The following is a collection of tributes to Grace Molisa that appeared on various internet lists following her death with some additional pieces that have been offered to us. You are welcome to add tributes to this document by emailing Shirley on firstname.lastname@example.org or Carol Nelson on email@example.com. You are also welcome to make any corrections to your entry. Carol has edited the collection in Windows Publisher using borders and illustrations for a folder that we will present to Sela and family. We cannot post this Publisher version on this webpage at this time but if you have the program and would like the tribute in this format we can let you have this for your personal record.
Carol Nelson and Shirley Randell
Grace Mera Molisa – Author, Poet, Publisher, Educator
“I have been a groundbreaker for my
Grace Molisa was born in 1946 at Lowainasasa, Ambae. She was the only child of Father Basil Mera, who died not long after she was born. Grace was the first female Political Adviser cum Secretary to Father Walter Lini, the first Prime Minister of Vanuatu, and later Political Adviser to PM Donald Kalpokas Masikevanua in his first term of office. She is President of the Vanuatu National Council of Women and a member of the USP Council and the Women in Politics national, regional and international networks.. Grace is married to Sela Molisa from Santo and has three children, a daughter and two sons.
I learned ABC at Lowainasasa Village School. I continued at the Lotahimamavi Boys’ Boarding School, being the only girl in the school. This came about because I was the daughter of a clergyman, who missionaries and the people had great respect for. He died when I was a child, and others wanted me to follow that path. Everybody wanted a boy for the offspring of my father to carry on in his footsteps. Everybody else had their own expectations of what I, being who I was, should be, do or get into.
My grandparents insisted that I be taught to read
and write in Ambae before going to the
Everybody else had expectations of everything under the sun for me to do when I grew up. They wanted to see somebody do all the sorts of things that my father stood for, his leadership ways that people from around the island and the neighbouring Anglican northern islands respected.
My father on his deathbed appointed his favourite nephew to be my guardian. He was running the boys’ boarding school and that seemed the most appropriate place for me. This school was doing all sorts of things, including English language teaching. Arrangements were made for me to be looked after while attending the school. It was fun. I was the only girl there, too small to do anything, so I did as I pleased myself, while the boys obeyed rules and were supervised at work and had to do what they were told. They did all the work because in those days schools were self-sufficient and independent. Later that same year I went to Torgil Girls’ School for three years.
I was one of
the first two girls from the island to receive secondary education, going
toVictoria Maori Girls’ School in
I had never thought about men and women as different
groupings of people until I came to work in Port Vila. It has been an
eye-opening, alarming, shocking and sobering experience. Before then, as far as
I was concerned, people were people and in every community and every family men
and women worked together. I had no idea about discrimination until I began to
work in the Prime Minister’s Office. This was different from what I was
accustomed to. Port Vila is the melting pot of cultures, churches and
democratic politics in the country. There are no proper solutions yet. Outside
influences have come in. I am an optimistic person. I don’t think that it is an
impossible task. We have to accept the reality for what it is and get on with
changing attitudes for the betterment of the future
I am currently very busy, unemployed, living in Port Vila, doing
voluntary work for women, human rights education and good governance awareness
I greatly value life, peace and justice. I do the things that I do because they need to be done. I have changed directions in the life that I’ve lived, as I have learned through circumstances, and those learnings were reinforced. My greatest challenges have been people, and having to cope with the changes that happen when relationships change in the course of living life. I have experienced hardships and difficulties like no-one else on the island knows, but I have also been richly blessed with joys untold.
I believe my greatest achievement is to be alive despite all the
difficulties I have had to overcome in my life. I have been quite a
groundbreaker in terms of my
I thank God for everyone who has contributed to my life, work and successes and hope that in some small measure I have returned back to God through service to other people to bring His Kingdom closer to all our lives in my little lifetime. Thanks be to God for His love and bountiful goodness.
Extract from Randell, Shirley, Ni-Vanuatu Role Models: Women in their own right, Blackstone Publishing, 2002
Micaela Buckley, Convenor, Publicity & Publications Editor, "Graduate Women NZ" NZ Federation of Graduate Women
We join with you in mourning Grace's passing. We will certainly include your tribute to her in the next issue of "Graduate Women NZ", to be published in May.
Sela Molisa has asked me to pass on a message to you all on behalf of himself, the three children Viran, Pala and Vatu, and the rest of the family. He would like to thank you all for your messages of support at this difficult time and for your tributes to Grace's life and her work. It has been a comfort to the family to know that they are not alone at this tragic time: that people around the Pacific and further afield share their grief, and at the same time celebrate Grace's life, goes some way towards easing their pain.
Several hundred people attended a
day of mourning and remembrance at the Chief's Nakamal in Port Vila on
Saturday. Several hundred also attended the funeral service on Sunday morning
at the PMC church in
In his eulogy at the Sunday service the Prime Minister, Edward Natapei, referred to Grace as 'Amazing Grace' - a term that many of us have also used when we think about and talk about her drive and her capacity for working to further women's rights and all forms of human rights. Thus, it was appropriate that this hymn was sung as her coffin, draped in the national flag, was carried from the church on Sunday morning.
