Elizabeth Kafonika Fiu Inia
1925 - 2009

If we were asked to choose someone who represented the very best of womanhood in the world today we would choose Elisapeti Inia. In our opinion, she also represented the best of Rotuman culture as well. She joined 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 had the soul of a teacher. She was the first Rotuman woman to be professionally trained as a teacher, and she continued to teach until the end of her life. She taught several generations of Rotuman children, many of whom have become successful professionals. She not only inspired her students to excel academically, she also instilled in them the importance of being respectful to others, and of valuing service as much as achievement.

In addition, she gave freely of herself to individuals of all kinds who showed up at her doorstep—priests, anthropologists, linguists, ethnomusicologists, government officials, and the tiny tots who attended her own little kindy—instructing them in whatever they needed to know about Rotuman language and culture. She 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 was our privilege to work with Elisapeti as colleagues, and we take pride in the small contributions we 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.

Those of you who had Elisapeti as a teacher probably thought of her as someone who was quite proper and strict, so you were probably surprised to see her as Mata, the hȧn mane‘ȧk sū, in Vilsoni Hereniko’s film, The Land Has Eyes. Yes, she could be quite a clown, and had a great sense of humour.

Even more than her many achievements, what made Elisapeti Inia such a special person was the way she related to people. She befriended us, as she has befriended so many others, without reservation and with the utmost generosity. She gave of herself like few others we have known, while asking for, and taking, so little for herself. Giving gifts to Elisapeti always ended up with her giving them to someone more needy. Her friendship, and the love she showed others over the years, modeled the joy that friendship can bring into people’s lives. She certainly brought joy into ours.

But to truly appreciate the kind of person Elisapeti was, one had see her at home in Savlei. Talk about an all-around woman! When she wasn’t with her books, teaching someone, preparing a sermon, translating materials from English to Rotuman or visa-versa, she was out gardening, fishing, cutting copra, weaving mats, and doing all the chores that some others in her position might have considered beneath them. But Elisapeti Inia exemplified that supreme Rotuman virtue—the virtue of humility. That someone so gifted and accomplished remained so humble testifies to the extraordinary quality of her true character.

Alan Howard and Jan Rensel