Conference Speakers

Ms. Sitella Rasiga

Ms Sitella Rasiga, a student of the Pacific Theological College with the Young Academics Programme, discusses her “vakatabu” journey with the “Nana” project that she and three of her colleagues started in her village of Nalase in Rewaover a year ago. She drew from her people’s indigenous knowledge of science to construct a land reclamation project that will also stop land erosion along the riverbank beside her village.  As she says, such a project takes time but if we remain true to the spirit of “vakatabu”, about ‘slowing things down’, it will not only good for our people but also for the environment.

Archbishop Dr Peter Loy Chong

Archbishop Dr. Peter Loy Chong, the Catholic Archbishop of Suva, Fiji, explores the vulnerability of our world today. He asks the questions “what is God saying to us today”, and who shall we discern God’s will in our vulnerability”? There is strength in our vulnerability, he argues. The global powers have a far greater responsibility to redress the crisis we face today. He proposes a theology of vulnerability to help us mitigate our vulnerabilities and advocate the duty of the global powers to redress our global vulnerability.

Professor Unaisi Nabobo-Baba

Professor Unasisi Nabobo-Baba, the Acting Vice Chancellor of the Fiji National University, talks about the resilience of her people in Vugalei, Tailevu. She draws from the traditions that gave and continuous to give meaning and purpose to her people, even in times of crisis. These traditions, she argues, not only sustains and strengthens their resilience and agency, but are also counter stories to the frames that just because we are vulnerable, we are assumed to lack resilience and agency.

Professor Jonathan Osorio

Professor Jonathan Osorio, from the University of Hawai’i and Head of Hawai’i studies, argues from a Hawai’i perspective, that even in moments of vulnerability, our long histories in many times, our people develop a language, strategies of survival and an ability to understand and incorporate these moments into our cultures. These, he adds, contain a resiliance that comes from knowledge and a refined sense of being that persists to this day.​ This is highlighted in the activism of his people today in Hawai’i.

Rev. Dr Faafetai Aiava

Rev. Dr. Faafetai Aiava, a Samoan Fiji-based lecturer  in Theology and Ethics at the Pacific Theological College, discusses the traditions that “exemplify slowness (delinked from instant gratification, stillness and maturity (delink from fast-tracked growth}, sustainability (delinked from the deliberate inflation of competition and desire), and responsibility (delinked from the profit driven)”. Using these concepts, he presents a fresh way of looking at “vakatabu” in the context of pause, decay, and rebirth. He stresses two key points: “first, we take the initiative in owning or at least transforming the development trajectories in our respective countries; and, second, we acknowledge that delayed gratification and foregoing some of the low lying fruits are inevitable if the goal is to liberate true knowledge of our past and present selves.” He then presents the command to “be still and know” as a contextual process of rethinking based on a biblical premise of waiting (Ps 46:10) and a vakatabu structure of hope for the future.

Rev. Professor Upolu Vaai

Rev. Professor Upolu Vaai, the Principal of the Fiji-based of the Pacific Theological College in Suva, Fiji, discusses movements. He points out that reading the signs and indicators are critical to these movements. Our people read the “seasonal signals to inform the ‘slowing of time’ and their cycles of ecological cleansing and renewal”. From his Samoa ancestry, he discusses the “intelligence of the regenerative ecological system” around the idea of time. This reading, he argues, gives a different perspective of growth from the current development narrative, and discusses its relevancy and agency in forging a different development pathway.

Dr Sereima Naisilisili

Dr. Sereima Naisilisili, who retired from the University of the South Pacific after more than 20-years of mentoring and teaching, argues that we cannot depend on outsourced solutions to mitigate the crisis we face today. Instead, she urges us to look within our own cultures for workable solutions. She uses her own research and highlights the “iluvatu framework as a liberating space where the purity of renewal and rebirth can spring forth.

Dr Kabini Sanga

Professor Kabini Sanga, from East Malaita in the Solomon Islands, and Mentor, Educator and Lectures in Victoria University, Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand, tells the story of the young girl Sera. He uses saefua, an indigenous gula’alaa, a Mala’ita, storying genre, narrates the experiences of Sera, a mute child as she journeys with her community in a flotilla of vaka (waka). Interacting with her paddle and the environment, Sera explores through questions, the worlds of her mind, experiences and spirit to negotiate the leadership tensions of her world. This is a highly relevant contribution to leadership in the region.

