The Tongan community in New Zealand celebrated Tongan Language Week from 4th September 2016 to 10th September 2016. The theme was Fakakoloa `a Aotearoa `aki `a e Loto`i Tonga – Enriching Aotearoa with the Tongan Spirit. In addition, there were four sub-themes:
- Ko hoku Tonga – My Tongan Identity
- Loto `Ofa – Love
- Loto Faka`apa`apa – Respect
- Loto Fakatōkilalo – Humility
According to the 2016 Tongan Language Week Committee, Loto is the heart and spirit of affection and authority. Loto`i Tonga reflects Tongan people’s complex and beautiful beliefs, values and aspirations. To conclude the celebration of 2016 Tongan Language Week, I am honoured and grateful to feature Mele`ana To `i Pouono Kalekale Wickham as a special guest on this blog.
On a recent visit back home to New Zealand, I had the opportunity to meet with Pouono and we had a talanoa session about her passion for creating traditional Tongan attire, arts and crafts. In the process, she reflected on her lived experiences and acknowledged those who have inspired her along the way. Born and raised as a young child in the Kingdom of Tonga, she prides herself in her cultural heritage, her family connections and her faith in God. She currently resides in Paeroa, New Zealand with her husband Jamie Wickham which is where she runs her newly formed business Pouono Krafts. Her Tongan Spirit is exhibited through the beautiful traditional Tongan attire that she creates and in turn adorned by many in New Zealand and abroad.
Enjoy the read! (MP = Maryanne Pale)
MP: Please share with us a little about your background
Pouono: I grew up in the Kingdom of Tonga in a village called Vaini with my grandparents – Lili and Siua Kalekale. They raised me for the first 10 years of my life. I learned so much from them. They disciplined me which helped prepare me for life. I was very fortunate to have grown up with them. I believe that because I was around my grandparents a lot, I developed a love for being around older people. We lived a simple life. We did not have much but they taught me to be happy and grateful for what we did have.
MP: You will always have that special bond with your Grandparents. Thank you for sharing. Who inspired you as you were growing up?
Pouono: The first person that comes to mind is my Grandfather Siua. He was a very strong person and very wise. From him I learned to be independent and to never rely on people for my needs. He taught me that if I wanted something that I need to work for it. He told me that I should not expect to be handed things in life. He inspired me to be more loving and to be respectful towards others. I will always be grateful for him.
Also, there’s my Great-Aunt (my Grandmother’s older sister) who is a very humble person. As I was growing up in Tonga, I always looked up to her. She inspired me to love not only my family but also to love others around me which she demonstrated in her day to day living. She would invite strangers into her family house and feed them and as a young child I would always question why. It wasn’t until I got older that I realised and understood why she did that. Christ said ‘what you do to strangers, you do to me’ and so she was living her life according to Christ’s example. She inspired me to treat others just as I treat my family.
MP: That is so beautiful! Your family members have inspired you greatly.
Pouono: Yes, I hope that when I have children of my own, I will be able to pass onto them the messages and lessons that I have learned from my Grandfather and my Great Aunty, and that my children could then pass it onto theirs.
I would also like to acknowledge a very important person in my life and that is my husband – Jamie Wickham. Over the past few years of my life, he has helped to shape me into the person that I am today. An example would be how he has helped me to let go of the grudges that I once held against others which was something that I struggled with. The people that did me wrong, I used to pretend they didn’t exist anymore and I never wanted anything to do with them; however, Jamie put things into perspective for me. It sure took a lot of effort but he never gave up and I felt that as soon as I started letting go of certain situations, I felt peace in my heart. Jamie taught me to forgive, and to also think wisely before I speak. Most importantly, he taught me to look for the good in people and to focus on the positives. He has taught me many things which have helped me to be wiser each day. I am forever grateful to God for bringing Jamie into my life.
MP: That is truly special. It is lovely to hear the love and support that he provides you with. I would love to hear how your creations all began.
Pouono: It all began when I was looking for a gift for Jamie on our one month of dating. When I met him, I knew that he was very special. When we started dating, he was living in Napier and I was living in Auckland so we sent each other gifts. I wanted to make him something unique for our one month (yup one month and I was head over heels for him). I noticed one of my Mum’s flower vase whilst sitting in the lounge which gave me an idea to create a bouquet of Forrero Rocher chocolates and I ended up sending it to him.
MP: That is creative indeed. It’s very beautiful.
Pouono: Thank you. I believe that’s when I started exploring my creativity. Our first valentine we didn’t go out but instead we cooked and I made our own centrepiece. Jamie proposed and then we started planning for our wedding. We didn’t have much money as I was still an unemployed student so I had to up my creative thinking. I went on to personalising all our centrepieces, made our own cake stand, made all mine’s and my five bridesmaids flower bouquet and all the decorations for our head table. I realised from there that I was pretty good and creating stuff with my hands. So I continued to be an unemployed student when I started making Tongan traditional attire.
Now when I make Tongan traditional attire, I feel as though I am sharing a part of myself, my gift, my passion and it makes me feel proud that I remain connected to my Tongan roots. Also, my husband Jamie is of European descent, and so for me to be able to create the traditional attire is also about sharing my Tongan culture with him and that he gets to experience and see it firsthand.
MP: That is truly heart-warming. Jamie definitely brings out the best in you and your Tongan spirit is evidenced in the love for the creations that you produce. What is your creative process for your designs?
Pouono: Well my Mother is a great source of inspiration in my creative process. She helps me to create the traditional Tongan wear for Pouono Krafts. I am grateful for her insight and experience.
