Opeta Alefaio | Movers & Shakers 2019 – Community Builders

It takes two hours by boat to get to Rotuma, an isolated island at the very tip of Fiji, the South Pacific island nation. Opeta Alefaio and his team from Fiji’s National Archives (NAF) made the trip during a government outreach event in 2015 to bring a bevy of archival material, including land and genealogical records, photos, and historical audiovisual footage. This was the first time the islanders had seen these records, says Alefaio, and they formed a huge line outside the tent housing the documents.

Opeta Alefaio

CURRENT POSITION

Director, National Archives of Fiji, Suva

DEGREE

MBIS, Monash University, Suva, 2011

FOLLOW

@opeta_alefaio; Opeta Alefaio; National Archives of Fiji (both Facebook)

Photo by Arieta Buliruarua

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Heritage Road Show

It takes two hours by boat to get to Rotuma, an isolated island at the very tip of Fiji, the South Pacific island nation. Opeta Alefaio and his team from Fiji’s National Archives (NAF) made the trip during a government outreach event in 2015 to bring a bevy of archival material, including land and genealogical records, photos, and historical audiovisual footage. This was the first time the islanders had seen these records, says Alefaio, and they formed a huge line outside the tent housing the documents.

“In 2012, it became apparent to us that we could not wait for people to come to us, so [with only a small budget] we started to look for opportunities to take archives holdings out to the community,” Alefaio explains. For the past two years, the archives have held about 30 public education events per year.

During these programs, Fijians have been able to connect with their heritage in profoundly meaningful ways. Descendants of indentured workers who’d been brought to Fiji in the mid–19th century were able to corroborate oral history accounts with records to find out who their ancestors were and which countries they’d come from. In another instance, an Australian woman discovered her Samoan roots and was able to hold a reunion with relatives in the village where her family originated. One man finally found photos of his late father. “I was so overwhelmed I actually kissed the photo,” he told the camera crew.

“Documentary heritage holds immense potential to enable us to find crucial elements of ourselves,” says Alefaio. “In the Pacific this potential is vastly underrecognized, so it is important to build in this space.”

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