University of Auckland bestows honourary doctorate on revered academic ‘Epeli Hau’ofa

The University of Auckland is to bestow a posthumous honourary doctorate on the late Professor ‘Epeli Hau’ofa.

Epeli Hau‘ofa at the Oceania Centre for Arts and Culture, University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji, 21 April 2006. Photo by Ann Tarte.

Hau’ofa was described at the time of his death by the Sydney Morning Herald as an “inspirational writer, satirist and scholar  . . . . truly a man of the Pacific, one of the region’s leading writers who promoted a positive vision of Oceanian culture and history.”

Tongan academic Dr Melanaite Taumoefolau said the university would honour Professor Hau’ofa at a graduation ceremony at the Fale Pasifika on Saturday October 14.

The ceremony will be held from 10am to midday followed by lunch.

Dr Taumoefolau said there would be a small kava circle with Dr Malakai Koloamatangi and Professor ‘Okusi Māhina and a few others.

It is expected there will be about 100-150 guests, mostly Tongan academics and family from the community.

The ceremony will begin with a prayer, followed by speakers who are expected to include  Tongan poet and academic Konai Thaman and Sione Tu’itahi.

This will be followed by foaki e mata’itohí, then entertainments from TAUA Tongan students Association. Sione Tu’itahi will be MC.

Hauʻofa was born in Papua New Guinea to Tongan missionary parents. He went to school in PNG, Tonga and Fiji and then attended the University of New England and the Australian National University in Australia and McGill University in Canada. He graduated from the ANU with a PhD in social anthropology.

He taught at the University of Papua New Guinea and was a research fellow at the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji. From 1978 to 1981 he was keeper of the palace records in his role as Deputy Private Secretary to King Tupou IV.

While in Tonga he and his wife Barbara edited the literary magazine Faikava. He became the first director of USP’s Rural Development Centre, based in Tonga, in 1981.

He taught sociology at USP in Suva, eventually becoming Head of the Department of Sociology. In 1997, Hauʻofa founded the university’s Oceania Centre for Arts and Culture. Through the centre he was mentor to a new generation of artists, sculptors, dancers and musicians at the USP in Suva.

Hau’ofa was a noted writer. His books included Mekeo: Inequality and Ambivalence in a Village Society, based on his PhD thesis, a novel, Kisses in the Nederends and probably his best known work, Tales of the Tikongs, a lively satire of contemporary South Pacific life, featuring multinational experts, religious fanatics, con men, villagers and corrupt politicians.

Hauʻofa died in Suva on January 11, 2009. At the time of his death, an academic colleague said “his vision and person were extraordinary.”

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