Over two days, 8-9th April, the Australian Association of Pacific Studies (AAPS) is holding their Postgraduate and Early Career Researchers symposium. 

The theme of this year’s symposium is Decolonisation and the Trans-Pacific.

The AAPS website shares, “In her ground-breaking book, Decolonisation and the Pacific: Indigenous Globalisation and the Ends of Empire (Cambridge University Press, 2016), the late Pacific historian Tracey Banivanua Mar charts the sometimes parallel, sometimes intersecting, paths and border crossings of anti-colonial and Indigenous political movements that have helped to define and shape the postcolonial, or rather still decolonising, Pacific’…Drawing on Tracey’s insights into decolonisation and trans-Indigenous connections—including connections between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, South Sea Islanders, Māori and Pacific Islanders—the AAPS seek to reflect on the connections between Pacific peoples and places, past and present.”

Asetoa Sam Pilisi, Auckland University of Technology, Niue (Avatele/Alofi Tokelau) Samoa (Vailoa Palauli/Sato’alepai); and Ioane Aleke-Fa’avae, Unitec Institute of Technology, Niue, are two scholars who will be presenting as part of the AAPS symposium.

Their presentation titled ‘Decolonising the noble savage from Savage Island’ speaks to Kapeni Kuki’s (Captain Cook) labelling of their ancestral lands as Savage Island after a bitter and unsuccessful attempt to land in Niue. They join an awe-inspiring line up of scholars speaking on ‘Archiving, Imaging and Representing the Pacific’ including Lisa Hili, Eve Haddow & Imelda Miller, Sylvia Cockburn, Dorell Ben, Deborah Lee-Talbot, Martin Korokan and Wanda Leremia-Allan.

Sam Pilisi Photo: Supplied

Through oration and audio visual storytelling Pilisi and Aleke-Fa’avae will bring attendees into the journey of how they began to deconstruct the Savage Island discourse through a Niuean lens and the embodiment of a community performance project called the ‘Niue Takalo Project’ which was published through the Niue Youth Network Facebook page.

40 men, with the support of their families and community, spent 8 weeks in Tamaki Makarau, Aotearoa (Auckland, New Zealand) gathering, sharing and embodying the spirit of takalo – a traditional Niuean war dance. Pilisi shared that for those guiding this initiative, it was important to have an “umbilical cord to link (these men) back home” as a foundational value. This led them to commission Lavea Puheke to compose a new takalo. 


Group practice. Photo: Supplied.

“Cook labelled Niue the savage islands, and that term still lingers in our community and is still an identifier. How can Niue people reimagine ourselves?”

Despite the translation of this war challenge occurring in the digital space, when watching this performance it is undeniable that these men are conjuring the intangible in each chant and movement. The meaning of their war dance is elevated by the geographical location of where it was performed – on the historical Maori land site Ihumatao in Tamaki Makarau.

This Indigenous-strengths approach is informed by not only their identity but Pilisi’s Masters of Educational leadership where he researched how New Zealand born youth negotiate service within areas of responsibilities and Aleke-Fa’avae’s extensive experience in the Niue culture and language as a broadcaster, educator, choreographer, translator, interpreter and researcher.

Photo: Supplied
Photo: Supplied

The AAPS symposium looks to explore questions such as:

  • How have our research practices, relations and methodologies been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic? In what ways have we, or might we, continue to enact ethical and decolonial forms of trans-Pacific connection amid this context?
  • In what ways and, and through which practices might we continue to understand and enact the Pacific as a space of connection and relation, even within this contemporary moment?
  • What are the practices of movement, activism, creativity, power, and environmental interconnectedness that traverse the region?
  • How does decolonisation continue to be practiced by Pacific peoples, as Tracey powerfully described it, as an ‘ongoing, ever contingent process of uncolonising…worked from the inside out’?

The ‘Niue Takalo Project’ was founded by Pilisi and supported by Aleke-Fa’avae as the project cultural advisor as a way to “culturally feed our people in New Zealand, knowing they’re away from home.” and organically responds directly to these questions. What started as a Facebook group of 20 interested Niueans, expanded quickly to 500 and growing within weeks. The release of their film had an incredible reception in the digital space with over 12k views in a few days according to Tagata Pasifika. The high engagement from the online Pacific community speaks to the desire for more Niuean led storytelling initiatives for Niuean peoples that are accessible and how the digital space can be a conduit for those who don’t have access to elders. 

Photo: Supplied

Pilisi acknowledges, though, that not all stories should make it to the digital and academic worlds. The push for decolonising the perception of Niuean peoples will at times toe the line of representation and exploitation, meaning that some stories may be put to rest when their custodians do also.


“Respecting the mana of peoples and their lines, and their ancestors is important. Sometimes the knowledge dies with their lineage. Let them have their mana. That’s their mana and that’s their right.”

Opening this stellar program of Oceanic thought leaders is a keynote panel, “Decolonisation and the Trans-Pacific Academy – Indigenous Perspectives”, featuring powerhouse academics Paola Balla, Melinda Mann, and Lefaoali’i Dion Enari in conversation with Associate Professor Alice Te Punga Somerville (Waikato University, Aotearoa).

Purchase a copy of Ioane’s book ‘Uluvehi Pupuo Tapuina = The Sacred Reef Passage Of Uluvehi‘, or read more on Ioane’s dialogue on Niue performing arts with Nuhisifa Seve-Williams – The two heavens of the tufuga: Creative expressions of tufuga Niue

For more information on AAPS and the Postgraduate and Early Career Researchers symposium schedule, click here. You can also follow their Twitter for updates. All sessions will be accessible via Zoom. There are primary hubs, in Melbourne, at the Footscray Community Arts Centre, and at Waikato University in Hamilton, Aotearoa/New Zealand. 

Aseota Sam Pilisi and Ioane Aleke-Fa’avae’s presentation will take place from 2-30pm AEST on the 8th of April as part of the Archiving, imaging, presenting the Pacific panel. Register for tickets here .