The fourth Samoa Conference held at the National University of Samoa has been a journey into understanding the material culture and people of Samoa.
Tagaloatele Professor Peggy Fairbairn Dunlop said Samoa is in a time and place where people must decide what fa’asamoa should look like before they wake up to find it changed.
“You drive through villages now and see fale talimalo and often instead of sitting on the ground, people are sitting on chairs,” she said.
“Well that is a just a trivial example, but there are a lot of things like that which have changed, including the matai system,” said Tagaloatele.
As the first Pacific Studies Professor at Auckland University of Technology (A.U.T) in New Zealand, Tagaloatele has more than 30 years of academic and research experience in many elements of the Pacific.
She said having those national conversations about identity and culture are incredibly difficult and made more so by the rapid globalisation of small island states.
“The whole way of life here is changing,” she said.
“We are a monetised economy now, so people need jobs. Some of our ideologies are from a different time and place; are they relevant to today’s modernised world, or do they themselves create tensions which may lead to violence?”
She said Samoa has to assess whether or not those ideologies or strategies are relevant or fit Samoa.
“That is the hard one, especially for small nation states severely pressurised for economic stability.
“That is where all Pacific nations are at and probably the question at this stage is how you incorporate the things you think are valuable within a globalised, development agenda.”
Tagaloatele recently resigned from teaching at A.U.T and accepted the role of Commissioner of Social Sciences at U.N.E.S.C.O.
Leaving A.U.T. means passing on the education baton to a community of Pacific academics she helped foster.
“We have had some many excellent doctoral and thesis students at A.U.T. that I am passing the baton on. It’s up to them, and I have total confidence that they are coming through with new ideas, and each are very brilliant in their own way,” she said.
Over nine years at A.U.T., Tagaloatele has supervised 27 research students, 14 PhD students and 13 master’s students in a wide variety of subjects.
Students under Tagaloatele’s supervision have been addressing issues from policy research perspectives.
In examining policies and programmes offered by Governments or the United Nations, students try to assess whether the programmes actually fit Pacific people.
“They are getting the data to inform policy makers,” said Tagaloatele.
“They have tried to take the Pacific world view into the policy making environment and providing the research.”
The most important thing in this area, said Tagaloatele, is to address issues at their core rather than apply generic, global policies to them.
Understanding cultural understandings around human rights issues is essential to devising strategies to solve them.
“[For example,] is there a different understanding of violence against women in Samoa? Because if there is, let’s find it because if we are looking at strategies to go forward, we’ve got to envision them in terms of that.”
Tagaloatele said she looks forward to spending more time in Wellington with her grandchildren, her husband and her garden.
“It hasn’t really hit me yet, but it will be the first time I will be unemployed, but I have no fear for the future, whatever the future holds there will be new directions, and plenty of things to do.”