In Honour of
Elizabeth Kafonika Inia’s
If we were asked to choose the person who represented the very best of womanhood in the world today we would choose Elisapeti Inia. In our opinion, she also represents the best of Rotuman culture as well. She joins together a brilliant mind and love of learning, with an enduring commitment to preserving Rotuma’s special heritage. No one has done more to preserve the language and customs of her people.
Like her husband and daughters, Elisapeti has the soul of a teacher. She is the first Rotuman woman to be professionally trained as a teacher, and she continues to teach until today. She taught several generations of Rotuman children, many of whom have become successful professionals. She not only inspires her students to excel academically, she also instills in them the importance of being respectful to others, and of valuing service as much as achievement.
In addition, she has given freely of herself to individuals of all kinds who show up at her doorstep—priests, anthropologists, linguists, ethnomusicologists, government officials, and the tiny tots who attend her own little kindy—instructing them in whatever they need to know about Rotuman language and culture. She has taught us in so many ways, not only concerning the ins-and-outs of past and present life on Rotuma, but about the values that make for successful living everywhere. We may not have been her most diligent students, but we are surely among her most grateful.
It has been our privilege to work with Elisapeti as colleagues, and we take pride in the small contributions we have made to her scholarly publications. Her books on Rotuman proverbs and ceremonies, and her contributions to the New Rotuman Dictionary, are achievements that will be cherished by Rotumans for many generations to come.
Now those of you who have Elisapeti as a teacher probably think of her as someone who is quite proper and strict, so you might have been surprised to see her as Mata, the hån mane‘åk sû, in Vilsoni Hereniko’s film, The Land Has Eyes. Yes, she can be quite a clown, and has a great sense of humour. If she hadn’t become a teacher she might have had quite a successful career as an actress or comedienne.
Even more than her many achievements, what makes Elisapeti Inia such a special person is the way she relates to people. She befriended us, as she has befriended so many others, without reservation and with the utmost generosity. She gives of herself like few others we have known, while asking for, and taking, so little for herself. Giving gifts to Elisapeti is futile, because you know she is going to give them to someone who is more needy. Her friendship, and the love she has shown others over the years, have modeled the joy that friendship can bring into people’s lives. She has certainly brought joy into ours.
But to truly appreciate the kind of person Elisapeti is, one must see her at home in Savlei. Talk about an all-around woman! When she isn’t with her books, teaching someone, preparing a sermon, or translating materials from English to Rotuman or visa-versa, she’s out gardening, fishing, cutting copra, weaving mats, and doing all the chores that others in her position might consider beneath them. But Elsapeti Inia exemplifies that supreme Rotuman virtue—the virtue of humility. That someone so gifted and accomplished can remain humble testifies to the extraordinary quality of her true character.
Elisapeti, we admire and respect you for the kind of person you are, but most of all we love you dearly. We think of your 80th birthday as a time to celebrate, not only your accomplishments, but the happiness you have brought into our lives and the lives of so many others.
Alan ma Jan