Tā, Vā, and Lā: Re-imagining the geopolitics of the Pacific Islands

Maima Koro, Henrietta McNeill, Henry Ivarature, Joanne Wallis*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Oceanic perspectives seldom appear in the geopolitical discourse of metropolitan powers, and the agency of Pacific Island states and peoples is often overlooked. Inspired by calls from political geographers for ‘a more ambitious geopolitical imagination’ (Sharp, 2013), and from Oceanic scholars ‘to examine indigenous epistemologies, ontologies and cosmological ideas and philosophes so that global conversations include local and indigenous understandings’ (Vaai & Nabobo-Baba, 2017), our article represents a conversation between four scholars from differing backgrounds about how analyses of Pacific geopolitics could be re-imagined. We argue that dominant western accounts do not adequately account for the geopolitics of the Pacific because they overlook the multi-temporal, multi-spatial, multi-scalar, and relational ways in which states and other actors behave in the Pacific, and how Pacific Island states and Oceanic peoples perceive, respond to, and influence their behaviour. We instead propose that the intersecting sociospatial conceptualisations of tā (based on the Tongan word taimi, time), vā (vava, space-place), and lā (lahi, big or wide-ranging) can be brought into conversation with the political geography concepts of time, space, and scale. We do not generalise from this example, nor imply that all Oceanic peoples will share our understanding – the region is highly heterogenous. We instead pursue the modest goal of demonstrating how gaps in understanding might be bridged.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102931
JournalPolitical Geography
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2023


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