Photo: Traditional leaders from across Oceania photographed in the throne room of ʻIolani Palace
Traditional leaders from across Oceania photographed in the throne room of ʻIolani Palace following the signing of the historic Tuuruma Ariki Declaration on June 11. - Photo: Joshua Koh

Osiana Traditional Leaders Forum Established During the 13th FestPAC

On June 11, 2024, a historic declaration was signed in the throne room of the ʻIolani Palace, marking the establishment of the Osiana (Oceania) Traditional Leaders Forum by an assembly of Pacific Island leaders.

The Tuuruma Ariki Declaration revives King Kalākaua’s 19th-century vision of a unified Pacific Federation. Kiingi Tuheitia of Aotearoa proposed the declaration’s name, with Tuurama referring to the wisdom of ancestors guiding the journey ahead.

The Osiana Traditional Leaders Forum is committed to regularly convening and uniting traditional Pacific Island leaders in meaningful and open discussions. The forum seeks to elevate the unified voice of Pacific Island communities by drawing upon their shared genealogy, ancestral wisdom, and cultural values to champion critical matters affecting Pacific Island peoples and the global community.

Hailama Farden, a frequent representative for the House of Kawānanakoa and the senior director of Hawaiian cultural affairs for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), emphasized the significance of the leadership gathering at ʻIolani Palace.

“When Kalākaua sent the Kaʻimiloa to Apia, Samoa, in 1887, the intent was to unify a federation of the Pacific. This moment is a realization of his vision, and thus, it is imperative that the hui aliʻi gather here in the throne room to sign this declaration. And that is a dream come true established by our King well over a century ago,” he said.

During Kamehameha III’s reign, the Hawaiian Kingdom initiated political relationships with Pacific Island nations and expanded its diplomatic ties throughout Polynesia and the world under Kamehameha V.

Following his 1881 worldwide voyage, King Kalākaua completed the construction of ʻIolani Palace in 1882 and furthered Hawaiʻi’s diplomacy, seeking to establish the kingdom as a leader among Asian and Pacific Island nations. By 1887, the Hawaiian Kingdom government had 103 embassies and posts worldwide, including several in the Pacific.

However, Kalākaua’s efforts to unite the peoples of the Pacific were thwarted by two significant political events in 1887.

In July of that year, Kalākaua was forced to sign the “Bayonet Constitution” curtailing the authority of the monarchy and a prelude to the 1893 overthrow and Hawaiʻi’s annexation by the United States in 1898. Then in August, in an effort to expand its empire, Germany sent warships to Samoa instigating a civil war and resulting in the country’s eventual colonization by Germany in 1900.

Thus, the establishment of the Osiana Traditional Leaders Forum is a continuation of work begun by Pacific Island leaders more than 130 years ago.

The forum’s creation is a result of a Talanoa held during the 13th Festival of Pacific Arts (FestPAC) in Hawaiʻi in June. “Talanoa” is a Tongan word familiar to Pacific Nations as a form of dialogue that brings people together to share diverse perspectives without any predetermined expectations for agreement. Planning for the Talanoa in Hawaiʻi began during a Traditional Leaders Talanoa in Fiji this past February.

The Hawaiʻi Talanoa took place over four days during FestPAC, with OHA leading the discussions. Future meetings of the Osiana Traditional Leaders Forum are planned in upcoming months, with initial policy work anticipated before the gathering. Proposed discussion topics include economic sovereignty, First People’s rights, repatriation, and military cleanups.

“The theme of the 13th FestPAC, Hoʻoulu Lāhui: Regenerating Oceania, is not just about the Native Hawaiian community. It was really about what Hawaiʻi meant to itself and what Hawaiʻi means to the world,” said Festival Director Dr. Aaron Salā. “There was this internal need for us to redesign and reconsider the ways that we thought about ourselves as Native Hawaiians.

“We took Kalākaua’s motto because he set forth the path. ʻIolani Palace was built for this reason. It wasn’t ever realized during his lifetime, and here we have this gathering of leaders who felt strongly enough to find a way to collaborate and collectively engage in order to establish a Forum that provides them more discussion and more activation of that discussion.”

The signatories proposing the forum included HRH Prince David Kaumualiʻi Kawānanakoa (Hawaiʻi); HM Kiingi Tuheitia Pootatau Te Wherowhero VII (Aotearoa); His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tama-sese (Samoa); Ratu Epenisa Cakobau Turaga Bale Na Vunivalu (Paramount Chief, Fiji); Iroij Lanny Kabua (Chairman, Council of Iroij, Republic of the Marshall Islands); Popuwisum Peter Aten (Chairman, Council of Paramount Chiefs, Islands of Chuuk, Federated States of Micronesia); Chair Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey (Office of Hawaiian Affairs); and Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole (State of Hawaiʻi). Traditional leaders from Cook Islands, Maupiti, and Pohnpei did not sign, but attended to support establishment of the forum.

“I’m hopeful that not only have we changed history, but that we also change the future. That the trajectory of the work that we do as Pacific Islanders is work that is inward facing and outward facing. Inwardly collective and collaborative, and outwardly collective and collaborative,” Salā said.

“I think we have a responsibility to be citizens of the Pacific as we are citizens of the world. I hope the Forum is a pathway toward being unapologetic about that work, assertive about that work, and direct about that work. And that work need not be insular among the Indigenous peoples of the Pacific; that work is meant to engage [all] communities who are committed to the resilience of the Pacific.”

Speaking just prior to the signing of the declaration, OHA Board Chair Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey commented on its significance saying, “Today, we, the traditional leaders of Oceania, send a powerful message to the world and our people: a message of unity, resilience, and hope.

“Together, we march forward hand in hand, towards a future where our Kānaka, our ʻāina, our wai, our way of life and culture are protected and thriving. Let us carry the spirit of this Talanoa with us as we return to our communities, knowing that our journey toward a more just and sustainable Oceania has only just begun. Together we will navigate the challenges ahead with strength, dignity, and aloha.”