A Talented Tongan Poet, Artist & Actress | Vaimoana Litia Makakaufaki Niumeitolu

It is with great pleasure that I introduce my Guest Blogger for this month, Vaimoana Litia Makakaufaki Niumeitolu. I am proud to call her my Tongan sister  even though we live oceans apart. Vaimoana was born in Tonga, raised in the United States of America and she currently resides in New York City. Vaimoana is a poet, writer, painter, actress, storyteller, performer, playwright, educator, student, teacher, filmmaker in the making and so much more! Wow! She is an amazing Tongan woman! I am deeply honoured that she has taken the time to reflect on her life and share with us parts of her journey! Enjoy Vaimoana’s blog post! 🙂

Thank you so much Vaimoana! I admire all the inspirational work that you do. May you continue to encourage and inspire many others to carve their path in life with love, passion and a wonderful spirit. You are a blessing indeed! ‘Ofa lahi atu xox

Photo Above: #WeStarzBurst: We are the first ones to go #1 by Vaimoana Litia Makakaufaki Niumeitolu. Acrylic, oil pastel, re-used colored paper, starburst candy wrappers on brown paper.

Photo Above: Vaimoana Litia Makakaufaki Niumeitolu by William Salomon Orelllana
Harlem Baby USA

Whasssssssssssssssssup People! Mi gente, whanu, ‘ohana, peeeeeeps, fe fe hake? First of all, I want to say that I am very honored and super excited to be a guest blogger for Maryanne. Thank you for the invitation my sister, Maryanne and thank you for reading everyone. Nice to meet you all! Igualmente.

My name is Vaimoana Litia Makakaufaki Niumeitolu but like I say to everyone, you can call me Moana Love, Moana or Mo Money or just Mo. How do I start talking about poetry? Well, I will start first with my love for poetry. I absolutely love poetry and yes, poetry has given me a life worth living. I love hard core classic king’s English poetry, to hard core independent grass roots hip hop, to young middle school student’s writing who are in a poetry workshop I am teaching, to the daily poetry in life. I see the poetry at the super market in Manassas, Viriginia to 125th Street in Harlem Baby USA or on the veranda before dawn at my grandfather’s house in Nuku’alofa. Some of my favorite poets are Gwendolyn Brooks, Audre Lorde, Sandra Cisneors, 2Pac, Shakespeare, June Jordan, Pedro Pietri, Langston Hughes, Adrienne Rich, Miguel Pinero, Joy Harjo, and of course my all time favorite and influence, Ntozake Shange, and so many others. I love reading poetry–I just love reading punto. I eat, sleep, drink, walk, run, breathe and live poetry. My life is not only poetry but a poem that is a work in progress.

“Manatu’i” written and performed by Vaimoana Litia Makakaufaki niumeitolu and Mahina Movement which can only be viewed on facebook, click HERE.

Photo Above: Mi Familia: L to R: Mum, to back row: Loa, sister, Fui, sister and our first cousin, Sepi, Dad. front row: Me, ‘Amelia, sister and David, brother. Laie, Hawai’i. Standing in front of the Mormon (LDS) Temple in Hawa’ii.

Photo Above:  Painting by Vaimoana #1; Afro Latin2 Painting Series. Acrylic on wood.

Photo Above: Vaimoana Litia Makakaufaki Niumeitolu by Gabriella Callender. El Barrio; NYC, NY.

I was born in Nuku’alofa, Tonga. I am the youngest of 5 (I have 3 older sisters named Fuifuilupe, Loa, ‘Amelia and 1 older brother, David) and so when I was born, only 3 months later, my family moved to Lai’e, Hawa’ii. Being a world traveler started when I was born (and before I was born. My grandfather, Siaosi studied medicine in India. My father spent his adolescence in Melbourne, Australia while both his parents, my grandparents lived in Papua New Guinea. My mother left Tonga at age 16 to go to college in New Zealand.) which has given me a sense of who I am and how I relate to the world. It has also given me the perspective and commitment of being connected to you. Yup, all of us are connected and poetry has given me the tools and means to share this connection when many times I have forgotten. My passion for poetry, people, community, and freedom empowers me to not forget and to be a constant reminder of the connection we all have to each other. This is the foundation of my poetry and the truth that I speak constantly. I want you to get and feel that I am connected to you. When we all get that we are connected, that there is only “we” and no one out there that is “they,” we can truly start living in a world that works for all of us.

