At the National University of Samoa (N.U.S.) last week, a Talanoa Session involving students, was attended by the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Dame Meg Taylor. At the heart of the Talanoa session was student’s perspectives on issues confronting the Pacific region. The keynote speaker was Meilani Aperaamo, a 3rd year student. She spoke about “Regionalism” and highlighted some key values young people in the Pacific must not take for granted. This is what she said:
3rd Year Student
(Sociology & Management)
Faculty of Arts
National University of Samoa
It is with great pleasure that I stand before you all now, to speak on matters concerning our much treasured Pacific. Today, I wish to emphasize on the theme that is Regionalism. What it means, what it could bring to our shores and how it could help us face some common challenges.
“We should not be defined by the smallness of our islands but by the greatness of our oceans”. No other statement could reflect the essence of being a Pacific Islander better than those words by Epeli Hau’ofa. Hau’ofa understood that our small islands would never be big enough to accommodate the size of our hearts, so he spoke of UNITY and ONENESS.
We are not oceans apart. We never were. The ocean IS us; it’s as much a part of us as the dry lands are. Now, if we would just accept that, we would be a force to be reckoned with.
Imagine the strength and support we could draw from this union; the opportunities and possibilities could be endless! It’s a dream that’s buried itself into the back of my mind, and it’s one that resurfaces again and again whenever I hear talks of our region. Unfortunately, it’s not a very popular dream; with regionalism though, I believe that said dream is one (or three) steps closer to reality.
Regionalism is obviously a very broad term, but I’ve managed to single out a few things that I, as a young Pacific Islander can personally relate to. Number one: Regionalism is having a strong sense of pride and loyalty toward one’s own region.
REKINDLE it then! Number two: Regionalism refers to collaboration and harmonious interaction for the betterment of the region. UNITE it then! Number 3: Regionalism is realizing the benefits and strengths of collective action. CONQUER then!
There is a poem called “Island Fire” by Konai Helu Thaman. It likens our traditional practices and cultural values to a once-raging bonfire, which is presently weakening and fading. An accurate reference for it isn’t just the cultural aspect of us that’s vanishing. We’re losing our very own people! Global and modern ideas have made us look elsewhere, ANYWHERE BUT our islands for “better”. Better homes and better future. Now THAT indicates the beginning of the end.
Because the idea of going or moving overseas is becoming a trend, and it’s evident in the high rate of BRAINDRAIN and EMIGRATION . It’s also especially popular among young Pacific Islanders. It’s true. I remember feeling hopeless when I didn’t get an international scholarship.
Yet, when I was rid of the thought that overseas was an option, I began to see home in a whole new light. For other countries to call us inferior is one thing; for us to believe we’re inferior is something else entirely.
Our culture once gave us a strong sense of patriotism. With regionalism, we can rekindle that. We can rekindle that by freeing our minds of the idea that BETTER could be acquired elsewhere.
We can rekindle that by convincing ourselves and our young of the huge potential and brilliance lying within our shores, just waiting to be acknowledged and developed. We can rekindle our island fire by spreading awareness that here, lies the best future for our people.
Once we’ve rekindled the fire within our own islands, we can proceed to spread it to others. I reckon it starts with “loto-aiga”. It’s a Samoan term given to the commitment and devotion we have for our families; similar to the English family-oriented although the latter feels a bit obligatory.
Regionalism offers various benefits (in the form of individual AND regional goals) as a result of our islands finding common ground and sharing interests and resources. I realize it calls for unity. However, we need to be reassured of the difference between a mere linking or combining of nations and a true connection.
Real unity. The kind that exists in our homes. Pacific Island rivalry and violence has always existed; and right now there is proof all over the internet it’s carried on to our youth. I have high hopes that regionalism can help mend and rebuild our relationships. After all, the ocean is our blood. It binds our islands the same way blood binds our families. The Pacific is our home. Our family. It’s time we showed some loto-aiga.
But beware still of trouble in paradise. Challenges so great that they either make us or break us; which is why we need all the strength we could muster from a unified region and the endurance from the loyalty to said region We live in one of the most beautiful places on God’s green earth; we also pay a very handsome price for it too.
The whole Pacific has a reputation of bearing the brunt of the world; and most times it isn’t entirely our fault either. The region is disaster-prone. We’re largely made up of what is referred to as third world countries with very minimum quality resources.
We have a high rate of obesity, diabetes and other health issues no thanks to unhealthy diets, the majority of which are imported. Taking into account our geographical position and location, we are also very vulnerable to natural
disasters, especially cyclones and earthquakes. Then of course, there is the one that’s considered the most threatening of them all-‘Climate Change’. The danger that is threatening our very livelihood and one that many still refuse to believe.
I’ve come to notice that the way in which we deal with climate change echoes what we do with most of our problems. Climate Change contributors refuse to take responsibility for their actions and We, considered victims, refuse to burden ourselves a problem we never really caused. But it IS our problem now. And you’re right. It isn’t our fault but It IS our fate. Take it or leave it sorta thing really.
Once we’ve become a solid region the power we’ll have will surely help us triumph over our issues. Even the ones that is seemingly impossible to solve. Besides, if we manage to succeed, then it wouldn’t be the first time. Our ancestors conquered the unconquerable seas, and they did it in canoes. Now that’s power.
The message here is that the biggest issue we have in the Pacific is....Us. Many will refuse to accept that but it is the truth. We could never be able to stop our people moving away if we no longer hold our home islands with high regard and pride. We could never be able to develop our nations if we’re not willing to set aside our differences and unite.
We could never even hope to overcome the challenges in our oceans if we do not trust our union; if we do not see the strength and power that come with it. Regionalism could help us change that.
It could help us get the results we want and continue being the greatest people we could ever be. I say this as a challenge not just to young pacific islanders but to all of us. Break the current ideals and constraints withholding us from the future we deserve.