Call for Papers: "Vā Moana: space and relationality in Pacific thought and identity" conference

Over the course of a month, and particularly from 24 to 26 Nov 2021 (NZT), researchers in Aotearoa, Tonga, Samoa, Hawai‘i and Europe will assemble (in-person and/or on-line) to talanoa about the Sāmoan and Tongan concept of vā and related concepts in other Moana cultures. We want to explore their histories and current uses, and particularly their relevance for Moana futures.    

Beginning with a pōwhiri at Ngā Wai o Horotiu marae at AUT, Auckland, participants around the world will share three days during which they explore constellations of vā/wā/tā/gafa/whakapapa/whenua/mauri/… . Even if there are no direct linguistic equivalents in all Moana languages, Albert Wendt’s concept of a spiral of stories in the vā, the “ever-moving present”, or, "the Space-Between-All-Things which defines us and makes us part of the Unity-that-is-All” (1995: 15) is a good starting point.    

We will consider forms of vā emerging between Moana people in the metropolitan diaspora; between Moana people and tangata whenua (kānaka ʻōiwi/suli o fanua/tangataʻifonua, ...) and settler societies; through future oriented activities like the planning and building of private and public houses. To be able to provide for positive futures, we want to understand, for example, the concept’s place-based and place-specific origins in thought and practice, and how they were adapted in the diaspora.  

How does vā arise from and in turn shape digital spaces; and which role does it play in research? How has Epeli Hau‘ofa’s notion of a Sea of Island (1993) shaped the imagination of vā? What is the role of vā in the transformation of traditions amongst Moana people, and how does it contribute to their wellbeing? How is vā now enacted and re-imagined in contemporary urban environments like museums, schools, universities, hospitals and clinics? How do communities, professional artists, architects, scholars, and other contributors to diasporic identity and community formation engage with vā in local, regional and global constellations?

Occurring towards the end of a 3-year Marsden Grant funded project based at AUT, the conference will open a time-and-space for exchanges. The opening pōwhiri will be followed by 60 hours of local and networked plenary and panel presentations, workshops, forum discussions and other activities focused on knowledge exploration and exchange before we come to a temporary closing. On the final day, we will specifically address the use of vā and related concepts in Tonga, Aotearoa, Samoa and Hawai‘i with invited speakers. A week later, we will convene another online session to discuss maturing thoughts and at the end of a months' gestation, we will once again meet online and in local nodes for a final discussion and the closing for 2021.

We look forward to sharing with you questions, thoughts, experiments and imaginations, either in-person at a local node (we are planning on-site meetings at Auckland, Honolulu, and Apia) or on-line from your respective location. The nodes will be sharing networked meetings for two or three hours each day, with a monitored asynchronous discussion forum operating 24 hours, and summaries of the nodes' proceedings will be reported and discussed once a day for two days. There will be preliminary and follow-up online meetings to give our talanoa a good chance to mature over time.    

Papers based on presentations at the conference will be considered for peer review and publication through the Marsden project.  

Please submit a 500 word abstract to by 19 July 2021. A draft of the full paper (APA format) should be submitted for pre-conference circulation by 18 October. The full paper should be between 3000 and 6000 words (including footnotes and references).

More information and guides for the participants will be posted in May 2021 at


Hau’ofa, E. (1993). A new Oceania: rediscovering our sea of islands: School of Social and Economic Development, The University of the South Pacific in association with Beake House.

Wendt, A. (1995). Pacific Maps and Fiction(s). In S. Perera (Ed.), Asian and Pacific Inscriptions: Identities, Ethnicities, Nationalities (pp. 13-44). Bundoora, AUS: Meridian: La Trobe University English Review.

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