My mother, Litia and my father, Tangata, converted into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints also known as the Mormon Church before I was born. Therefore, I was born into the LDS church. My mother got a scholarship to study at Brigham Young University Hawa’ii and took this opportunity to bring our whole family to “America”. She and my father–looking back at this powerful choice they made for my siblings and I, their own lives, our whole family–were visionaries and still are. I say this only right now in my life and I get it just right now. Growing up in Utah, going to college in NYC, I dealt with the constant struggle of defining what “being Tongan” is. I later found out that what I choose to identify myself and call myself is mutable and ever changing–and this is my choice and that I create this. Also, I do know, that I have a huge responsibility in setting a definition for what “Tongan” is because I am many, many times the first and only “Tongan person” people meet not only here in the east coast (in the U.S.A) but around the world. My poetry has helped me access, deconstruct, experience, talk about, speak out and own my voice in creating this identity not only for myself as an individual but as a vision for community. Poetry has empowered me to ask questions, dig deeper and re-define social and cultural constructions. Poetry has empowered me to create myself.

Photo Above: Doodle by Vaimoana Litia Makakaufaki Niumeitolu

The word, spoken and written and all the Arts (literature, music, dance, poetry, visual arts, theater) has always been paramount in my life. In the womb, my Mama told me, she was always reading and I believe, as soon as we came out of her belly, she taught all of us to read. At 3 years old, I was already reading out loud and I have never stopped. I still remember when I was going to pre-school at BYU in Provo, when I was 4 years old, I would have to stay late and wait for my Mum to pick me up. She was teaching full time and going to school full time. I would spend this quiet time all by myself in our pre-school library. I would be reading all the glorious picture books I found so enjoyable. I absolutely loved it and relish reading to this day. At the exact time of putting my nose in books, my Mama and Papa always brought home crayons, reams of paper (all colors and textures) markers of all sizes and smells, sketchbooks, and other art supplies. I went wild in drawing e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. At age 4 years old, my family moved from Lai’e, Hawa’ii to Provo, Utah. I still remember the first day landing in this mainland, called “America.” It was December 1982 and we landed right when there was a record breaking blizzard. I remember being outside of the Salt Lake City airport and looking down at my yellow slipas (flip flops) in our first experience of this thing called snow. All 7 of us lived in my parents’ friend’s basement for 2 months or so and then we moved to BYU’s student housing built just for married couples and hence their families. It was a trailer park on University Avenue in Provo, Utah.  It has since been taken down and they build Condos which are now the new Student housing for couples. Growing up in the 80s, this was the most international, diverse neighborhood in Provo. Families came from everywhere: Uganda, Ecuador, New Zealand, Colombia and Tonga. This is where I grew up until I was 8 years old. By this time, my Mum and Dad saved enough money to buy a home in the Suburbs in Orem, Utah. I grew up in this house until I left for NYC when I was 18 years old. My parents still own this home in Orem and I have been back to visit this place where I grew up. There are still many poems I want to write about both places that are still inside of me. I am ready to unleash these demons and angels. I want to let them out and be free.

“Tongan (American) Creation Myth” written and performed by Vaimoana Litia Makakaufaki Niumeitolu which can be viewed on facebook, click HERE.

When I was 16 years old I stopped going to church. I no longer wanted to be a part of any religion. I wanted to ground myself spiritually and figure out what would work for me and my spirit outside the Mormon church. 2 weeks after I turned 18 years old and graduated from high school, I went to NYC for the 1st time with only a $1.76 in my pocket. I had already been accepted to the high school Summer Program at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. I didn’t have the money to pay the tuition for the Summer program but I already had my plane ticket. I didn’t know anyone in NYC or had any family there. I told myself, I just needed and wanted to go to NYC to be the “Artist” I always wanted to be. It was the Summer of 1996 and I was very happy to be walking the streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan. I was so thrilled to go to museums and galleries every week, taking drawing and painting classes everyday with students from all over the USA. And I was fascinated with smelling garbage and piss on the sidewalks and subways. I never smelled that in Provo, Utah. Ha, ha!