Dr Subashni Kumar

Mrs Runaaz Sharma

Dr. Subashni Kumar, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Language and Literature at the Fiji National University, and Mrs. Runaaz Sharma, a lecturer in the School of Education, Department of Primary and Early Childhood Education at the Fiji National University, discuss the concept of sustainability in Hindu mythology, focusing on coconuts commonly known as nariyal by the Indo-Fijian community in Fiji. The concept of balance and gratitude to mother earth is at the core of the Hinduism. The Sanskiriti shows various pathways to the purification of our mind and body so that we righteously perform our dharmas (duties) and hence pay our rins (debt) for a sustainable and balanced society. The origin of coconut lies in the mythology of trishanku, where the coconut tree signifies the connection between two different realms. The trishanku motif inspires unification of ideas from different cultural and religious practices to provide a post-anthropocentric conceptualisation of sustainability. They propose that in this post anthropocentric era, there is a need to initiate inter-religious/faith dialogues to find parallels that can help conserve our nature and coconuts in Fiji and the pacific.

Dr Joeli Veitayaki

Professor Joeli Veitayaki, retired from the University of the South Pacific, discusses, perhaps, our greatest challenge today: how to live in harmony with each other, and with an environment that can sustain the changing demands and needs of the present and future generations. He proposes a sustainable development code of conduct approach to improve the relationship with the natural environment in local communities in Fiji and the region, and outlines the specific requirements and activities that are necessary for sustainable development now and in the future.

Dr Eci Naisele

Dr. Eci Naisele, from Qoma in Tailevu, discusses humanity’s pivotal role and place in the interconnectedness of three- ecological spaces: “human, mobile creation, and immobile creation”. Using the concept of Sautu, he highlights the obligation of humanity duty in enhancing this inter-connectedness, and the ethics humanity must cultivate. This is a duty owed not only to the ecological wellbeing of creation but also to God.

Professor Anne Pattel-Grey

Professor Anne Pattel-Gray, Head of School of Indigenous Studies of the University of Divinity in Australia, discusses the opportunities that first nations people in Australia and Pasifika, to build a theological platform. One that recognises our cosmology, worldview, and epistemology which informs our theological perspectives to address the injustices that confront indigenous peoples and to bring about the transformative process for change needed to adapt.

Professor David Gegeo

Professor David Gegeo, Professor of Social Sciences and Humanities at the Solomon Islands National University, will be discussing his people’s concept of fa’aabu in the kwara’ae people’s dialect. In particular, he discusses the concept’s relevance and place in indigenous governance, to politics, theology and spirituality, and how such concepts in indigenous societies are relevant to the reimagination of the Pasifika world and the rebalancing of our ecological life. He proposes an inter-related framework of politics, theology and spirituality that may help us navigate through the present ecological crisis.

Dr. Seu'ula Johansson-Fua

Mr Albert Seluka

Dr Frances Koya-Vaka'uta

Dr. Seu’ula Johansson-Fua, The Director of the Institute for Education at the University of the South Pacific, Mr Albert Seluka a human rights lawyer from Tuvalu and works at the Pacific Community, Suva, Fiji, and Associate Professor Frances C. Koya Vaka’uta, Team Leader Culture for Development at the Pacific Community in Suva, Fiji. discuss the “disconnect between aspirations for contextually relevant solutions and imported mainstream systems of practice fuels what we might call the pacific development paradox.” These systems, they argue, are shaped by development ideologies and approaches conceptualised in and for contexts in the global north. “Driven by capitalist aspirations, they fail to capture Pacific worldviews and ways of being and doing.” In light of what they call “a culture positive shift in thinking about contextually responsive ways of working has emerged in the 2050 strategy for the blue pacific continent” in recent times, they propose to discuss in their joint presentation the potential of a Pacific centred approach to development and research. Drawing from their experiences, they share their reflections on the potential of meaningful culturally informed practice that takes into account the worldviews, aspirations and culturally and spiritually informed identities of indigenous and local communities in the Pacific.