My creative process for each design is pretty simple actually. To be honest, when I get orders I try to draw it but I never draw. What I do, I think about it before I go to sleep. I try and visualise everything in my head. By the time I wake up, usually I have a clear picture of what it is that I would like to make. However, when I start making the Tongan traditional wear, I keep making changes and at the end it’s totally different from what I had initially visualised. So that’s how it has worked for me.
MP: You have so many beautiful designs. What is the feedback that you have received from your customers?
Pouono: It has been overwhelming. How much people support and love what I do. I have had feedback that they have never seen my work before and that it is unique, it’s different, it’s new.
I even had my husband’s friends ask me to make a teunga tau’olunga (traditional Tongan attire for a Tongan female dance) for her wedding but she lives in Australia. I’ve been trying to find someone as good as your wife to make my teunga tau’olunga. Could you please ask her if she could please make my teunga tau’olunga. For me when I read that, I thought, what I am sure there is plenty of people. It’s amazing to hear people’s feedback and it’s encouraging. However, if I do receive negative feedback, I would have to accept it and build on that.
I shared some of my Tongan traditional attire on Facebook which began generating interest and now I am in the process of creating my own website. Hopefully in the next few years I will have my own shop.
MP: That is wonderful to hear. I believe that you will have your own shop one day. Anything is possible! May you please name an experience that you had that influenced you to become the person that you are today?
Pouono: Hmmn. Let me think… Ah yes, there is a day that I will never forget. It was when I was a young girl and I was with my Grandmother while she was gardening at home. I heard her calling out to me but I didn’t respond so she kept calling and calling but I kept quiet hoping that she would stop. However, she kept on calling for me and so for the first time, I raised my voice out of frustration and I yelled out “What?”. Unbeknown to me, my Grandpa was inside the house and he heard me yell. Suddenly, he came out of the house and he called out to me to go over to see him. Immediately, I thought, ‘Oh no! I am in trouble!’. With a firm look on his face he told me “You should never raise your voice at your Grandma or anyone else”. His words pierced me and that day really got to me. From that day, I have never raised my voice at anyone. So that is an example of the many experiences that I have had which have helped me shape me into the person that I am today.
MP: Aww that’s so cute and it’s special that your Grandfather’s teachings are still with you today.
Pouono: Yes, his voice lingers in all that I do. I have not forgotten the many lessons that he has taught me. Sometimes when I am about to make a decision, my Grandfather’s voice comes to mind and it’s comforting for me to be able to pause and reflect on what he would say or do.
MP: Given that this week we celebrated 2016 Tongan Language Week, may you please share something about the Tongan culture that makes you proud?
Pouono: Sure. I love how I grew up in a Tongan family and seeing how the Tongan culture grows. We have an all for one and one for all perspective on life. What I have come to experience is that it is always better to stand together. I really love that about our Tongan culture. That is something that I want to instil in my family. I have seen family members demonstrate their love through acts of kindness such as always giving and never expecting anything in return.
MP: I love that! Is there something that you wish to share in the Tongan language?
Pouono: Yes. I would like to share a favourite Tongan proverb of mine. `Oua e lau e kafo kae lau lava – Ko e taha eni he paloveape `oku ou pukepuke ma`u pe `i he`eku fononga mo `eku feinga kotoa pe `oku fai. `Oku mahu`inga ke tau tuku taha pe `etau fakakaukau ki he ngaahi me’a lelei kuo tau a`usia ka tau tukuange `a e ngaahi me`a na`e `ikai ke lelei. ‘Oku mahu`inga ke tau puke pe `a e lelei he ko e lelei `oku ne ‘omi `a e fakalotolahi kiate kitautolu ke tau to e fai lelei lahi ange `i he kaha`u. Kapau te tau fakakaukau ma`u pe ki he ola kovi `i he`etau fononga, `e hanga `e he kovi `o fakalotosi’i kitautolu mo ne kapui `a lelei na`a tau te u fai mei hotau ngaahi `atamai.
MP: Malo `aupito Pouono ho vahevahe mai `a e paloveape. `Oku hoko ia ko e fakalotolahi kiate au pea mo hoku ngaahi faka`amu ki he kaha`u. Is there a piece of advice that you would like to share with the younger generation?
Pouono: Yes, my advice for the younger generation is to not take things for granted. Take every opportunity as they come. Don’t give up on your dreams. If you really want it then go out there and make it happen. You will encounter negativity and that’s ok. You just believe in yourself and you will get to anywhere you want to go.
From my experiences, I know that if I want this to be successful then I need to put in the work, believe in myself and keep going. My husband always encourages me to stay positive and he reminds me not to dwell on the negatives. So I try and keep a positive mindset and surround yourself with people who will encourage and support you. I think that is important.
MP: Is there anything that you would like to add?
Pouono: Yes, I believe that I got to where I am now because of God’s grace. I think if it wasn’t for God I would be wandering down another path. For me, faith got me to where I am and it has given me so much joy and happiness. Giving everything to God was the best thing that I have ever done.
If you believe in God but things may seem like it’s not working in the way that you think it should, continue to have faith and just hand it all over to God. He works in mysterious ways. Allow Him to take the lead. When you are at a point in your life where you have reached success, you look back and realise that God was working through your life. You realise that this is where you are meant to be.
MP: Amen! Thank you Pouono for your time and for sharing aspects of your journey. You truly embody the Tongan spirit and you share this beautifully with many around you. I am blessed to have cross paths with you. Wishing you all the very best for all your future endeavours. Malo `aupito and `ofa lahi atu xox
Pouono: Likewise Maryanne. Thank you so much for the opportunity to share my story. I am very grateful. God bless and `ofa lahi atu.
To connect with Pouono on her Pouono Krafts Facebook page, please click on the link below: