A Reflection: SPACLALS and Tonga Day for CMDHB

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Dr Selina Tusitala-Marsh with Emeritus Professor Albert Wendt during the SPACLALS: The South Pacific Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies hui (meeting/event).

The past 7 days have been absolutely heart-warming and despite trying to recover from a stubborn cold, I am left feeling elated from the experiences that have transpired. I am honoured and humbled to have been invited to share spoken word at 3 very special occasions within the past week. The first occasion was at Day 1 of the SPACLALS: The South Pacific Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies hui (meeting/event). This event was launched last week on Thursday at The University of Auckland and it saw Pacific authors, educators, students and special guests present, discuss and celebrate Pacific literature. The committee of the SPACLALS includes the Chair Dr Selina Tusitala Marsh, Reverend Mua Strickson-Pua, Grace Teuila Taylor, Michelle Johansson, Rev. Mua Strickson-Pua, Robert Sullivan, Lani Wendt Young, Jo Budge, Esther Mann and Shailen Jeram.

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With Rev. Mua Strickson-Pua and Lina Tukunga at the SPACLALS: The South Pacific Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies hui (meeting/event).

I received an invitation from Rev Mua Strickson-Pua (the recent special guest to this blog) to share spoken word with fellow poets Dietrich Soakai, Lina Tukunga and one of his students, Katalina. Our spoken word performances were in honour of Emeritus Professor Albert Wendt who was the keynote address at this hui. Rev Mua Strickson-Pua played a Jazz instrumental piece as we performed spoken word. It was brilliant and so much fun! Earlier this month, Emeritus Professor Albert Wendt was awarded the highest honour on the Queen’s birthday which saw him join the elite club of just 20 living New Zealanders to be appointed a Member of the Order of New Zealand. It was a privilege to perform spoken word in honour of Emeritus Professor Albert Wendt that day. I am very thankful for the opportunity that had been provided by Rev. Mua Strickson-Pua.

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With the Chair of SPACLALS, Dr Selina Tusitala-Marsh, and Lina Tukunga after our performance in honour of Emeritus professor Albert Wendt.

The second occasion where I performed spoken word at was on Day 2 of the SPACLALS: The South Pacific Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies hui. I received an invitation by a sister of mine, Grace Taylor, to participate in a presentation that she led. The presentation included Daren Kamali, Wikitoria Smith and I. Grace posed the following questions: “In performing your poetry have you found an unexplainable sense of knowing or naturalness during your performance? Where do you think this comes from?”  Daren, Wikitoria and I provided our perspectives for each question and then Grace opened it up to the floor and we heard from audience members who provided their thoughts. It was during that moment that I felt like my poetry and the Pacific and Tongan themes that are woven into each piece were reaffirmed. It was a heart-warming moment. Grace and Daren’s encouragement over the years has lifted my poetry from the page and placed it onto many different platforms and for that I will always be grateful for them. Amongst other roles that they hold, Grace and Daren are two of the co-founders of the South Auckland Poets Collective and also the Co-founders of Niu Navigations. Despite the nerves and emotions getting the better of me during that session, I felt like I was in a safe place and with the support and reassurance received from everyone, I thoroughly enjoyed the presentation that took place that afternoon.

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Daren Kamali and Grace Taylor, Co-founders of South Auckland Poets Collective and Co-founders of Niu Navigations.

The third occasion in which I shared spoken word took place on Wednesday of this week at the the Counties Manukau Health Pasifika Week hosted at Middlemore Hospital. I received an invitation from Anne Fitsemanu to share spoken word on the day which celebrated Tongan culture. Anne Fitsemanu is the Senior Advisor Special Projects for the Counties Manukau District Health Board (CMDHB) and she is also the Northern Region Vice President for PACIFICA. The Counties Manukau Health Pasifika Week event began at the beginning of this week with the launch of Fanau Ola which is an innovative model developed to improve health among the 120,000 Pacific people living within the Counties Manukau District Health Board’s South Auckland region. Tupoutu’a Tu’akoi (Pacific Patient, Fanau & Community Advisor for CMDHB) led the programme which was organised for Tonga Day and what a truly heart-warming segment it was.  My tears welled up at this particular event as the students from the Manukau Institute of Technology Tongan Association and Tongan members of the CMDHB joined me at the front as I performed my spoken word. There was this immense joy that came over me when the group starting singing a verse from a Tongan hymn right before I shared my spoken word piece. Their singing and their presence added strength and an overwhelming sense of peace right before I started my spoken word piece. They also joined me in singing part way through my spoken piece and my tears of happiness continued to well up. It was an incredible feeling having my kainga Tonga at the front with me. We stood together in solidarity as we celebrated our Tongan culture and heritage. I am blessed to have been a part of a wonderful segment. That particular performance will be one that I will never forget and I am so grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of it.

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With Tania Wolfgramm, Anne Fitsemanu, Tupoutu’a Tu’akoi and two beautiful Tongan women at the Counties Manukau Health Pasifika Week.

Upon reflecting on these 3 special occasions and my involvement in each, I am blown away. It humbles me to have been in the presence of such great Pacific people who excel in their respective fields whilst simultaneously embracing the surrounding Pacific communities to inspire, empower and celebrate. I am moved and strengthened by the learning experiences that I have encountered in my journey thus far. I am reminded to embrace each day with purpose and that when you are passionate about something, your determination to see things through will thrive in the face of challenges that may arise.

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My spoken word performance with the support of the Manukau Institute of Technology Tongan Association and the kainga Tonga that were at the Counties Manukau Health Pasifika week celebrating “Tonga Day”.

I would like to extend my heart-felt thanks to Reverend Mua Strickson-Pua, Grace Taylor, Daren Kamali, Anne Fitsemanu and Tupoutu’a Tu’akoi. Thank you all for providing me with an opportunity to share my poetry over the past week. I am utterly grateful to you all for allowing me to share my voice. Malo ‘aupito and ‘ofa lahi atu xox

I conclude this blog post with one of my favourite songs Some Say by the talented New Zealand artists known as The Hypnotics. Enjoy listening to the song and thank you for reading and supporting my blog. I truly appreciate it!

“Live your life and make the most of now…” 🙂

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