The late Jon Tikivanotau M. Jonassen was born July 24, 1949, in Rarotonga, Cook Islands. Jon came to BYU–Hawaii as a student in 1979 and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history Ggovernment in 1980 and then graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in business management in 1981. He then earned his Master of Arts degree in Pacific Islands studies from the University of Hawaii in 1982. He worked as the acting secretary for the Office of External Affairs from 1983-84, and put through the cabinet submission to create the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He established the Ministry and became its first permanent secretary from 1984 to 1986. In 1987, he became the director of programs/secretary general of the South Pacific Commission and, in 1990, the secretary for the Ministry of Cultural Development.
In 1992, he began his 20-year career with BYU–Hawaii as a professor of political science and Pacific Island studies. During that time, he took a special leave for 18-months to become High Commissioner for the Cook Islands to New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea and completed a Ph.D. degree.
Jonassen fondly recalled the spirit of aloha that permeated throughout BYU–Hawaii, the temple, and the community, which helped him build lifetime friendships. He said, “The spirit of love at BYU–Hawaii is a constant inspiring memory and beacon. I cherish all the faculty that I interacted with, for their moral and loving leadership.” He said it helped him assist the students positively and discover their best pathway forward. Alipate Latu, one of his former students, shared that Dr. Jonassen was his favorite teacher, and they became close during his internship in the Cook Islands. We stayed at his home and said “He was like a father figure to me. He reached out to me when my father passed away.”
Assistant professor of political science at BYUH and alumna, Christina Akanoa shared, “Dr. Jonassen was instrumental in my educational journey at BYUH! He helped me and many students from the Pacific understand and appreciate our own history and culture. He introduced us to the possibilities of working in our own governments and the region. He had many stories about his experiences in the diplomatic world and it inspired us to follow his example. When I first started teaching at BYUH, he helped me transition and offered me one of his courses to teach. From one course to a few more after that and eventually I took over all the courses he taught once he retired. I’m grateful to him for planting the seed. I am a recipient of his work and service here at BYUH!”
Jonassen said the fondest memories he had was the joy of hearing the important messages from the prophet and other leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in person. “My time serving in various Church leadership positions with other amazing people is very special. My testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the many opportunities that I accepted to serve others, always made me a much better person.”
Jonassen was also a proponent of education and culture and, in the last 10-years, wrote 800 songs, over 100 drumbeats, 60 chants, and 100 poems. One of his songs was nominated for a Hoku award. He wrote over 20 books and contributed to over 50 other books. His last book, “Tangi Ka’ara Drum Theory” was released on June 23, 2023.
He is survived by his wife, Diya, and children, Melina, Olivia, Tamatoa, and Melody, who are BYU–Hawaii alumni.
Through his experiences across the Pacific, he came to understand the significance of embracing and celebrating the unique aspects and the shared value of diverse cultures. He said, that while our similarities unite us, it is our diversity that truly empowers us. His advice to students was to “learn from your own ancestors,”; “treasure precious learning moments,”; you are “the navigator of your own canoe/te rangatira o to’ou rai vaka.” He shared there is no shortcut to the work and effort that is required. He went on to say, “Your country needs you. Build something positive for you, your people, your community, and your prosperity. Kia manuia. Te Atua te Aro’a.”