REMARKS: SG Puna opening remarks at PIURN-USP Cook Islands Festschrift event


Pacific Islands Forum SG Henry Puna
at the
Festschrift for Dr Marjorie Crocombe

on July 5th, 2023

Salutations (traditional)

Minister Mokoroa, representing Prime Minister of the Cook Islands, Forum Chair Hon. Mark Brown,

Professors Konai and Randy Thaman, and all the USP and PIURN colleagues who’ve joined us today.

Friends and family from all walks of life, who’ve gathered for this event, to celebrate the impact of a great woman who was not just recognised by her nation, but by her region and internationally.

1. Kia orana tatou katoatoa i te aroa maata o to to tatou Atua. Warm Pacific and Rarotonga greetings to you all.

2. It feels like mere months, since we paid respects virtually, and I know for some of you in this room, it may feel like only yesterday, when a commemorative gathering before this amazing portrait of Professor Marjorie Crocombe, celebrated her 92 years of life.

Today’s Fest-schrift event allows renewed momentum for the legacy to continue.

3. However, the few minutes I have cannot do justice to the sheer volume and breadth of her work and achievements.

4. You will hear of those soon enough from the Minister, from Tata and others, whose accounts will delve into the multi-faceted impacts and contributions – the legacy – of an exemplary and prolific writer, author, and educator.

5. Speaking to the legacy of the explorer…. Today I take my cue from the theme of the Pacific Islands University Research Network conference – exploring our sea of islands – te kimikimianga matatio no roto I to tatou au pa enua. The emphasis for me is on the explorer, or the way-finder. The one who treads pathways of those who have led the way, and is inspired to carve out new directions, for others to follow.

6. As Dr Marjorie’s prolific work has clearly demonstrated, exploring texts as scholar and writer began with history in mind. Where had we come from, who had shaped and shared our stories? What was our history? Exemplified through her excellence in rendering a Pacific lens to the works of the likes of Tau’unga, Ruatoka, Maretu, the content and context for Pacific studies and texts, came into being.

7. These works did not just create new access to the histories of our region, at a time when education systems of our newly founded democracies taught Western narratives of key events. There was a profound mana and power, of having Cook Islands Maori records of generations we could not even imagine, retold in texts that brought the histories of our early pioneering missionaries, their world views and accounts, to life.

8. The early impacts of Dr Majorie Crocombe’s skills as a regionalist, can be seen in her formation of the USP creative collectives and writing – leading to a cadre of globally respected creatives and writers. They are aspects of regional content which have survived to this day, and were part of her lifelong encouragement of creatives, journalists and others whom she would mentor.

9. The University of the South Pacific, as we now know, has a full degree programme in the Cook Islands Māori language. The degree was introduced in 2018 and once established, was followed by Tongan and Niuafo’ou, Vagahau Niue, and Rotuman.

10. The first students with a Diploma in Cook Islands Māori graduated in 2021. What many don’t know is the backstory and a moment here at USP, where Dr Majorie challenged me, as the then Prime Minister, and Chancellor of the University of the South Pacific, to walk the talk I had shared on strengthening indigenous languages in our education systems.

11. She was not seeking to make me uncomfortable, but she did–her manner has always been so frank as to send the most skilled politicians running for cover. But always seeking solutions, her candour would inspire us to be more aware of how we can do more with what we have.

12. In closing, I will note the use of the word Fest-schrift and its intention to honour, through publication, the achievements of our leading thinkers – usually academics- during their lifetimes. There is another word to capture those who are honoured, when they are no longer with us – however, I do prefer the festive connotation of the fest-schrift, and long may it remain.

13. For we carry our loved ones within us, as living memories. Their legacy is often as tangible as if they were still here. The achievements of their lifetime are ours, for our lives too. The success of moments like these is that, while we honour the achievements of a career that has been long and industrious, we take the best from our past for a grounded present, then the best from the present for a better future.

14. This is the hope I have for our time here together, today.

Meitaki ma’ata, I thank you—enjoy the festschrift.


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