PhD marks two firsts for Samoan student

University of Otago PhD graduand Michael Ligaliga (39) on campus. Photo: Peter McIntosh
University of Otago PhD graduand Michael Ligaliga (39) on campus. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Michael Ligaliga is "relieved" to have completed his University of Otago PhD, and has become the first Pacific Island student to complete an Otago doctorate in peace and conflict studies.

Mr Ligaliga, whose studies focused on Samoa’s domestic violence problems, will be among more than 320 people to graduate from Otago University in person in a ceremony at the Dunedin Town Hall at 3pm today.

He is the first person from his family to complete a university degree, let alone complete a PhD.He is also the first Pacific Island student to earn a PhD through the Otago Peace and Conflict Studies Centre since it was established in 2010.

His research topic examined aspects of Fa’a Samoa (Samoan culture) and was devoted to "Fa’a Samoa: Peacebuilder or peacebreaker? Understanding Samoa’s domestic violence problem: A peace and conflict perspective".

"Over the past 30 years, Samoa has been a model example of peace and stability throughout the Pacific region," he said.

But domestic violence had also become an "epidemic", and his research examined whether aspects of Samoan culture "contributed to or influenced" this.

Samoan-born,  he  spent about half of his earlier life in Samoa and the rest in New Zealand, and has spent at least 10 years working in his family’s funeral director business, both in Samoa and in Auckland.

"I love my writing.

"The whole writing process was very therapeutic," he said of his thesis work.

He was grateful for the strong overall support he had received during his three-year doctoral studies, including from his wife, Faalima Ligaliga (nee Fepuleai), and mother, Maureen.

His study had made use of Norwegian theorist Johan Galtung’s concept of the "typology of violence", and that "direct violence is reinforced by structural and cultural violence".

Some contributing factors were "masked and hide behind Samoa’s traditional institutions", but all such factors needed to be addressed, he said.

He had undertaken in-depth interviews, including with participants in top-level positions dealing directly with domestic violence in Samoa.

The topic was challenging, but it helped that he was Samoan and a matai (family chief), and he had mainly sought to raise awareness and foster constructive dialogue to help make improvements for the future.

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