Amazing Grace - forever in our hearts. Arohanui
I was very sorry to hear the news of Grace Molisa's sudden death. It is as you say a grave loss to the Pacific - particularly in terms of women's rights. I have memories of her extending back to about 25 years or more ago when she visited New Zealand for Corso (with whom I was working at the time) and more recently of course in relation to Women In Politics and UNIFEM and other women's/gender meetings in the Pacific. Her passion for justice and her empassioned poetry will be sorely missed.
Kate Smith, President, United Nations Association Of New Zealand (Inc) Te Roopu Whakakotahi Whenua o Aotearoa
It is with the deep sadness we hear of the loss of Grace Mera Molisa:
She will always be remembered for the great accomplishments she achieved as a prominent Pacific Island woman, such as being the first Ni-Vanuatu woman to obtain a university degree, her beautiful poetry spoke boldly of issues that involved women’s rights and of a more Independent Pacific Nation. Her many accomplishments and contributions will be forever remembered.
On behalf of the United Nations Association of New Zealand, please send our deepest sympathy and condolences to Grace’s family, friends and all the people of the Pacific.
Vaopua Taafaki, FPA Pacific Peoples Network, Wellington
You are one of those rare and exceptional warriors that are hard to find. Your deeds will surely be remembered by Pacific generations and generations to come, especially those from your dearest country Vanuatu. You will always be that Beacon of Light shining from the highest mountaintop in the Pacific for all to see and try to follow.
Thank you for your contributions to each and every Pacific woman in innumerable ways. God Bless and Rest In Peace.
Anne Pakoa Brown
I'm shocked to hear about the sudden loss of one of the famous women of Vanuatu ' Grace Molisa.' I'm currently living in Melbourne with my husband. I'm shocked. I don't know what to say but please pass my sympathy to relatives concerned. For all the books she's written, I love them. She's a real Vanuatu woman, loves life and culture. I'm sure the country will find it hard to get someone to fill in her spaces.
Grace was a great woman and will be missed by many.
Wendy Poussard <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Grace Molisa: a formidable fighter for women's rights
Lynne Vassallo, Lykka
Consulting), Canada Fund Coordinator, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands,
Vanuatu, Federated States of Micronesia,
Republic of Marshall Islands, Republic of Palau, Republic of Nauru <email@example.com>
I have known Grace for many years, and she will be sorely missed.
Thankyou for letting me know about Grace's passing. I had already heard from Ruth and Diane, and was devastated. I immediately thought of you, as you have been so close with her lately, and I know you will miss her terribly as a personal friend, quite apart from mourning the loss of her amazing talents and drive on behalf of the women of Vanuatu, and the Pacific. I too will miss her. I was sure we would get to work together again one day. I send my condolences to Sela and to the VNCW.
Thinking of you,
Federated States of Micronesia
I wrote this poem in 1994 after a 24 hours soul sharing with our departed friend and colleague, the late Grace Mera Molisa. This poem was published in the Beneath Paradise Poetry Book, Volume 1, as part of the multi-media documentation exhibit at the Beijing Women's Conference. This is my everlasting tribute to a very special women who endured so much pain and yet rose above it to become the warrior leader of her day.
To my friend, Grace Mera Molisa, who shared so much of her personal life with me and through such insights, I have gained added values to my visions, values, aspirations and commitment to human rights, social justice and advancing the status of women in my country and in the Pacific. May you shower us with happy thoughts and inner strength when our roads are rough and turbulent.
A PIECE OF ME
Mine are the tears
that froze with the pain.
Mine are the aches
that have no name.
Mine are the sorrows
that have no bounds.
Mine are the scars
that never fade.
Mine are the hearts
that find no peace.
Mine are the hurts
that never cease.
Mine are the screams
that no one hears.
Mine are the dreams
that remain unfulfilled.
Mine is the moment
that I feel no pain.
Mine is the hour
that I feel no hurt.
Mine is the day
that I shed no tears.
Mine is the time
that sets me free...
Tina Takashy, FSM, Describing Grace Molisa's Life, The Life of a Pacific Woman, August 1994
I have been thinking of Grace the whole of this week in terms of network from the
Pacific for the APWLD management level activities and have kept her in mind in particular for the Women and Environment Task force.
She will be greatly missed. Her soft spoken but deep thoughts and ideas and her genuine desire to make things happen for women in the Pacific and in particular for the women of Vanuatu.
Fem’LINK Pacific, Suva
PACIFIC FEMINISTS MOURN THE PASSING OF GRACE MERA MOLISA
Pacific Island women join together in mourning the passing of Grace Mera Molisa who passed away in Port Vila last night. We celebrate the accomplishments of a prominent Pacific woman who has led the way for much of what we continue to do - working together to redress the injustice existing in our society, whether in her homeland of Vanuatu or across the Pacific Island region. We share sincere condolences in her passing with her family and friends across the global village:
Brief background (source: Colonised People, poems by Grace Mera Molisa, published 1987) Grace Mera Molisa was the first Ambae woman to attend secondary school in 1960. First Ni-Vanuatu Woman to Head a Senior Primary Co-ed Boarding school (ages 10 - 19) 1970 First Ni-Vanuatu to be an official guest of the British Royal Family on the Royal Yatch Britannia Helped organise the ordination of the first bishop of Vanuatu in 1974 Helped organise the first South Pacific Women's Conference held in Suva following which she attended the UN International Year for Women Conference in Mexico City in 1975 First Ni-Vanuatu Women to obtain a university degree 1977 First women to address the Vanuaaku Pati Congress 1978 Only woman member of the National Constitution Committee and a Signatory to the Constitution of the Republic of Vanuatu 1979 First Ni-Vanuatu Woman to publish a book 1983.
From her Poem Co-operation (in Beneath Paradise, a documentation in Beneath Paradise the Pacific Women's Documentation Project (1995)
We need each other
You need me. I need you.
Impossible to love so easy to hate!
It does matter that at least we try.
We play our role. We do our share.
Co-operation. On every level. Any level.
From Colonised People (1987)
Black Stone (1983)
From Vatu Invocation
Look down with mercy upon us
your naive and gullible servants
to the colonial legacy of watching
passively from the periphery
our prime resources
raped for the gratification of
and individual seekers.
Almighty father endow us
with the strength and tenacity
to uphold the spirit and the letter
of our Constitution
so the land and economic experts
do not water it down
We beseech you
upon us the wisdom
fact from fiction
gift from bribe
from verbal diarrhoea !
we ask you
in the name of Burns Philp
and the Tourist Authority.
of creative forces
our people re-born
Pillars of the Nation
born of oblivion
in vexing rebellion
Diane Goodwillie and Ruth Lechte, Nadi
We are saddened beyond words. Ruci has gone to a Crisis Centre Management Committee meeting where they will discuss what we can do both to show our grief and respect for such a great fighter for women's rights and a nuclear free and independent Pacific. We mourn the passing of one of our earliest Pacific Island feminists and environmentalist who boldly spoke out on all issues, especially for women's rights and a Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific. She contributed so greatly to our vast sea of islands and her poetry radiated beauty (and protest!).
Grace Mera Molisa worked hard for the independence of Vanuatu, for a nuclear free and sustainable Pacific environment, commented on women's affairs, contributed numerous articles to a number of publications, wrote poems and become a publisher for Blackstone Publications. We are sad and angry that she left the world too early. We must take heart from her, look after our health while continuing to speak out and work for the development of women of the Pacific."
Imrana Jalal, RRRT
We join with you in mourning.
The last time we spent together Grace and I cracked a bottle of good red and ate wonderful pasta at L’Houstalet in Port Vila we argued long and hard about governance in Melanesia. What a wonderful intellect she was.
I celebrate her life as I do mourn her passing.
Tabua Salato, on behalf of the National Council of Women Fiji
It was with sadness that we received news of Grace's passing away. Her tireless efforts in advocating women's rights for the women of Vanuatu and around the region have been greatly admired. Her poems have been an inspiration and her words provided a fearless reflection of life that stirred many.
Please pass our condolences to Grace's family and to our Ni Vanuatu sisters for their loss. Her work will continue to be remembered as a beacon of inspiration.
NI SA MOCE Grace Molisa.
Amelia Siamomua and Peggy Fairbairn-Dunlop, UNIFEM, Suva
Like all Pacific women today, we here at UNIFEM Pacific have been deeply saddened and shocked by the news of Grace, our very dear friend and much respected colleague.
I wish I could write a poem for Grace, but words are not easy today.
Please pass on our love and prayers to Sela and the children, Graces' family and many friends, and more especially to the women of Vanuatu. We have lost a much loved sister but we will hold dear our memories of Grace - speaking out so fearlessly and relentlessly on issues of justice and rights - often the lone challenging voice. And we remember Grace's impish smile and the way her eyes lit up when she talked about her children and family.
Pacific women will continue to draw strength from Grace's example and understanding from her writings.
We are thinking of Grace as she makes her last journey home.
Manuia le malaga Grace
I can't find the words to describe what Grace meant to many; what an
inspiration she was to all Pacific women. Indeed, what a writer she was, and
always will be.
I met Grace over a decade ago and was as struck by the woman behind the pen
as I was by the woman herself. An inspiration to all women. All people. All
writers. Rest in peace Grace.
Fondest thoughts to Grace's family and to Vanuatu at this sad time of huge
Loloma and ni sa moce
Claire Slatter, General Co-ordinator, Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era
I am so shocked and saddened about the news of Grace’s death. What happened? This is too sad. Was she ill, and did anyone know? I saw her in Apia in 1998 and was worried about her weight loss and fatigue - I gathered she had not been well and was concerned that she might have been diabetic. We did talk about her health a little. I hope she was not suffering with an illness for some years without anyone knowing. Its truly shocking and very upsetting to learn she has died. She was a courageous woman. a person of tremendous integrity, and feminist to the core. I will miss her greatly.