After that Summer at Pratt Institute, I went to school in Philadelphia. I have already been accepted to Moore College of Art & Design which is the only women’s college for Art in the U.S. This is where I got the fundamentals in drawing and painting and I absolutely loved my experience at Moore but I missed the Big Apple. I transferred my sophomore year to New York University.  This is where I met one of my favorite professors in college, Marshall Weber (who is now a colleague of mine) and he introduced me to the world of performance art. My teacher in high school Mr. Ramsey introduced to me Laurie Anderson which peaked my interest, however, Marshall introduced me to Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gomez Pena, Ana Deavere Smith, Yves Klein, Ana Mendieta, Chris Burden and so many others. I was eating up all this knowledge like cup cakes. I felt like I found what I wanted “my art” to look like. My creativity went wild and I knew I found what I was looking for and started to create my own aesthetic: a mix of genres, painting, performance, visual and the experience, theater, ritual accessibility and taking art to the streets. My senior year at NYU my friends and I always talked about art, politics, our families, our cultures, and what we wanted to see in art and listen to and feel. This same year, I went to the Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe for the first time. This is where I first saw poetry being spit at the mic. I was in love. At age 21 years old, I created a performance group called Mahina Movement. We were born July 17, 2000 and we are still doing our thang.  I absolutely love Mahina Movement. Mahina Movement has given me the platform to be a leader, to step up to my highest talents and values and share my voice with the world. I was such a shy person but performing constantly and consistently pushed me to be with people, to be within community and to represent. Mahina Movement has performed on over 400 stages all over the USA and we are going to be performing for the first time out of the country this Fall. We will be performing in Ireland and we are super excited. We have shared stages with Angela Davis, Amina and Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Kool Herc, Medusa, Suheir Hammad, Slum Village, Tony Kushner, Sarah Jones, Deepak Chopra, Immortal Technique, Noam Chomsky, Dead Prez and so many others that I have always dreamed of meeting. Mahina Movement is a dream come true. Mahina Movement has given me the confidence to be myself and the experience of knowing myself as someone that never gives up on her dreams. I remember when we first performed at the University of Utah for Oceania students, community and my family, it was the first time so many people experienced seeing a performance of women of color of various backgrounds, singing and speaking in English, Tongan, and Spanish, talking about Social Justice and Identity politics and spitting poetry too! Many folks did not how to categorize us or how to respond or articulate their experience.  After that performance 5 years later, I went back to Utah and students and folks thanked me for doing something they thought was “weird” at first. Now they get it and understand it and now, you will hear that there are so many youth and adults in Utah that call themselves, Poets. I love that!!!!

“Womyn’s Work” written and performed by Vaimoana Litia Makakaufaki Niumeitolu:

“Para Mi Gente” written and performed by vaimoana litia makakaufaki niumeitolu which can be viewed on facebook, click HERE.

Photo Above: Vaimoana Litia Makakaufaki Niumeitolu by Gianna Falcon
Brooklyn; NYC, NY

Photo Above: Mahina Movement (l to r: Erica DeLaRosa, Vaimoana Litia Makakaufaki Niumeitolu and Gabriella Callender. Harlem; NYC, NY.

Photo Above: CHILDREN OF THE SUN: Zainab, George, y Armando. North East wall (Wall #1). This wall is almost done.

Orchard Academies (consists of 3 Middle Schools: South Region Middle School 2B Arts and Media Academy, Magnolia Academy & Global Academy)
Bell, CA (Bell is a city in Los Angeles County, California)
Director & Producer: Jessica Rodarte
Artistic Director & Lead Artist: Vaimoana Litia Makakaufaki Niumeitolu

Photo Above: Hanging with the student painters.

