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BYU-Hawaii group visits USP's main campus in Fiji

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Debra Frampton | World Communities Instructor | 9 August 2007

SUVA, Fiji — On Tuesday, August 7, the team of 13 BYU-Hawaii history instructors and librarians traveling through Fiji and New Zealand for professional development were wowed by the University of the South Pacific campus here in Fiji's capital.

This main campus — the hub of 14 regional campuses located all across the Pacific — is aesthetically breathtaking. "The landscape is so well integrated with the architecture of the buildings," said recently hired BYU-Hawaii professor of Southeast Asian Studies, Michael Murdock. "It makes everything feel open, spacious and natural."

Established in 1968, now with an enrollment of over 10,000 students, USP shares a similar vision with BYU-Hawaii in that it wants to educate students who will go back to their home countries well prepared to be leaders and administrators.

After a tour of the campus, the BYU-Hawaii teachers were led to the Oceania Centre for Arts and Culture to meet Epeli Hau'ofa, author of Our Sea of Islands, which is required reading for all History 202 classes. Hau'ofa's writings seek to shift the way Pacific Islanders perceive and label themselves. He argues for a regional identity, Oceania, which includes the ocean as an essential component of the Pacific island territory and resists allowing outsiders to define them as little islands in the vast sea, rendering them powerless. He encourages islanders to define themselves as a sea of islands, unified and empowered by the vast ocean which unites them.

Hau'ofa, who jokingly refers to himself as the "old chief — or just the old man," no longer writes and teaches, but focuses all of his energy on running the Oceania Centre at USP. "I used to open my big mouth and make a lot of noise," said Hau'ofa, "but I gave up academics 15 years ago so I could practice what I preach."

Hau'ofa explained that the Centre is not a teaching facility. Students, usually from humble backgrounds, come to create art that is genuine and unique to Pacific island culture. The building itself is small and open, as much outside as inside, without walls or doors. According to Hau'ofa, this recreates a familiar environment and allows the students to create their art freely and naturally.

BYU-Hawaii's Darren Duerden in Suva, FijiHe invited the BYU-Hawaii group to roam around and interact with the various artists, or simply stand back and observe them all working simultaneously side by side: some dancing, some picking at the guitar, some painting on large vivid murals.

Darren Duerden, BYU-Hawaii music professor and percussionist, marveled at Calvin Rore's unique creation of pan pipes played with the back of a slipper; while Michael Murdock, James Tueller and David Beus talked story with the Centre's carver and mentor, Paula Ligo.

Ligo is originally from the Lau Islands group of Fiji. He began his carving career by selling traditional handicrafts before moving into the serious art world. Now he carves whatever comes to mind and his art is considered quite abstract. In fact, his colleagues often poke fun at him for his loose interpretations of his subjects, but fans appreciate his fresh perspective and his original works are in high demand.

It was like a jolt of electricity to be around so much incredible creativity in one spot; but the highlight for me, as an English teacher, was getting Hau'ofa to sign one of my favorite books, Tales of the Tikong — a brilliant book!

Photos by Debra Frampton: (Top, left) Epeli Hau'ofa; (lower right) Darren Duerden inspects a percussion instrument