Its an awful start to the New Year to have Grace die - it must be a terrible
blow to Sela and the three children.
Laitia Tamate, Project Fellow, Community Legal & Human Rights Awareness Project, Institute of Justice & Applied Legal Studies, University of the South Pacific, Suva.
It wish with great sadness and sorrow that we at the Community Legal & Human Rights Project at Institute of Justice & Applied Legal Studies, University of the South Pacific ask this favour of passing our sincere condolence to the Molisa family, friends, relatives and comrades for the great loss in the passing away of Grace.
May God give her Eternal Rest.
What a loss, I had met and spoke with the Grace in Vila and I was impressed at how humble she was yet very well versed with Women's issues.
Moce Grace and may you go in glory and rest in peace.
Someone has to stand up and fill her 'big' shoes instantly for continuation of the great work she had been doing.
What a shock, and how sad that this thoughtful, active and bold person
should be cut down so suddenly. I got to know Grace so well at USP and then
kept in touch with her in the next few years. She filled in the gaps for
someone privileged to be from an "independent" Fiji about what practical
colonialism - and nation-building - was all about.
French Publication: Le Banian February, 2002
L'une des femmes les plus influentes sur les scènes politiques, des droits de la femme et littéraire, Grace MOLISA, est décédée début janvier, rapporte le journal Port-Vila Presse.
Mme Molisa occupa pendant de longues années, les fonctions de chef de cabinet du premier chef de gouvernement de Vanuatu, le Révérend Père anglican Walter Lini, dès l'accession de cet archipel à son indépendance, en juillet 1980 et jusqu'en 1987.
Auteur de poémes engagés et militants, rassemblés dans un ouvrage intitulé “Blackstone”, Mme Molisa fut, par ailleurs, chef de file du mouvement de protection des droits de la femme à Vanuatu, et devenait, par ailleurs, il y a deux ans, Présidente du Conseil National des Femmes de l’archipel, précise le journal.
Jouissant d'une réputation régionale, Grace Molisa était l'épouse de Sela Molisa, l'actuel ministre des terres du gouvernement de Vanuatu, et qui occupa des responsabilités ministérielles (souvent les finances) au sein de plusieurs gouvernements.
One of Vanuatu’s most influential women in the fields of politics, women’s’ rights and literature, Grace Molisa, died in early January, according to a report in the Port Vila Presse.
For many years Grace Molisa held the post of Private Secretary to the Republic of Vanuatu first head of government, Father Walter Lini, from the time the islands first gained independence in July 1980, until 1987. In addition to writing a number of radically committed poems and articles, later gathered together in a single work entitled ‘Blackstone’, Grace Molisa also headed the first women’s’ rights movement in Vanuatu as well as becoming, two years ago, the president of the Vanuatu National Council of Women.
Widely known and respected in the region, Grace was the wife of Sela Molisa, the present Minister of Lands in the Vanuatu government and who held a number of ministerial posts (often Minister of Finance) at the heart of several of the post-independence governments.
Dr Yvonne Underhill-Sem
Like an earthquake tremor, this sad news moved me on the other side of the world with grief at the loss of a very special Pacific woman. But also came a profound sense of pride in Grace that she shared so much with so many of us and that she will continue to live on in her words and her deeds.
I know that I also speak for DAWN Pacific in expressing my deepest sympathy to her family and friends who will deeply miss Grace in their daily lives.
Te atua te aroa
Vanessa Griffin, Coordinator Gender and Development Program, Asia and Pacific Development Centre, Kuala Lumpur
I was very shocked and saddened to hear the loss of our dear sister, friend and feminist activist poet, Grace Molisa, the strongest Vanuatu woman that we have had the privilege to know and spend time with. We will miss her. I remember Grace from our USP days, in the anti nuclear and anti-colonial movement. I also remember her for her poetry and later for her sterling and impressive performance as a senior civil servant in Vanuatu once she returned home after graduating.
We have always been proud of her as a Pacific woman with creative and professional talents, which she has unreservedly given to her country and by extension, to the Pacific. The legacy of her poems alone has charted developments in the Pacific as seen and experienced by a committed black woman activist and feminist.
I also have known Grace as a mother and hardworking defender of her family and its survival, particularly in difficult political circumstances when she has remained strong in her commitment to good government practices, at some cost to herself. Yet she remained without bitterness and personally loyal towards those she had admired and worked with politically.
Grace has been strong, vocal, funny, and often acerbic in her political analysis of colonialism, patriarchy, and racism. She is the only outspoken Pacific feminist and writer I know who very early on stated clearly that customs that oppress women, in the Pacific or elsewhere, should be named as oppressive of women and changed or resisted.
Above all though, she will be missed as an outstanding woman of Vanuatu, who blazed a trail of articulate, high quality involvement and hard work that will be remembered. She has also been a leader, a sparkling and original poet, a good citizen of Vanuatu, and a friend one could never forget.
My deepest sympathy to women in Vanuatu who will feel her loss.
