was described by the University of Oregon as "a ground-breaking scholar in the research of the culture of the Pacific Islands" and was acknowledged by The Guardian in 2009 as one of Kiribati's living national icons.
She was the beloved partner of Pacific curator and author Sean Mallon and mother of two sons Manoa and Vaitoa.
A celebration of Teresia’s life and final mass will be held on Saturday 25 March 2017 at 10 am at Holy Family Catholic Church, Mungavin Avenue, Porirua. This will be followed by a private cremation for close family and friends.
On Friday 24 March, Teresia will be lying at Te Herenga Waka Marae, Victoria University of Wellington from 9.30am to 3.00pm for paying last respects before the funeral.