The Australian National University has a new student group geared towards increasing the awareness of Micronesians in Australia – the Micronesian and Australian Friends Association (MAFA). The ANU-chartered student group was formed in May 2012 by a small group of postgraduate students that became aware of the growing body of Micronesians and scholars of Micronesia at the ANU. Initially started as a social group to share ideas and love of Micronesian cultures, its members hope it will grow to lend support to and encourage a larger number of incoming Micronesian students to higher educational institutes in Australia.
‘Micronesia’ is considered both a broad geographical and cultural region of the Pacific, distinguished from the other subgroups of ‘Polynesia’ and ‘Melanesia’ and Southeast Asia, although with strong ties historically and linguistically to these oceanic neighbours. Consisting of over 2,000 islands stretching over hundreds of thousands of km2 of ocean, and 12 distinct cultural groups and languages, Micronesia is politically divided into 5 independent countries and 2 territories – the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of Palau, the Republic of Kiribati (including Banaba, and the Line and Phoenix Islands), the Republic of Nauru, the US territories of Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and Wake Island.
A region popularly associated with the United States, which acted as its official UN administrator post-WWII during the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands Period (TTPI), Micronesia has a colonial history including Spain, Germany, Australia, Great Britain and Japan. Australia has had an increasingly active role in recent years through its awarding of scholarships and grant funding to Micronesian students and local NGOs. This includes the ANU, which has seen a rise in students doing research in the region, as well as citizens migrating to Australia. Dr. Paul D’Arcy, Fellow at ANU’s School of Culture, History & Language notes “While ANU has a long history of research on Micronesia, this has always been somewhat random and largely based on the research priorities of individual staff and students…. Circumstances have altered in very positive ways in the last two years that suggest the momentum is here for a sustained and permanent on-campus presence of research (and hopefully teaching capacity) on Micronesia: the largest group of PhD students ever conducting PhD studies on Micronesia, and for the first time this includes a number of Micronesian students; enduring research projects on Micronesia that involve staff and post-graduates in a number of disciplines – most notably Archaeology and Natural History, and History; three courses that have contained Micronesian themes for a number of years now; and an increasing awareness in Micronesia of the possibilities offered by ANU for post-graduate research .”
Gonzaga Puas, current Phd student, long-time Australia resident, Micronesian, and MAFA Vice President concurs. “Micronesia has been the missing link in Pacific studies at ANU. Thanks to MAFA for playing its part in increasing the exposure of Micronesia as an area of academic scholarship and its aim is to promote friendship between Australian and Micronesian communities.”
MAFA is currently comprised of students, staff and community members living in Australia with an interest or background in greater Micronesia. Its mission is to (a) Promote knowledge of the greater Micronesian region; (b) Celebrate its diverse customs and values; (c) Encourage communication and cultural exchange between Micronesia and Australia; (d) Provide a support network for Micronesian students and scholars at the ANU and beyond. Current and planned activities include regular movie nights featuring documentaries, fiction films, television episodes and shorts about or set in the region; social gatherings featuring local foods and discussions; and the welcoming of visiting friends from the region. All activities are open to the public, and participation from the greater population is being emphasized.
“There’s already a history of great research in the Pacific region here at ANU of course, and we’re really excited to collaborate with and learn from other Pacific Islanders and innovative groups like Pasifika Australia,” says MAFA President Ingrid Ahlgren. “We’re a small humble group in Canberra now, but we foresee and plan for a future where we can be a friendly resource for Micronesians living abroad in Australia, and a collaborative support group for increasing research in the region.”