Sela, I know for you and the family, the loss of your lifelong partner, wife, mother and friend will be very great. You both represent Vanuatu to me, in its best politically and personally. Grace was not only your wife and friend, but truly a life partner and you were so well matched in your integrity and outspokenness. My warmest love and sympathy and my thoughts will be with you in the days ahead as Grace returns to her home. Love and sympathy
I met Grace Molisa in the pages of a book. I must have been 12 at the time, but even then, I felt a magic and power in her writing that I was lucky enough to experience through meeting her in my work at the SPC Women's Bureau. It feels like only yesterday that we drove through the streets of Vila and laughed and fell silent at all the stories she had to share. I remember Grace with sadness and a smile, and pay tribute to her and the hard working women of Vanuatu who worked alongside her along the rough path forward which Melanesian women tread.
We greet the new year with sadness at the passing away of Grace. I was browsing yesterday through the Pacific Women's Bureau publication and saw a recent photo of her and thought of how well she looked.
If there is a way to pass on condolences to her family from your end please do so on my behalf. She will be missed!
Papua New Guinea
Deb Chapman, PNG Institute of Medical Research,Goroka
I was very saddened to hear of the tragic news of Grace's death. She was an extraordinary woman and an inspiration. I spent last night reading her words and she has left a wonderful legacy with her poetry.
We met at the Feminist Book Fair in Melbourne a number of years ago and I treasure her books, which I bought from her then.
My sincere condolences to her family, friends and ol wantok in Vanuatu.
Elizabeth Cox, Port Moresby
On behalf of many women from Papua New Guinea, and especially from me, as I have known Grace for some 20 years now, I would like to extend deepest and most heartfelt sympathies for the loss of such a tremendous leader, personality, friend and hero among Pacific men and women.
Grace has made an enormous contribution, through her powerful, considered and articulate voice, the spoken and written word, her enormous integrity and courage to speak out against corruption, and all the forces that threaten good governance in the Pacific region and the world.
Thank-you Grace for your wisdom, words, faith and integrity. You have always been and will always be an inspiration. We shall continue to use your poetry and you will live on in our work and struggle.
To Sela and children, to the many sisters and colleagues of Grace, we convey our deepest sadness and sorrow, and our love to you all.
Dr Emma Kruse Vaai, President Samoa Association of Women Graduates (SAWG)
We are so sad to hear about Grace Molisa and did not know of this news until your email. Such a great loss for Vanuatu and the Pacific - she was a favourite poet amongst our students and we have always looked forward to her writings and other news about her progressive involvement in so many areas of life - she was indeed a very prominent Pacific woman.
On behalf of SAWG - Id like to express our condolences; our prayers and sympathies are with you all; to VAWG President Jeanette Bolenga and all members of VAWG - and also in particular to members of Grace's immediate and extended family in Vanuatu and the Pacific. She will always be a role model for all of us in the Pacific and we shall always remember her with much respect.
Alofa tele and best wishes
I was really sad to hear about Grace. She was wonderful at the ADB meeting we were invited to in Honolulu last year and like you say - went too soon.
That is very sad about Grace. She was such a shining example to all Pacific Women and we will certainly miss her.
Ruth Maetala, for the Women of Solomon Islands
It is with deep regret that we learnt of the loss of a colleague Grace Molisa. Her death is a great loss to women in Politics and Women's Development in our region and the Vanuatu National Council of Women. While we may miss her, it is a great comfort to know that Grace has gained rest and peace with our Almighty God.
Our thought and prayers are with her family and the women of the Pacific in this time of sorrow.
As you walked this road
You left a set of footprints
Where the road is rough and tough
Your examples prevail
Your life's book tell a story
full of courage and justice
Every page is worth reading
B'cos a young woman my age
will look back into the books
and find with comfort
All your attributes
To Grace with love
Please pass our sincere condolences to Grace's family.
Ethel Sigamanu, Head of Women's Development, on behalf of the Women in Development Division, the National Council of Women and the women of Solomon Islands
It is with much regret and heartfelt sympathy that we read the loss of our Melanesian sister and mentor Grace Molisa. Grace was and will remain an inspiration to us women in Melanesia and our other Pacific sisters in the region and elsewhere. Our heart goes out to Grace's family and the women in Vanuatu who mourn the loss of this great woman.
Please send our deepest condolences to Grace's family and the women of Vanuatu. May Grace's life be an inspiration to us all. Memories of Grace's great deeds will linger on in our hearts for years to come.
The Lord gives and the Lord taketh away. May the grace of God be your comforter at this time of mourning and may Grace's soul rest in peace with the lord eternal.
Solomon Islands National Council of Women
It is with deep regret that we learnt of the loss of a colleague Grace Molisa. Her death is a great loss to women in Politics and Women's Development in our region and the Vanuatu National Council of Women. While we may miss her, it is a great comfort to know that Grace has gained rest and peace with our Almighty God.
Our thought and prayers are with her family and the women of the Pacific in this time of sorrow.