Orchard Academies (consists of 3 Middle Schools: South Region Middle School 2B Arts and Media Academy, Magnolia Academy & Global Academy)
Bell, CA (Bell is a city in Los Angeles County, California)
Director & Producer: Jessica Rodarte
Artistic Director & Lead Artist: Vaimoana Litia Makakaufaki Niumeitolu

One of my favorite writers of all time, Dorothy Allison, writes in her essay, “Believing in Literature” (from her book, Skin Talking about Sex, Class & Literature). “I have wanted our lives taken seriously and represented fully–with power and honesty and sympathy–to be hated or loved, or to terrify and obsess, but to be real, to have the power of the whole and the complex.” All my creations–my art, my poetry and my acting–the intention is for the world to see Tongans and Oceania people as real, live, human beings. Not exotic fantasies, or just tough masculine professional football players, or cold statistics of high school push out drop outs, gang members, pot smoking party animal beer running thugs or just obedient, righteous, humble church goers. I’m dedicated in sharing narratives that share our complex, beautiful and ugly lives. I’m committed in sharing stories that are inspiring, dreadful yet so human and therefore, sharing that connection we all have.

Last month in June 2012, I spent 3 weeks in Los Angeles painting a 14 wall mural. I had the phenomenal experience in organizing and painting and I will go back to LA to complete it. The hours of working on that mural were extremely exhausting so now I am taking a much needed vacation and rest. I am taking this time to write new essays and poetry and paint new paintings and keep on moving on the goals I set for myself to accomplish this year. Today, at 34 years old, I live with my husband, Mauricio Sebastian Quinteros Papini and our dog, who we call our son, Jim Morrison Quinteros-Niumeitolu. We live in Manassas, Virginia via New York City (We go back and fourth) and we are planning our next steps in our lives. We want and long to create our home base. We talk constantly of living in Chile and Tonga and we are figuring out how we can do this. We are in the midst of setting our plans to travel the world. We want to have our first child next year. I want to go back to school to get my Masters (since I dropped out my 2nd year at Columbia University) and then get my PhD. I want to go to Harvard University, uhhh huhh, that’s right. More than ever, my family, created and biological, are the most important, precious entities in my life right now. My relationships with them and community are my priority. I want them to know on my daily that I love them and I value them and they give me my life. My father has leukemia and I want him to truly get everyday, that it’s because of his sacrifices and the choices he made for us, that I am here today, a Poet, a Painter, an Actor. I am writing and painting his story and legacy, so coming real soon. I can’t wait.

I leave with you 3 poems. They are below. You can read them (read them out loud if you are daring!) because the experience is different from listening and watching the word. I also leave with you my contact info. Holleeeeeeeeeeeerz. I want you to know that I love you. You may say right now, what? Moana doesn’t it even know me, what is she talking about. Well, if you are reading this right now, I know you now and I know you got lots to share with the world. I wish you nothing but the best in all your dreams coming true. Come on, you know you can have all your dreams fulfilled. There is nothing to be afraid of. Don’t just go after them, have fun in fiercely grabbing them. And if you don’t get it the first time, try again and again and again.This journey is yours and so you better make it worth it. Put yourself out there, you got this. ‘Ofa lahi atu always.

Stay connected:
email: indigoartista@yahoo.com
www.moanalove.com (Full website coming real soon!)
twtter: moanalove

“It’s a new day”
Written by Vaimoana Litia Makakaufaki Niumeitolu
Inwood; NYC, NY
para all of us

we magic in flesh and bone
real, alive and direct
aqui with you
we wisdom
when we think we are dumb
we butter light
sunshine forces
ready for flight
we are told we are
too young
we are told we are
too old
we are told we are
too much
too less
not possible
not worthy
(we don’t believe)
give birth to
infinite possibilities
We give birth
to the
We think we aint worth
a million
(that’s true)
cuz we worth infinity, can’t count that
you can count: dollar bills, the top ten hits, degrees
which is not always counted
you can’t count stars, sand, joy or memory
which always counts
remembering who we are
our worth
our possibility
our headbeats to our headphones, attuned to our
heartbeats to our heartphones
calling our corazón
Let’s answer: mi amor, mi vida, mi corazón
we bring our (he)Art alive
new life
(don’t they know,
don’t you know,
don’t we know!)
we are the ones
who give birth
to our universe
from each breath
from each lung
we are the ones
who give birth to the sun
we never question, asking
“Will it rise again?”
We are the ones to
give birth to a
New day
Life has just begun

“Tongan (American) Creation Myth”
Written by Vaimoana Litia Makakaufaki Niumeitolu
Harlem; NYC, NY

