Kakala by Dr Konai Helu Thaman

It is with great pleasure that I share this collection of poetry entitled; Kakala by Dr Konai Helu Thaman. I love this collection of poetry as it provides insight into her experiences as a Tongan woman in the realm of academia within non-Tongan contexts/societies. With 94 pages, this book was published by Mana Publications in 1993 under the South Pacific Creative Arts Society.  It includes a glossary which translates the Tongan vernacular that she has sparingly infused within some of her poetry pieces.

As described in the foreword of this book:

“This collection of poems, by one of the best known indigenous writers of the Pacific islands, is a testimony to the potential and many talents of Pacific people which are as yet to be fully recognized and developed. Dr. Konai Thaman is one of the Pacific Island poets whose works are interesting to read because her poems reflect cultural contact situations facing Pacific Islanders of today. Under the title of Kakala, Tongan sacred fragrant plants, these poems convey, in a vivid and imaginative manner, not only the problems and issues in Pacific islands development, but also her personal observations of individuals trying to adjust to changes in the context of continuing cultural conservatism as against modern liberalism.” Asesela Ravuvu

Here is an excerpt of my favourite poem from this collection entitled Kakala Folau (a gift of love). However, before I share the piece, here are the English meanings for the Tongan terms that are used in this poem. These translations/descriptions are provided in the glossary at the end of the poetry book entitled Kakala by Dr Konai Helu Thaman.  Falahola: a sacred variety of the pandanus, the unusual male flowers are used in leis or to scent coconut oil.  Mapa: a tree with leaves somewhat like orange leaves bearing fruit similar to hehea. Hehea: a small tree (syzygium corynocarpum), the fragrant red or yellow fruit of which are used in garlands.  Ahi: the sandalwood tree, the fragrant wood of which is used to scent coconut oil and for specialised wood carving.  Vunga: a tree (metrosideros collina) which grows naturally at higher elevations, the red flowers of which are used in garland and features in songs and legends. Siale tafa: an uncommon shrub or small tree (Bhikkia terrandra), which grows on coastal limestone cliffs in Tonga, the flowers are used in garlands.  Huni: a small coastal tree (phaleria disperma), the flowers and leaves of which are used in garlands and to scent coconut oil.

Here is the excerpt:

Kakala Folau (a gift of love)

“…when the fragrance of falahola

Embraced strangers to our shores

Forests of mapa and hehea          

Sang songs of celebration

While ahi and vunga consoled

Friends parting

But we were young then

Trembling at the rhythm

Of trees

That kept our secrets

From falling and spilling

Over stones and sea


If the salted winds sweeping

Slowly across the eyes

Of the siale tafa

Would whisper our thoughts

Into the heart of the huni tree…”

Dr Konai Helu Thaman is a Scholar and Professor at the University of South Pacific (USP) in Fiji. Her tertiary qualifications include; a Bachelor of Arts in Geography from the University of Auckland, New Zealand; a Master of Arts in International Education from the University of California, Santa Barbara, USA and a PhD in Education from the USP.  Moreover, Dr Konai Helu Thaman currently holds a Personal Chair in Pacific Education and Culture from the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji.

Moreover, you can find out more info on Dr Konai Helu Thaman’s profressional background by clicking on this link:  UNESCO Chair of Teacher Education and Culture

Here’s a video link to a live poetry reading by Dr Konai Helu Thaman:

Dr Konai Helu Thaman is a widely published poet. She also has five collections of her poetry published. You can find Dr Konai Helu Thaman’s book on this website:  Pacific Island Books. She is a beautiful Tongan woman whom I admire greatly for her academic and poetic works. What an amazing and inspirational Tongan woman! 🙂


  1. Such a beautiful woman! A definite gem of the pacific! I would love to own her collection of poetry! Will have to hunt it down when I can! I am so glad I got the chance to meet her and listen to her more than 15 years ago! Listening to her clip brings me back to the impressions she left me with: strength, pride, love for family, for our people, love for heritage, values and making a difference with opportunities put before us! Dr Konai Helu Thaman definitely pathed an important path for all Pacific woman! You Maryanne are definitely reaching similar heights in pathing the way for all in your midst and beyond the seas of Education! May you continue to be successful in all that you do!!

    ofa atu

    1. I love your description of her! She is truy an inspiration! You’re blessed that you were able to meet her and listen to her speak/teach. I admire her achievements and I love her poetry collection in her book ‘Kakala’. One day I hope to meet her. She is a beautiful example for our Tongan women as you say, she represents strength, pride, love for family, our people and our heritage. I’ve read some of her academic articles and I believe that she is definitely a trail blazer in the discipline of Education for our Tongan people. I am still a learner in the field of Education and I have a long way to go 🙂 And it’s people like her that inspire me to keep striving forth in my studies. Thank you for your beautifu comment, for your well wishes and also for your support for everything that I do. I truly appreciate it! May God continue to bless you abundantly in all your endeavours.
      ‘Ofa lahi atu xox

  2. my favorite is “You, the choice of my parents” straight from the heart, yet tells of cultural values and upbringing, linking the past to the present, a true scholar!

    1. Hi Mele, thank you for sharing your thoughts on Konai’s work. She is such a humble woman and her works are truly inspirational! I appreciate that you visited this post. Many thanks and God bless xox

  3. am very honored that she happend to be one of my favorite teachers at Tonga High School, and she is a relative of my Dads from the town of Kolomotu’a. ‘ofa lahi atu and may God strengthen and guide you forever, my dearest Aunty.

    1. Hi Lavinia, Wow! You are ver fortunate indeed to have her as one of your teachers! I hope one day that I get to meet her in person. Your Aunty is an inspiration to me and I so proud that she’s Tongan and such a beautiful role model for Tongan women of all ages. Many thanks for sharing your kind words. God bless xox

  4. I met Konai for the first time in 2010 when she was a guest speaker at the school of education in Auckland University of technology. I couldn’t get over the humility and love she has for the Pasifika people. She shares her knowledge from her heart and soul. Last year she came back to be the guest speaker at the Mata Pasifika conference at AUT Manukau and I was honoured to be talking with her about some of the research topics of that day. She is a wonderful and beautiful lady whom you can never tell she has so much to give because she walks and talks with everyone and yet when you get to know her, you find out the fountain of precious treasures pouring out of her heart. I have full admiration and love for Konai, we need people like her in our life.

    Salilo Ward

    1. Hi Salilo Ward,
      Thank you for visiting my blog and for sharing your beautiful sentiments about Konai Helu. I truly appreciate it. As I read through your comments I smiled. Konai is such a humble woman with so much to offer our Pasifika peoples. You are absolutely right, we need people like her in our lives.
      ‘Ofa atu xox

  5. such a true scholar for Pasifika especially her own people “TONGA”….have always used Kakala as my indigenous methodology and will always use it on my future study… very humble Tongan woman with great skills from God…..

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