Dr. Adi Eci Kikau Nabalarua: by Adi Mariana Waqa
Educator, academic, indigenous community leader, a mother and grandmother, a woman of faith and fervent conviction, Dr. Adi Eci Kikau Nabalarua is a lady of many talents and gifts. I first met her after she preached at Wesley Church in Suva recently. A convention of women attended the early morning program and like me were moved by her words on ‘Growing, Moving, and Living in the Spirit.’ Dr. Eci would explain in her sermon that day,
We must understand our respective calling in this life. Our calling is to be healers of brokenness, hurt, pain, conflict, and violence – we are to be agents of healing in a sick society. Therefore, we must not only be hearers of God’s Good News, but we must be doers!
And it seems, that this has been the life journey of Dr. Eci – a discerning of her life’s call, a keenness to use her natural gifts to empower others, and the tenacity and faith to break through systemic barriers which would otherwise force her agency as an indigenous Fijian woman far into an incubated box of mere potential.
A few days after the event I met again with Dr. Eci, this time in her office at Fiji National University where she currently resides as Dean for the College of Humanities and Education. That morning she spared me some of her precious time for an interview that would open up quite an extraordinary life tale.
Dr. Eci grew up with leadership in her DNA. Her father Ratu Jone Kikau was of chiefly rank and worked as a Provincial Administrator in three of Fiji’s provinces during his time – Lomaiviti, Tailevu, and Ra. Her mother Adi Eleni Saiki Kikau was also of prominent birth and worked alongside her husband in rural development with women throughout the provinces. These early years of watching her parents lead and work diligently with different groups of people were to be the foundation of Dr. Eci’s life work and pursuits.
Educated at Levuka Primary School on the island of Ovalau, Dr. Eci’s parents thought it best that she board for about three years with the LPS expatriate teachers who lived near them. Years later, when inquiring after her parent’s curious decision at the time, Ratu Jone would reply, “Being my only daughter, I needed you to learn and have the highest command of the English language.” An interesting foresight of a father who not only saw the promising potential in a very young Dr. Eci but wished to provide for her the best springboard from which she could soar into her future – early childhood literacy and education.
The rest as they say, has been modern day history. Dr. Eci worked her way through LPS and finished her final two years of high school at the distinguished Adi Cakobau School (ACS) which is just outside the capital of Suva. She went on to attain a Bachelor of Arts from the University of the South Pacific (USP), completed her Masters at the University of Reading in England, and then graduated with a Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) in Political Science and International Relations at the Australian National University (ANU). Dr. Eci has also taught widely, having previously held lecturing and managerial positions at both the University of the South Pacific in Fiji and the University of Waikato in New Zealand.
Proving to be a woman of sheer versatility Dr. Eci has not limited herself to the academic world. She shared with me that for all the achievements, her greatest passion in life has been to be of service or to help empower others. Whether it be her students, her staff, rural women, men, and children, colleagues, friends, or family – Dr. Eci uses her skills and experiences to create opportunities through education, empowerment, and the legacy of “service” which her own parents left in their stead. When it comes to working with rural women especially, she has learned throughout her career to provide opportunities in the face of cultural and hierarchical obstacles. This means that her programs or interventions do not exclude key male stakeholders like chiefs, preachers, village headmen, and the youth. Dr. Eci’s insights and experiences recognise the need for collective engagement due to communal structures which often govern women’s lives here in Fiji. Commenting on gender-based work at the grass-root level Dr. Eci stated,
You need to be smart and astute to convince the people you’re going to work with. For foreign and local agencies, it’s not about reinventing the wheel, it’s about the time spent in building up relationships and networks on the ground so that you can channel the work through to create sustainable changes. Know the people, know their context, and from there your aim is to build informed frameworks which benefit them most in the long-run.
Dr. Eci’s reach is both far and wide, she continues to sit on corporate boards due to her extensive academic experience as well as her work with empowering women and indigenous groups through strategic leadership and at different levels of management. Most recently her reach went as far as authoring the “Duavata Community Policing Policy,”an initiative to build a model which ensures a reduction in community crimes as well as providing rehabilitation programmes to curtail the cycle of re-offence by released inmates.
As a woman of obvious intellect and calibre Dr. Eci can be intimidating with her fastness of mind, articulate nature, and meticulous attention to details when answering questions. Yet there is an endearing and motherly side to her which swims just beneath the cool and shrewd façade of her faculty. When speaking about her staff and students a tenderness resounds both by words and gesture.
I empower my staff through retreats and workshops in order for them to be more effective, efficient, and qualified in their field of work. As for my students, I do everything in my power to prepare well for their classes because I still remember my days as an under-graduate at University. Sometimes, just as I was about to get to the point of learning something the lecture would finish; I promised myself then that I would never do that to my students. If I’m going to empower them through education, then I must ensure they leave my classroom confident they’ve learned at least one or two points.
But it is her children that Dr. Eci reserves her most affection towards. A mother to three young adults, Dr. Eci lights up at their mention. Her two daughters reside with her in Fiji and her son lives abroad with his young family. In keeping with the topic of empowering women, I inquired after how her daughters deal with having a prolific academic with astute qualities such as hers for their mother?
My daughters are my best critics and I’m blessed to have them as my sounding board. I always tell them that they’re my best friends and soulmates because we really are THAT close. They’re both accomplished in their fields of work but before embarking on any life altering decision they’ll ask for my advice. My mother passed when my first daughter was only 7months old, but I promised her then that I’d teach my daughter/s all aspects of our culture, give them the opportunity to be educated, and teach them to be their own women too.
For all her contributions to the academic field, Fijian civil society, and wider global networks, Dr. Eci remains humble, relatable, and most importantly true to her work. She has achieved many feats in her life and continues to push through barriers which pave the way for other Pacific women to follow and continue. A pioneer in her own right and a woman of unshakeable faith, Dr. Adi Eci Kikau Nabalarua’s legacy is sure to move beyond her own lifetime and influence upcoming generations of Pacific women and girls.
Duavata means “united” in the Fijian language.