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The masi, or Fijian tapa, that 300 Caroline Freeman College residents created.

The masi, or Fijian tapa, that 300 Caroline Freeman College residents created.

Photo/ Supplied

Language & Culture

‘Everyone is contributing to something bigger’: Art awards recognises student-made masi

Three hundred students at a residential college in Dunedin have been awarded for their craftsmanship in making a traditional Fijian masi.

Matt Manukuo
Matt Manukuo
11 October 2023, 10:58am
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The more than 300 pairs of hands that contributed to Caroline Freeman College’s new masi (a Fijian tapa) can now give themselves a clap, after their artwork won third place in the Creative category of the University of Otago Intercollege Art Competition.

All the students residing at the college, along with staff from the administrative, management, kitchen, maintenance, and cleaning teams contributed to the masi, which tells the story of their college.

The residential college’s deputy warden Eric Nabalagi calls the collaboration a “beautiful exchange of culture”, serving as an opportunity to learn from each other and bond as a college.

“The students just loved the idea of coming together and doing something,” he says.

“Everyone is contributing towards something that is bigger than themselves, everyone has a part to play.”

Nabalagi started his role at Caroline Freeman College earlier this year, and brought with him a masi to give current and incoming Pacific students, as something that reflects their culture.


When the Intercollege Arts competition came around, Caroline Freeman Tautiaki (Warden) Chris Addington asked Nabalagi if creating another masi would be possible.

“Because Chris asked for it, I came with a big one,” Nabalagi says.

The masi is a blending of traditional Fijian designs and new elements that are specific to the college, including their Flamingo mascot. The piece also had contributors from students from a diverse backgrounds, including Sri Lankan, Chinese, Indonesian, Fijian and the United States.

Students from CFC working on the masi.

“Our maintenance guy, he’s from Scotland. We even put a Scottish flag on there,” Nabalagi says.

“It’s a bit funny, but it represents us. It’s about community.”

In the spirit of blending the old with the new, the masi features the university’s traditional coat of arms logo as well as its new logo to “tell the story” of this pivotal time for future generations.

The masi motifs also combine traditional and new elemets, as the uto ni masi (heart of the masi) design represents the sun and the Coronavirus molecule - to acknowledge those students who lived at the college through Covid-19.

“It’s a symbol for Covid-19 within the masi. I didn’t want to make it too loud, but it’s there if you look at it properly,” Nabalagi says.

“This year’s cohort is a bit special to me because they’ve come from tough times; they’ve gone through rough times.

“A lot of isolation, a lot of masks, limited resources. You are limited. There are only limited places you can visit. If you think about it, it’s hard.”

Nabalagi says the “sharp” triangles across the masi represents the resilience and strength of the students’ mind, body and soul.

“Under those conditions, these things must be really sharp to make it to university in the first place.”

The sharp edges of the Masi represents the resilience of students throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

Nabalagi says despite all students taking part, contributions to the masi were entirely voluntary and, at times, the project served as a form of therapy for students.

“It was an opportunity for them to ask me about Fijian culture, but they would talk about real things too.

"The kids would just come here and talk and connect. It’s beautiful.

“It puts everyone on the same plane, humbles everybody, gets everybody grounded.”

He hopes that when Caroline Freeman’s 2023 cohort bring their own children to the college one day, they will feel a sense of belonging to the place and a connection to the students that came before them.

“The masi is something that we create for our future generations. Sometimes we underestimate the small things we do for the sake of our kids.”

Nabalagi says he is grateful to the Unipol team for giving the college a platform to create and showcase their masi.

Caroline Freeman College Deputy-Warden Eric Nabalagi