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BYUH recognizes Dr. Ka'ili's scholarship

Anthropology professor receives 2023 faculty award for his work on time and space relationships in Oceania

Wearing a red shirt, anthropology Professor Tevita Ka'ili stands in front of a book case in his office.
Anthropology Professor Tevita Ka'ili stands by a bookcase in his office.

Tevita Ka’ili, professor of anthropology in the Faculty of Culture, Language & Performing Arts was awarded the 2023 BYU-Hawaii Faculty Exemplary Employee Award for scholarship during the annual dinner honoring employees on Feb. 16 in the Cannon Activities Center. This award was given to the faculty who has dedicated years of doing research and publishing in a particular field, and Ka’ili said he has worked at the university for 18 years.

Talking about the award, Ka’ili said, “Scholarship is just a reference to scholarly work referring to research, scholarly research and publication that you have done over many, many years, different from the definition of scholarship we mostly think of as receiving funds to help with school.”

He explained the importance of scholarly research and publication as a benefit for the students and professors “to keep abreast of new knowledge that is happening in the field, whether it's science, or social science or humanities or arts, or even in a professional field.” He added the textbooks and articles students study in classes are the results of research university professors from around the world have made.

Tevita Ka'ili's faculty scholarship award sits on a banquet table during the annual employee appreciation dinner help in 2023 in the Cannon Activities Center.
A photo of Tevita Ka'ili BYUH Faculty Exemplary Employee Award for scholarship award sitting on a banquet table at the annual appreciation dinner in the Cannon Activities Center.

Over the past two decades, Ka’ili said he has been part of a philosophical movement with other scholars looking at the Ta Vā, time and space, philosophy of reality where he has published in many different areas of that field. He explained Ta Vā is “an indigenous philosophy based on the time, or making of time, and evolution in Oceania, particularly in Tonga and Samoa, and other places within Oceania.”

Focusing his research on cultural anthropology especially in his home country of Tonga, Ka’ili said he has written different articles and a book called “Marking Indigeneity” talking about the Tongan art and social spatial relationship. He has also co-authored with other scholars on a book of Tongan culture and history, and speeches in that field. He said, “Ta Vā is practiced differently from culture to culture, and in Tonga we have a particular way of arranging time and space.”

Tevita Ka'ili stands beside Elaine McArthur who also received a Faculty Exemplary Employee Award at the annual dinner.
Tevita Ka'ili stands beside Elaine McArthur who also received a Faculty Exemplary Employee Award at the annual dinner.

In a 2017 Ke Alaka’i article by Jessica Leon on Ka’ili book, Ka’ili said the Tongan term of “ta” represents a beat of marking time through rhythm. He explained “va” is the space between two things. His research focuses on sustaining harmonious relationships through “fatongia,” which is the responsibility or obligation to one another.

“Most of the people on Oceania think about time and space. So past, present, and future are arranged differently. The past is in front, not in the back. The idea is that you bring that time and you use it to help guide your present and future,” he said.

Ka’ili encouraged students to “work together with their professors to do research.” With the opportunity for students to do research and publish their findings in the new BYUH journal called “Intersections,” Ka’ili said, “You don't have to wait until you become a professor [to have your research published]. You can do it now.”

Ka’ili has a bachelor’s degree from BYUH, a second bachelor’s and a master from the University of Utah, and a master’s and doctorate in anthropology from the University of Washington, says the BYUH website.