Sunday, March 8, 2009

Kaumatua challenges media on culture at Samoan leader's book launch

By Josephine Latu: Pacific Media Centre

Ngai Tahu academic and kaumatua Sir Tipene O’Regan has called on the media to play a stronger role in keeping traditional culture alive at the New Zealand launch of a new Samoan book at the weekend.

The Samoan Head of State, Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Ta’isi, was hosted at AUT University for the launch of the book including contributions by him and 14 other Samoan intellectuals - Su’esu’e Manogi: In search of fragrance: Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Ta’isi and the Samoan indigenous reference.

Sir Tipene, Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Māori) at the University of Canterbury, said news organisations should encourage a conversation about cultural issues.

He said the only way for an indigenous culture to “control its own evolution” was by “thinking and talking about it”.

Sir Tipene also challenged the media’s tendency to “celebrate car crashes and conflict” rather than academic work.

“It’s a big call for the media, even if it does no more than to honour the process of reflective scholarship,” he said.

The publication by the Centre for Samoan Studies, National University of Samoa, features 18 reflective chapters by Tui Atua - a literary contribution rarely seen from a Head of State - on subjects ranging from Samoan metaphors, customs and mythology to bio-ethics and legal theory.

Marking both an academic and strongly cultural event, the launch was conducted in Samoan, Māori and English. It was packed with a large tangata whenua, Pasifika and palagi audience, including Samoan Deputy Prime Minister Misa Telefoni; New Zealand MPs; AUT Vice-Chancellor Derek McCormack; Dr Pare Keiha, the Tumuaki of Te Ara Poutama; and the director of AUT's Office of Pasifika Advancement, Pauline Winter.

Auckland is the world mecca of Pacific migrants - 14 percent of New Zealand’s 265,000 Pacific Islanders live there, with half of the country's Pasifika population being ethnic Samoans.

The themes of the book are “universal”, said Sir Tipene, who is an old friend of Tui Atua from university days.

Presenting a review of the book, he talked about keeping traditional culture alive by reinventing and adapting it in the face of modernisation, a subject relevant for all Pacific cultures, including Māori.

“The challenge is … how do you apply the old lessons in new ways? If our cultures are simply the replication of what our ancestors did, then we are fit only for museums,” he said.

This theme is also reflected in the book’s title.

The book’s chief editor, Tamasailau Suaalii-Sauni, said: “The title is a metaphor for searching for those things that are best in our culture and trying to hold to them today and for future generations.”

Pictures: Top - Sir Tipene O'Regan speaking at the book launch. Above - Tui Atua is presented with a copy of his book. Photos by Alan Koon.

Alan Ah Mua review in the Samoa Observer
Su’esu’e Manogi at South Pacific Books

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