Prof. Gabbard was a respected academic

By Talaia Mika 30 May 2024, 4:00PM

A 78-year-old woman who lost her life in a tragic homicide last weekend has been described as a peaceful and calm person by a close friend.

Caroline Sinavaiana-Gabbard, a historian, environmentalist, and retired Professor from the University of Hawai'i at Manoa was the victim in the alleged murder for which playwright and poet Papalii Sia Figiel is charged.

A friend who did not want to be named because of the sensitive nature of the incident said she was completely shocked and sad when she found out.

"She was a kindred spirit, a brilliant writer and supporter of writers. A peaceful and calm person," she said.

"Someone who did not deserve to die like that. She was a very private person despite being a giant in the literary world."

Her passing shocked many friends in the literary world who have been sending messages on social media about her sudden passing.

In 2022, the late Prof. Gabbard warned of the implications of the Government’s inaction to address concerns about the adverse effects of paraquat. She was part of the group advocating for the ban on the dangerous weedkiller.

Born in 1946, she was an American Samoan academic, writer, poet, and environmentalist and was the first Samoan to become a full professor in the United States. She is the sister of American politician Mike Gabbard and the aunt of politician Tulsi Gabbard.

She was born in Utulei village in American Samoa and educated at Sonoma State University, University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Hawai'i. 

Her PhD thesis was on traditional comic theatre in Samoa: a holographic view. She taught creative writing at the University of Hawai'i for nearly 20 years and was an Associate Professor of Pacific literature at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa. 

In 2002, she published her collection of poetry, Alchemies of Distance and in August 2020, she was named by USA Today on its list of influential women from U.S. territories.

Attempts to get a comment from police on an update on the case were unsuccessful by press time.

Figiel, 57, was earlier charged with manslaughter on Sunday, however after all details of the horrific incident that led to the gruesome death of a 78-year-old woman emerged, the police upgraded the charge to murder on Monday. 

Commissioner Auapaau Logoitino Filipo said after the preliminary investigation the police found incriminating evidence leading to the charge being upgraded.

“A hammer is alleged to have been used as well as a small knife that inflicted multiple stab wounds on the deceased,” said Auapaau. 

“We do not know what the motive is of the offending but from reports the incident occurred on Saturday and the suspect left the deceased at her home while she went out to Lotofaga and spent time with a friend. 

“It wasn’t until Sunday morning while having breakfast that she told her friend about what she had done and that led to the matter being reported to the Police. 

“She came with her friend to the Police Station to report it and when Police went to her home to check they found the deceased's body there.” 

By Talaia Mika 30 May 2024, 4:00PM
Samoa Observer

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