We want Jesus, Our hair blown out, football and Paris Hilton
to save us
Britney, Miley, MTV and Hollywood dreams
to inspire us
We like that Urban Outfitters and Old Navy
steal our vivid, flower patterns
for their Summer Collections
So we can wear “our culture” and share it with “others”
We are a coooooooooooooooooool people
Shaaaaaaka Brada, Hang Loose
Come be with us!
Let’s have a Luau Office Party!
We are Hip and Laid back Folks
Chillllll, We are Sexy and Happy Natives

Our patterns are depressing
We have no collections or recollection
of our history
We hate ourselves
We hate our thickness
We hate our bigness
We hate our brownness
We hate you
We are tired and need a vacation
Somewhere else
We Laugh at FOBS
and hope and pray for
thin noses, thin thighs
thin lives
we grew up on
spam, pork, corn beef, vienna sausages,
white wonder bread and
white is supreme wonderfulness
we were raised
on the strength & courage
of our parents
who are FOBS
our Aunties and Uncles
our cousins, our sisters, our brothers,
We are ashamed of who we are
with Pride

Our hair no longer grows long
We despise the curl, the thickness
The wideness, the broadness
We want to be lighter in all ways:
weight, skin tone, mind capacity
We think reading is the “Palangi way”
We think education is “not a part of us”
while Epeli Hau’ofa passes away

We are Exotic Fantasies
We like that “South Pacific” is a revival at Lincoln Center
We are Safe, Secure and Smiling
Our Future is so Bright

We are definitely not exotic Fantasies
but carry these myths in our palms
like its our reality
We are bored with each other
We still have blond dreams and blue eyed fantasies
We crave to be wrapped into George Washington–he excites us
We have attitude—not fierce or good
we got “I don’t want to be bothered, Leave me alone,
Who do you think you are?” attitude
We shoot each other down with guns and gossip
Smile and pretend we don’t see other or ever hear this
We sing other People’s Songs & satisfied with lipsynching
We are dying and need a revival
We are secure in not knowing
who we are

We are actual facts
Look us up
Wikipedia got us
Yes, we do exist
even if no one has heard of us or met us in flesh
I am not the only one
This is where the real test in Faith should be in
We are real, live and direct
We are Rising Statistics in UN Conferences and Academic Papers
More Documentaries need to share this
Scientists and Economists can confirm this
Margaret Mead didn’t want to mention this
Jeffery Sachs can attest to this
Brangelina wishes they can adopt this
Gauguin was afraid to paint this

We are poor
We are hungry
We are poverty
We are AIDS/HIV, hidden and shhhhhushed
and other multiple STDs and diseases that are never discussed
We tell ourselves that no one has sex
yet We are rapes, teen pregnancies and whispered abortions
Diligently hoping, expecting and praying Churches to educate & forgive us
We are islands sinking, no clean ocean, no clean land yet We still want you to come here and we still live here
We are Paradise Burning, Welcome!
We are Fishmerman who don’t have any fish to fish,
there is no more Fish in the Sea, yet We are still Fisherman
We are Hurt, Lost and never found Navigators
We are broken inner compasses with no set maps or direction
We are just waiting for the next “Whale Rider “ movie to premier at Sundance and Cannes, So we CAN finally get some airtime on a major network, be written up in a magazine and say we got some “representation”
say we got sumtin because we are a “nothing people”
We are a “ What ARE our natural resources?” No oil can be found here, Our Leaders wish we had some—we only got coconuts, mangos, pineapples and sugarcane people
We are struggling to survive & wishing for American dollars and Euros to invest here, we want your money and will take it monarchy
We are Turtles with plastic soda rings around our necks and backs, We are deformed toxic reefs, seaweed and never ending waste and trash
We are the biggest Ocean–the Pacific Ocean–in the whole entire World!
with the largest dump Site on the Planet!
We want more and more countries to dump with us, it means more money for schools never built government
We are a “no one really knows us” people and we are “invisible in this world” visibly seen in friendly commercials and brochures, want one? Cleaning new hotels and condos
We go about our lives passing, never telling our stories, leave it for someone else to do and tell, Silent Storytellers
We are Oceania connected through our bloodlines with a high percentage of alcohol, diabeties and high blood pressure generation
We are a Paaaaaarty People, We praise Bob Marley and blast Reggae yet at anytime we sneer at Uliulis thinking we are better—Raise another drink and cheers to our next generation of the Pacific People in America!