Trinidad and Tobago
Isabella Waterschoot, UNDP-Port of Spain,
All my regards and thoughts to remembering a woman whose path opened the way for women in the Pacific. I remember her and send my -delayed- condolences.
Marise Roberts, Gender & Youth Affairs Division
We wish to add our deepest expression of condolences to Grace's family, her colleagues and community.
She has touched us all in one way or another -our lives are richer for that. Grace has been a role model in many ways, especially in advancing the gender agenda within Vanuatu and the region.
God bless her.
British Friends of Vanuatu Newsletter
Grace Mera Molisa, pioneer champion of Women’s Rights in Vanuatu, died on 4 January, aged 55. She had been suffering from diabetes. The daughter of a prominent Ambae family, she was educated at the Anglican mission school at Torgil, at Queen Victoria School, Auckland (becoming Deputy Head Girl), and at Auckland Teachers College. On return to the New Hebrides she taught initially at Torgil and in 1970 was appointed Principal of Ambaebulu School, the first ni-Vanuatu woman to hold such a senior position. She was among those presented to Her Majesty the Queen on Britannia in 1974. Later in 1974 she went on to the University of the South Pacific to read politics and sociology, meeting there her future husband, Sela Molisa. Returning to the New Hebrides in 1977, the first ni-Vanuatu woman to graduate, she became actively involved with her husband in the Vanuaaku Party’s fight for independence and was a member of the committee which drafted the Vanuatu Constitution. When Father Lini became First Minister and then Prime Minister of Vanuatu she was for many years a very close and loyal associate, working in his office as a political secretary and adviser, believing strongly in the right of ni-Vanuatu to run their own country. Her radical political credo at the time was well illustrated in ‘Black Stone’, the book of biting poems that she published in 1983, infused with a belief in her Melanesian roots, attacking targets that included the French and their support for the Santo rebellion, expatriate advisers and expatriate influence, western journalists and concepts of press freedom, power hungry politicians who thought to challenge the Prime Minister. And then in October 1990, shortly after the euphoria of Vanuatu’s 10th anniversary of independence, Lini summarily and without a word of thanks dismissed Grace, at the time serving as his Private Secretary, on the grounds that she had delayed the implementation of orders he had unjustly given (before his departure on an overseas trip) for the immediate deportation of seven expatriates, some of them persons of substance and long standing residence in Vanuatu. The general view was that they were persons who were getting in the way of the business interests of the Dinh family. It was this arbitrary action of Lini’s, followed fairly swiftly by the dismissal of Grace’s husband, the Minister of Finance, and other Ministers and Political Secretaries, which led in September 1991 to the fall of Walter Lini and the split in the Vanuaaku Party which was to have such baleful future consequences. Grace Molisa commented on these events in a bitter pamphlet, soon swept off the streets, accusing Lini of acting as a totalitarian dictator and asking ‘Where are we going ?’. In 1987 she had published a second book of poems, ‘Colonised People’, a powerful polemic exposing the oppressed state of women in Vanuatu, treated by men worse than cats, dogs and pigs, and subject to appalling domestic violence. Throughout the 1990s Grace Molisa devoted herself to campaigning indefatigably for women’s rights. In the 1995 Election she formed a ‘Women in Politics’ party which fielded six candidates, but her venture attracted minimal support (in her own case she polled a derisory 37 votes). Despite this failure she went on to see women’s issues rise to the top of the social agenda, even if there is still a long way to go. At the time of her death she was President of the National Council of Women. Grace Molisa was one of the outstanding ni-Vanuatu of her generation – articulate, with a fine command of English, intelligent, honest, courageous, an inspiration to others, and with an unquenchable determination to improve the lot of women in Vanuatu society. The strength of her views did not make her universally popular, but she was a very human person, a pleasure to know, devoted to her family. She is survived by her husband, Sela, and their three children.
United States of America
Sally E. Merry, Department of Anthropology, Wellesley
I am so sorry to hear about Grace Mera Molisa's death- this is a major loss for women's rights and for the Pacific. How very sad.
Anne Walker, Executive Director, International Women's Tribune Centre, New York
It is an unbelievable shock to hear of the death of Grace Mera Molisa. Grace was at the forefront of Pacific women's activism, starting in the 1960's when the French began their infamous nuclear testing in French Polynesia and continuing on through the 70's when she was part of the Nuclear Free Pacific team at the 1975 first World Conference on Women in Mexico City,. Then in the '80s, she again took an active role in Pacific women's plans and preparations for the second world conference on women in Copenhagen 1980 and the third world conference on women in 1985 in Nairobi. More recently, Grace was part of several regional meetings that formulated plans of action for Pacific women in preparation for Beijing 1995, the Fourth World Conference on Women.
Here at the International Women's Tribune Centre in New York, we followed Grace's career as an activist, writer and publisher with enormous interest. When we were setting up Women, Ink. in the early '90s, we asked Grace to write a working paper on Pacific women's writings and opportunities for publishing those writings. Grace did so, enabling us to include a Pacific women's paper alongside papers from other world regions as decisions were made on the future of Women, Ink. Most importantly however, we were great admirers of Grace's ability to write poetry of enormous sensitivity and feeling, and her poetry will be a lasting legacy for a life well lived.
