Ruha Fifita: celebrating the Pacific Islands’ indigenous culture


Ruha Fifita

As part of the World Bank’s flagship report series Pacific Possible, which focuses on the potential of the Pacific Islands, we spoke to some of the region’s young and emerging leaders for their take on the future of their countries and the major challenges ahead.

Ruha Fifita is an internationally-respected artist from Tonga. Her ngatu work was recently exhibited at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia. Ruha advocates for increasing youth voices and a continued link to indigenous culture, which she believes is one of the region’s greatest strengths.

What are your dreams and hopes for your future?

The hope I have for myself is the same hope I have for others, that each of us find ways to develop and channel our unique talents and qualities to assist the world to reach ever higher levels of collective prosperity. The ideal may seem grand, but why not find a noble cause to offer whatever amount of energy and usefulness you have, no matter how big or small – each person’s contribution will be unique and irreplaceable.

And for Tonga’s future?

For Tonga, I hope it becomes a place where new developments, global knowledge, and our rich and unique culture find a collaborative relationship. I hope this allows us to achieve ever higher standards of excellence and usefulness. I hope that in all this we also become increasingly conscious and considerate of our natural environment.

What kind of Tonga do you want tomorrow’s children to grow up in?

I like the analogy that children are like a seed, full of wondrous potential. The environment we create should nurture the growth of each seed and, as a result, ensure the world can benefit from the fruits latent within each.

The right environment relies on the quality and nature of the education that a child receives. An education that nurtures every aspect of their human identity, and encourages noble aspirations. This education, among other things, includes having the opportunity to be involved in meaningful, service-oriented community and family life, and being encouraged to reflect on and develop individual talents and qualities. The environment should be free of criticism and infused with love, encouragement and faith in the profound capacity of every individual.

What exactly does the nation need to do to make this possible?

I don’t know. I don’t think any one person knows exactly what the answer to that question is. Perhaps it is our collective privilege to work together to uncover the answer.

Where I have seen most promise is where there is a culture of selfless service amongst, not just individuals, but the community and the institutions that coordinate and manage the nation’s endeavors.

Perhaps we need to get better at consulting, generating new ideas in unity and then acting together, and reflecting on our actions. Perhaps if we were eager to learn from others we would discover that even the grandest ideals become possible.

What does the future look like for the region? What is possible?

I think something unique about the Pacific is that we have many countries with strong roots to indigenous culture, ancient knowledge and customs; potent carriers of years of learning. The value of indigenous culture is, if we see humanity as on a path of progress, and we have a deep understanding of our history, progress can be built on our deeply reinforced foundations.

One of the distinguishing features of the Pacific is its strong sense of community, and the openly joyful, radiant, respectful way that people are encouraged to interact with one another. This makes so many things possible. There is a power in this that can be cultivated and channeled to achieve incredible things. Like many other regions we also have a generation of young people curious about the world and thirsty to live lives of significance and contribute to causes greater than themselves. We're a very young population, with a wealth of energy, new ideas and fresh perspectives of the world. If we can support the children and youth of our nation to realize the important role they can play in our society as protagonists of positive change we will see these small island nations of the Pacific become lights of guidance to others, radiant examples of thriving communities living in harmony with each other and their natural environment. What a valuable service that would be to the world!

Hear from other future leaders and download the Pacific Possible reports learn more about the potential for the Pacific Islands region over the coming decades.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of the World Bank Group and its employees.