Let us break the myths that hold us down, call us ugly
Betray each other and ourselves
Let us be our own Creators
of our own Lives
Let us re-definite and re-tattoo on our bodies and minds
the stories of where we once belonged
Let us create our own possibilities of
who we always wanted to be
Let us create our own powerful beginnings
and navigate through these treacherous times
So more of us can have happy, fulfilled endings
Let us be our most powerful, brilliant, greatest selves
and sail through this new land of opportunity
Let us make and keep our own promises with each other
In this Promised land of broken promises
Let Us believe in our own
Natural Beauty and resources of
Generosity, Kindness, Strength, and Love
Let us exist
in who we truly are
Let us
Let us create

Blue Eucalyptus & Lavender*
Para Mama
Inwood; NYC, NY

I watched Mama do laundry, taxes, pray daily
solve math problems on campus and off campus
speak un-broken-re-mixedEnglish
black y blueberry bruises make up and made up lives
in our blue trailer in this trailerpark InternationalIntegrationIndigenous
Incredible neighborhood of nuevaAmerica
where we ate our orange marmalade on toasted english muffins
for breakfast—whaaaaat?!!
We lived on University Avenue
Avenue of the hardestworkingDreams that mop your floors & clean your counters
The Avenue of our Mormon patriarchal not matriarchal blessings
I live there
Education was why we came to live in this fenced in gravel snow cement grass patch
We landed and discovered these pilgrims’ promised perpetual land
Opportunities don’t wait for the bus or lay-a-ways
Infinite walks under moonlight alongside a car without registration and insurance
Call back next moth, let’s see what our dreams will bring then
when we got some to give

She woke up early to go to work and get me ready for kindergarten
I woke up early to explore this NewWorld, this NewLandlockedLand
once ocean
the evidence is everywhere: You, Me, seashells, seapeeople, seafood
seadollars that can’t pay the rent or buy a christmas tree
or even be placed on an altar surrounded by candlelight
these exoskeletons are no longer desirable
our own skeletons come alive
we function our human machine being
feed and act as barrier
against desiccation
This is the Place This NewLand
we don’t got to rely on the sea
so we aint haveta survive on ocean, moon and/or tide
no need to call whale, brother or sister
seal and turtle, cousin
We can forget those modes and mobiles of communication
We got the melchizedek priesthood and hell
We got pre-existence pre-knowing you
We got these pretests to take, we knew in our pre-mortal life
All this education pre-kindergarten

She was the 1st
1st one to leave
for college in new zealand
1st mormon in her familia
1st tongana PhD in the mainland of this united states of north america
You are 1st, Mama
This is the Place
This is the Place, you belong
You are 1st
Not me, not Fui, not Loa, ‘Amelia or David
Not your Husband, your Father, Saia or your Mother, ‘Ana Vaimoana
Not your Sisters, Mani, Kalo, or Brothers, Haloti, Saia, Kelepi
Not your grandchildren
Not Siaosi, Sara, Vai, Edna, Fui, Kepa, Mailo, or Victoria
Not your students, your boss, your boss’s boss,
Not everyone or anyone
This is the Place
First Place
You are 1st, Mama

I listened to Mama drink coco, read books, sing out loud
She always tucked me into bed
She was the one who went to sleep late and woke up early
She was first to hang up my paintings and drawings all over her home and office
She gave me my first paint brush and paint
She gave me my first paper and pen
She gave me my first book to read
*I was doing my laundry today. I used “Blue Eucalyptus & Lavender” which is a type of laundry detergent made by Seventh Generation. The Seventh Generation brand makes household cleaning products that are green and not toxic to our environment.


  1. Like it!
    Existed in an unpreviledge world, in terms of parents moving to Hawaii not as American citizen but overseas students and manage to raise a talented young woman who inspires great poet such as Maryanne Pale is amazing.

    Her dad’s name is Tangata which is a similar name to Tangata o Lakepa Tuitupou(Molia’s son), they should be related
    Havea Aukafolau is decended from the Niumeitolu

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