Grace was a supremely articulate woman, one who lived through her own tempestuous independence struggle in Vanuatu and yet had the courage to serve in the parliament through less than comfortable times,. She always stayed the course, one that she set so many years before when she threw her lot in with the women of the Pacific and their struggles for a place in newly emerging independent states. She was an original suffragette, a fighter of dragons, a champion of the poor and powerless.
Goodbye Grace. We will miss you terribly. And thank you.
Exemplary courage and patience provided a role model to all; so many memories, so much my own, so human, so strong, so supportive, it’s incredible to think she has gone
Yes, we are all sorry that Grace left us. Prime Minister Tuta-Fanuariki said her death was premature and there were two words he would describe her with: Amazing Grace. Government recognised her by being present at the service and at the Chief's nakamal yesterday Saturday from 10am to 3pm. The Prime Minister was with us both times. At least it was Government-recognised ceremonies. She was escorted by police traffic. We farewelled for the last time at the airport today lunch time. She went first to Ambae and now is in Luganville at the Sanma Womens' Counselling Centre overnight. Tomorrow she will go to her husband's village.
Perhaps once the traditional hundred days of mourning is passed it would appropriate for all organisations who have been inspired by Grace's example to think how they might encourage others to follow in her footsteps, and create practical pathways for the younger generation.
Grace herself was moving aside in many ways to let others take on the tasks she had been involved in. Increasingly she was concerned with the importance of family, having recently lost her mother and sister and knowing that her children were grown up and going their own ways. Some of the challenges and conflicts of interests faced by Grace were those faced by many men and women especially in the Pacific, where family commitment, commitment to cause and country, tradition and development, all pull in different ways.
GRACE MERA MOLISA
(A tribute by John Joses Laan)
You Grace Mera Molisa
Nations true daughter
From unknown Lowainasasa
Emerging in Nineteen forty six
Into visible figure like a bunyan tree
Towering with admiration atop a mountain
Seen and heard by all from north to south
You walked gracefully
Footsteps never disrupt a sleep
Words you spoke were for the right
Even if these stood alone
Your eyes sharp and focused
Driving home meanings
Stemming from your heart and soul
You were the first and alone in childhood
Like fire flaming
Revealing the lead in deep darkness
Fanning from spirits in hymns of praises
Though no longer with us
The fire sure to keep on burning in living verses
Your messages clear as crystals
On matters of fairness equality justice and peace
At times disturbing to men and woman alike
Stemming from differences in shared beliefs
Your messages came from background
Leaving no stones unturned
You a woman far ahead of our time
Your departure we wonder why in your time of prime
The start two thousand and two
Rock and groan your land from north to south
You Grace Mera Molisa
Your words of truth and wisdom
Leading Vanuatu like a torch
Shining in deepening darkness
Showing your land beloved people a way forward
Marie Noelle Paterson
It came as a great shock this morning when I heard about the death of Grace.
We were aware that she was letting herself go a bit, and we intended to meet
her at the beginning of the year to see how we could help.
I do not know how she died but she had been getting weaker these last months and especially since her sister's death.
What a loss for us here and for women in Vanuatu!
I heard of Grace's sudden death by email in Australia on the morning that it happened and was, as so many, deeply shocked and saddened by it. I grieve the loss of a close friend, mentor and business partner.
I had met and admired Grace at conferences in the Pacific over the years, but I came to know her well when I went to Vanuatu in 1999 to take up an AusAID job in public sector reform. Not only did she take the time to welcome me personally and talk to me, characteristically she immediately roped me in to do something! She was a constant source of inspiration over the next three years. She invited me to her home to share food she had prepared for various feasts and we often ate together on my verandah overlooking the harbour. She deliberately made regular time for lunches at Lapitas with a group of women working in Women's Affairs, Vanuatu National Council of Women, Vanuatu Women's Centre and the Asian Development Bank for sharing progress, challenges and concerns.
Grace had extraordinary vision, was constantly making connections, strategising, encouraging, supporting. Her amazing contribution to that first decade of independence in Vanuatu is a story still to be told, along with her contributions to the Comprehensive Reform Program and good governance.
Grace was aware of her diabetes and always careful of her diet, but probably not aware of encroaching heart disease. Recently she broke her arm and a degenerative bone disease was identified. In her last weeks she was not well. She greatly grieved over watching her sister Gladys die painfully of uterine cancer.
Grace was a fountain of knowledge, a fun and fun loving woman, generous with her gifts and talents and selfless in empowering others. We may not be able to see the smiling eyes, but we can continue to feel them. We may not hear the voice out loud, but we can inside. Her legacy will live with us and with her memory strong, hopefully through us and her written work.
What a privilege to have known Grace, laughed with her, cried with her, learned with her. I am desolate to lose the love and friendship of a true friend, who was also an outstanding world citizen, a Pacific leader, someone who could be said to be truly the wise earth mother of Vanuatu. I pay tribute to her unfailing faith in the capacity of women to change their world for the better I will miss her greatly and extend loving sympathy to Sela, Viran, Pala and Vatu and the wider family on such a tragic loss.
