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Literature paints picture of Niue

Literature paints picture of Niue

  • 15 Nov 2021
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Academic Dr Jessica Pasisi and Niue language advocate says writing about Niue and in vagahau Niue is an important tool and should sit alongside the many aspects of Niue cosmology which contribute to the Pacific nation’s language and culture. 

“As an academic, I’m drawn to literary landscapes,” Jessica says. 

“I think there is so much written work by Niue people that needs to be acknowledged and support given to grow Niue literature so there is a true abundance everyone in our Niue communities has access to,” she adds. 

Jessica is Tagata Niue (Mutalau, Hikutavake) on her father’s side and Pālagi, Ngāti Pikiao and Tahitian on her mother’s side. 

Having grown up in Kirikiriroa Hamilton along with her five siblings, she has her master’s in Management Studies majoring in Public Relations and Strategic Management. 

“In 2020, I completed my doctoral thesis: Kitiaga mo fakamahani e hikihikiaga matagi he tau fifine Niue: Tau pūhala he tau hiapo – Niue women’s perspectives and experiences of climate change: A hiapo approach, which examines Niue women’s narratives of climate change in Niue.” 

Currently, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Te Pua Wānanga ki te Ao, Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Studies at the University of Waikato, Jessica specialises in Pacific Studies, Climate Change, and Management Communication. 

She is also a current recipient of a Health Research Council (HRC) of New Zealand (HRC) Pacific postdoctoral fellowship, with her HRC project focusing on the conceptualisation and perspectives of Niue happiness and wellbeing. 

“My postdoctoral research is focused on Niue communities in Aotearoa and Niue and I’ve been able to create some summer research scholarship and research assistant positions in this project for younger Niue scholars and researchers to gain experience in the field. 

“I’ve started some Niue writing and academic groups and I’m involved in our local Kirikiriroa/Waikato Niue community supporting and organising language classes and cultural workshops.”

As a result of her work within the Niue community and her advocacy for the language and culture, Jessica was recently awarded the Niue Language Champion honours for the Female Youth Category, as part of Faahi Tapu he Vagahau Niue – Niue Language Week 2021, which she says has been humbling. 

Language Champion Honours were introduced to this year’s Ministry for Pacific Peoples (MPP) Pacific Language Weeks series to recognise language advocates from the respective Pacific communities, who have been acknowledged as role models for language revitalisation and preservation in Aotearoa. 

“The award is really a reflection of the Niue community and people I work alongside,” she says. 

“I’m also incredibly grateful to my Dad who has shared his culture and his knowledge of Niue with me. 

“I know he doesn’t always think he knows a lot, but I’m forever in awe of the stories he tells me, and I feel very lucky to be having more conversations in Vagahau with him, even if they are a bit patchy on my end.” 

When it comes to advocating for the Niue language and culture in Aotearoa, there is plenty more work to be done, Jessica says, starting with more trips home for Niue people. 

“I know this has been done in the past, but it would be great to set up a system where any Niue person who has not been to Niue gets the opportunity to go and truly experience the life, culture, food and environments of Niue. 

“These kinds of immersive experiences have had dramatic impacts on a lot of us from the diaspora who have been fortunate enough to go home, and the experience grows in significance when you are able to go with your own family. 

“To have an elder there telling you all the stories of what life was like when they grew up in Niue, how things are different, where to go uga hunting, how far they walked to get to their plantations, and different memories they have, is truly special.” 

These things show the vibrancy of Niue and of Vagahau in ways which cannot be taught in Aotearoa but make such a difference to the kinds of questions and connections Niue people make when they are away from the island, she adds. 

Picture caption: Dr Jessica Pasisi, left, with Cora-Allan Wickliffe and a piece of art the pair collaborated on entitled Koe Higoa Haaku Hiapo. Photo credit: Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Learn more about the Pacific Language Weeks