A new collection of Teresia’s work, Sweat and Salt Water: Selected Works, was recently co-edited by current Va’aomanū Pasifika—Samoan Studies and Pacific Studies programme director Dr April Henderson alongside Teresia’s sister Katerina and Terence Wesley-Smith.
April was invited by Teresia to teach Pacific Studies alongside her in 2002.
“I was coming to conduct research for my PhD, which I was doing at the History of Consciousness department at University of California, Santa Cruz. I’d met and stayed with Teresia previously, and when she heard I was coming she asked me to serve for 10 months as a teaching fellow.
“In March this year, I celebrate 20 years in Wellington. I never returned to live permanently in the United States.”
Teresia influenced the scholarship of many in her discipline. “She was such an incredibly rigorous and creative thinker. She was always holding herself to such high standards, always learning and growing and open to taking on new knowledge and developing her thinking,” says April.
“Her work consistently pushed boundaries, both in form and in content. In her scholarship she incorporated poetry and song, she played with format. One well-known article is published as two parallel columns—the left side features the text of her presentation at a conference called Native Pacific Cultural Studies on the Edge, while the right side comments on a genealogy of notable Pacific studies conferences, offering a sort of ‘hidden CV’ of our field and its shifting power dynamics, particularly as they pertain to gender, race, and seniority.”
From the foundation of Te Herenga Waka’s Pacific Studies programme, Teresia embraced the arts and performance as sources for both obtaining and disseminating knowledge, says April.
“One of her innovations in PASI101 (the foundation Pacific Studies course) was to allow students to do a creative performance or visual art piece as a final assessment item. These rigorously researched and workshopped items are delivered and displayed in an end-of-term event called Akamai (meaning smart or clever in Hawaiian). Akamai was one of the cornerstones of Teresia’s National Tertiary Teaching Excellence Award, and our annual Akamai evening remains a highlight of the University’s Pacific calendar.”
“My own research has also explored the arts in relationship to migration, diaspora, and shifting Pacific knowledges. One longstanding research interest is Pacific participation in hip hop art forms.
“For four decades now, hip hop cultural forms have been taken up by young people in diasporic Pacific communities from southern California to Hawai’i to South Auckland. Like other art forms, music, dance, and graffiti art can be tools for navigating familial and community expectations alongside individual needs and desires, amidst contexts that are constantly shifting and irreversibly globalised.”
Sweat and Salt Water was published by University of Hawai’i Press and Victoria University Press last year. April says, “the hardest part of pulling it together was the word limit, it was agonising!”
“In the first section, we wanted to include the pieces that spoke most specifically to her work on learning and teaching in Pacific Studies. Then in the second, we showcase her original contributions to discussions of gender and militarism and the Pacific.
“The third section showcases some of Teresia’s profound, challenging and thoughtful critical takes on what it means to be native, and a native Pacific academic. She embraced ‘native’ as a conceptual term, well aware of the ways in which the term is problematised.”
The book is the first collection of Teresia’s work published since her death in 2017, but April hopes, not the last. “She has a significant poetry collection, as well as many co-authored publications and literary and art criticism. Katerina Teaiwa and I hope to be able to pull some of this material together in the future, potentially alongside artistic collaborators.”
Teresia’s work continues to be felt in the programme, and this month saw the last one of her doctoral candidates submit their thesis. “And Dr Emalani Case, who was one of her doctoral supervisees and programme graduates, returned to take up a role here as lecturer 18 months after Teresia died.
“Emalani has really carried forward her legacy in terms of bringing a committed scholarly activism, and her recently published monograph for University of Hawai‘i Press, Everything Ancient Was Once New: Indigenous Persistence from Hawai‘i to Kahiki, offers important original contributions to discourses of indigeneity and responsibility to place in our region.”
Another way in which April and Emalani continue Teresia’s legacy is through their continual work on developing the Pacific Studies programme. “Teresia was never satisfied, she was always tweaking her programme and courses to better serve learning, teaching, and engagement. We continue to grow in our own teaching and tweak the programme to give our students the best experience.”
Listen to a recording of April remembering Teresia: