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Shy admission: more than once
I caught my breath,
with how much
there was to admire.
Diplomat: representing us overseas with your not-missing-a-beat articulate
Truth teller: revealing and peeling off your skin
in front of students unaccustomed
in school assemblies
when in uniform.
Activist: in front of everyone
that little bit braver,
than the rest of us.
Karlo Mila, “For Teresia” — Each Poem A Prayer for our Fiery Canoe.
No matter how hard Wellington blew the light cotton of the tibuta and sulu, Teresia would wear it every year to welcome the new PASI101 cohort, climbing up from 6 Kelburn Parade with her water bottle and box of papers. The throngs of naïve freshies (in both senses of the slang) she has welcomed onto the metaphorical va’a that is Pacific Studies, all claim to have a special connection with her — the craziest thing is that we all do (how did she remember all our names?).
We, her students, sat in a circle fighting back those infamous salt tears, from that ocean within us, and shared memories of her: how she’d stuffed a whole packet of tamarind lollies from Fiji in her purse, how she had the best connections and a knack for knowing exactly who needed to be connected, how she’d text Jamie every morning so he’d get to class on time. How she’d push us to stop selling ourselves short, how she’d laugh at us and herself in equal measure. And in between the little drips of the much needed laughter there was silence. The type of silence that comes when the grief is still too raw to be made sense of.
“But when one is mourning, when one is mourning, when one is mourning… one welcomes silence.”
Teresia Teaiwa — “The Thing Is…” from Essays for Epeli Hau’ofa.
In her native language of Gilbertese a goodbye is roughly translated into “We will see you again” — ti a boo. And we will see her again. We’ll see her in every poem that could’ve only been written cause the poet was pushed by her, we’ll see her at every West Papua protest filled with people who were introduced to their struggle for independence because of her. We’ll see her when our ideas of Pasifika and Oceania are explored, expanded, and reframed, because that is what she taught us. And in typical Teresia form, we’ll see her again in her words, this is where the greatest comfort is. You can hear her laugh when you read her essay eulogising Epeli Hau’ofa, you can feel her warmth when you listen to the recording of Fear of Flying in Broken Gilbertese.
In my ideal Pacific
things wouldn’t be
but everyone would learn
deeply from their mistakes
like the sharks that WWF
has tracked diving to depths
of 1000 metres or more
on their journeys
around the Pacific
Teresia Teaiwa — “In My Ideal Pacific”
Finally, on behalf of the 17 years of Pasifika — or rather in the spirit of Epeli, Oceanian — students here at Victoria, we’d like to send our loloma, alofa, aloha, aroha, tangirai, ofa, and love to her colleagues at Va’aomanū Pasifika and especially to her family Sean, Mānoa, and Vaitoa, and to the Teaiwa family. Thank you for the light that you have shared with us.
Ni qai gole ena vakacegu.
We love you. Full speed, no brakes.