Tinged with Sadness
I have of you
Serenity, so striking it blankets those around you
Determination, your eyes said it all
Wisdom, no word is wasted
Patience, yours was abounding
Dedication, of your life to justice
Humour, so welcomingly unexpected
Like imprints in my heart
So uniquely yours
Pioneering so boldly
A better society the goal
Vanuatu is indebted
To you for your efforts
In fighting against discrimination
In pursuit of justice
For the disadvantaged
The women of Vanuatu
The women of Vanuatu
Take special pride in you
A sister, a mother, a friend, a mentor
Our hearts treasure your efforts
And unite us to move forward
To realise our common dream
Of a better society
For women and men alike
As God’s creation
You live on in our hearts
Dedicated to the Late Mrs Grace Molisa by Hilda Taleo
I learned this morning that Grace Molisa died at the Port Vila hospital last night. Given her prominent role at the Hawaii meeting last year, I thought you would wish to be informed. She was certainly very well known throughout the region both in government, women's and NGO networks.
What a shame! I did Grace’s work for my MA
thesis and wrote about her poetry in
journals. A loss for Vanuatu and for Pacific women/feminism.
This is not the kind of news one wants to hear. Grace will be truly and deeply missed by many throughout the Pacific.
Quick messages were sent from quick messages from Raijeli Nicole, Shelly Rao, Rae Julian, Dame Cath Tizzard, Sally Merry, Sue Elliot
The Pacific Islands Association of Non Government Organizations (PIANGO), representing the National NGO Umbrella bodies of Aotearoa/New Zealand, Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji Islands, Guam, Kanaky, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tahiti, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Wallis, and Western Samoa, wishes to express its condolences to the Pacific Community, the Republic of Vanuatu and the Molisa Family for the loss of the late Grace Mera Molisa.
Late Grace Mera Molisa: You have been an inspiration to all people working with NGOs in the Pacific, and in particular the women of Vanuatu. Your ongoing struggle for indigenous rights helped to make Vanuatu independent. You have led by example, and shown how much each and every one of us is capable of achieving.
MAY YOUR SOUL REST IN PEACE.
PIANGO Monthly, Volume 5, Issue 1, January 2002
Vanuatu Women’s Leader Grace Mera Molisa (1946-2002)
Grace Mera Molisa, one of the pillars of the NGO and women’s communities in Vanuatu, died unexpectedly on January 3, 2002. Her life was an inspiration to all people working with NGOs in the Pacific, and in particular the women of Vanuatu, and her ongoing struggle for indigenous rights helped to make Vanuatu independent. She was President of the Vanuatu National Council of Women (VNCW), a member of Vanuatu Women in Politics (VANWIPS) and Vanuatu Association of Women Graduates (VAWG), as well as an advisor to two Prime Ministers. She was the first ni-Vanuatu woman to graduate from university, and was also Vanuatu’s finest poet, the author of many books and articles, and the founder and publisher of Blackstone Press. She will be sadly missed.
11.2.2 Grace Mera Molisa 17 Feb. 1946 - 4 Jan. 2002
'I have been a groundbreaker for my Island, Women and Vanuatu.'
Grace Mera Molisa was an author, poet, publisher, and educator, in addition to being one of the earliest Pacific Island feminists and environmentalists who boldly spoke out on all issues, especially for women's rights and a Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific.
Shirley Randell writes of Grace Mera Molisa, 'She was a tremendous leader, personality, friend and hero among Pacific men and women. She made an enormous contribution, through her powerful, considered and articulate voice, the spoken and written word, her integrity and courage to speak out against corruption and all the forces that threaten good governance in the Pacific region and the world. . . . Grace's career is a litany of "firsts". She was the first Ambae woman to attend the Queen Victoria School in New Zealand in 1960, and the first Ni-Vanuatu woman to head a senior primary co-educational boarding school (ages 10-19) in 1970. In 1974 she helped organise the ordination of the first bishop of Vanuatu and the first South Pacific Women's Conference held in Suva, following which she attended the UN International Year for Women Conference in Mexico City in 1975. She was the first Ni-Vanuatu woman to obtain a university degree in 1977. She was the first female to occupy a political position and was also the first woman to speak in a political Congress. In 1978, she was appointed as the second secretary to the Deputy Chief Minister in the Government of National Unity. Grace was the only woman member of the National Constitution Committee and a signatory to the Constitution of the Republic of Vanuatu in 1979. After the elections she became the second secretary to the Chief Minister, Father Walter Hayde Lini and at Independence the second secretary to the then Prime Minister. A few years later, after the new elections in 1983, she took over the position of private secretary to the Prime Minister and finished her position in 1990 after a divergence in political views.'
Quick messages were also received from Raijeli Nicole, Shelly Rao, Rae Julian, Dame Cath Tizzard, Sally Merry, Sue Elliot, Patricia Sachs-Cornish and some others not kept track of.