PEOPLE: The ‘land is a gift’

Dr Tarisi Vunidilo is passionate of her iTaukei culture and heritage. Picture: SUPPLIED

Doctor Tarisi Vunidilo is passionate of iTaukei land and says “it is a gift from God”.

She is an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai’i at Hilo, where she teaches courses on indigenous museology and heritage management.

Her area of research is museology, repatriation and indigenous knowledge and language revitalisation.

Dr Vunidilo is from Natokalau, Yawe, on Kadavu and has maternal links to Nukunuku Village in the Tavuki district on Kadavu, Fiji.

Her father Navitalai Sorovi and mother Mereseini Sorovi are both from the island of Kadavu.

Dr Vunidilo was born and educated in Suva.

She attended Nabua rimary and secondary schools from 1979 to 1988.

In 1989 she went on to Adi Cakobau School where she complete her high school.

“Passing my FSLC Exam in 1990, I went to the University of the South Pacific. Thanks to the Public Service Commission for my scholarship.

“I pursued my Bachelor of Arts Degree majoring in geography, history and sociology where I graduated in 1994 and started work at the Fiji Museum as a graduate trainee in archaeology in 1993. During my second year of studies, I was selected as an exchange student to Hawaii.

“I spent five months at UH Hilo and three months at UH Manoa campus, in Honolulu.

“When I returned to Fiji I completed my studies and graduated in December 1994.

“After two years of working, I went to Australia to pursue my postgraduate degree in Archaeology from the Australian National University in 2001.

“We migrated to New Zealand and in 2006 I completed my Postgraduate Diploma in Maori and Pacific Development.

“In 2010, I completed my Masters in anthropology and in 2012 I started my Phd journey.

“In 2017 I graduated with my PhD in Pacific Studies at the University of Auckland in New Zealand under the supervision of Prof Steven Ratuva who is from Kadavu too.”

She said she looked up to her parents as her role models.

“They were both hardworking individuals  whom I admire.

“My mum is a book worm and I learnt the art of reading from her while my dad is a hard worker and does not waste time and that is where I learnt the importance of time management.

“Their spiritual training too was important in my growth as a young person.

“I believe in family support. My parents and siblings supported me in all my studies and when I got married, my husband Kali Vunidilo and children, Merewairita and Leo Vunidilo, have supported me over the years

“I love my family so much. My husband and children are from Namosi koro from the Namosi Province.”

She said they have a farm at Gasaudrau, Namosi.

“We plan to plant indigenous plants there and to teach our young Fijians, who live in the urban areas, the importance of using our land for our sustenance

“Land is a gift from our ancestors. We need to treasure it today and for the future.”

She is volunteering as secretary-general for the Pacific Islands Museums Association (PIMA) and works between her office in Port Vila, Vanuatu and Hilo in Hawaii.

She has published two books and several articles about Fijian pottery, language and archaeology.

She was programs advisor, Pacific Arts, Creative New Zealand from 2007-2009; Collections Services manager, Waikato Museum of Art & History from 2003-2007; Collection manager (Registrar) of Pacific Collection at Tongarewa, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa from 2001-2003 and director from 2000-2001 and archaeologist and head of the Archaeology Department from 1997-2000, and graduate trainee, Archaeology Department from 1994-1996 at the Fiji Museum.

She completed her Phd in Pacific Studies in January 2016 on “iYau Vakaviti-Fijian Treasures, Cultural Rights and Repatriation of Cultural Materials from International Museums”, at the Centre of Pacific Island Studies at the University of Auckland (New Zealand).

She was a professional teaching fellow (PTF) and lecturer at the University of Auckland from 2012 to May 2018 before taking up her new role as assistant Professor in anthropology at the University of Hawaii-Hilo since August 2018.

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