As part of the 30-Year Celebrations of the Development Studies Programme at Massey University, New Zealand, Tracie was invited to give a Three Minute Aid Pitch. Here is the pitch.
Oceania’s library is a treasure trove - words, proverbs, metaphors, stories, images (Mafile’o, Mitaera, & Mila, 2019; Mila, 2017).
These Pacific-Indigenous treasures are keys to transform the aid space. Take the Tongan value "tauhi vā." Vā? Imagine space. Not atmospheric or esoteric, not empty space – but a space that relates. Relational space between giver and receiver, where receivers give too, over generations and through all the geo-politics.
Tauhi means to nurture. When we tauhi vā, we nurture and maintain the relational space. Harmony and beauty results, with symmetrical relations of exchange (Kaʻili, 2017; Māhina, 2017). Tauhi vā flames the type of passionate energy, the māfana, the world witnesses with diasporic Tongans’ mate-ma’a-Tonga-fever. A global diasporic connectedness reframing the “red cross” Tongan-styles-aid.
Tauhi vā transforms aid relations between donor and recipient, first and third world, developed and developing.
Here are four examples illustrating tauhi vā or its absence:
A fire truck sits on the island, unusable to quench any fire. A hand-me-down, custom-made military machine. Donated, but lifeless in paradise. Rusted by the salty air, the steering rack is difficult to replace. Months pass. This is what aid can look like on the receiving end void of tauhi vā. A one-way, one-off transaction of the material, without the relational.
Dr Anna Powles, a geo-politics and security academic at Massey University, posted on twitter in 2019: “Over the past week, two conferences have been held which have focussed on great power competition in the Pacific Islands. One in China. The other in Australia. The total number of Pacific speakers across both conferences? Two. There is absolute ZERO excuse for this.” Where is the tauhi vā?
When I worked in a Papua New Guinea university, we received an unexpected visit from overseas consultants, contracted by donors, with a building design that none of us as senior leaders knew were being developed for our university. Such a gift-horse indeed, but bereft of dialogue. Tauhi vā, however, would more likely eventuate in a mutually beneficial offering.
A report found that Pacific diaspora contributions in natural disasters transcend the family sphere and geographical boundaries of their countries of origin, motivated by humanitarian solidarity (Vivekananthan & Connors, 2019). Perhaps tauhi vā underpins transnational Pacific community building.
Much aid functions from the paradigm in which it was established. A new paradigm is needed.
Oceania, and other Indigenous repositories, offer potentially powerful paradigm-shifters for international aid and development, like tauhi vā. It is time we dived deep into Pacific-indigenous paradigm-shifting concepts and ways to guide “aid” and “development.”
It is time we dived deep into Pacific-indigenous paradigm-shifting concepts and ways to guide “aid” and “development”.