Celebrating Tongan Language Week 2013

resizedimage350248-Tongan-Language-Week-2Malo e lelei!

The third Pacific language week of 2013, Tonga Language week, was launched this morning and it will run until 8th September.

The theme for Tongan language week is: Fakakoloa ‘o Aotearoa ‘aki ‘etau Lea mo e Hiva Faka-tonga – Enriching Aotearoa with Tongan Language and Music.

Led by the Tongan Language Week committee with support from the Aotearoa Tongan Teachers Association, Wellington Tonga Leader’s Council, Tonga Canterbury Community Trust, Makutu’unga‘ He Ofa Tongan Community Wellington, various Tongan Radio Programmes and the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs, Tongan Language Week will provide a week of celebrations through music, song, dance, food, crafts and language.

For the national events calendar for Tongan Language Week, featuring a comprehensive list of events taking place across the country, please click here: http://www.mpia.govt.nz/assets/images/News-items/Tonga-Language-Week-Events-2013.pdf

For more information please visit the Tongan Language Week Facebook page.

Over the past year, I have had opportunities to share about some amazing Tongan people who truly inspire me. If you would like to read more about them on this blog, please click on the following names below:

The late Queen Sālote Mafile’o Pilolevu Tupou III

The late Professor Futa Helu

The late Dr ‘Epeli Hau’ofa

Dr Konai Helu-Thaman

‘Ilaisaane Kakala Taumoefolau

Manase Lua

Brian Misinale

Dr Karlo Mila-Schaaf

Mepa Taufa-Vuni

Vaimoana Niumeitolu

Rizvan Tu’itahi

Wesley Tameifuna

Tupou Neiufi

Since the theme for this year’s Tongan Language Week Celebration is “ENRICHING AOTEAROA WITH TONGAN LANGUAGE AND MUSIC” I would like to conclude this post with the following song “Katinia” which was orginally composed by the late Queen Sālote. This rendition is by Three Houses Down. Enjoy!

Talented Tongan Born Recording Artist and Actor: Rizván Tu’itahi


Rizván Tu’itahi is a Tongan born recording artist and actor who currently resides in Auckland, New Zealand. In September 2012, I had the pleasure in sharing a few of my spoken word poetry pieces alongside Rizván at the Matala Festival for Tongan Artists at the Mangere Arts Centre. It was there that Rizván and I initially met and it was also when I saw his live music performance for the first time. He is a passionate musician. Shortly after the Matala Festival, we met again at an event which saw Pasifika film makers, directors, writers and actors showcase their short films. Rizván was one of the actors in the short film Feilaulau (as shown below) which was featured that night. It is a moving short film and I cried when I saw the short film as the story resonated with my life and the migrant dreams of my parents. In December 2012,  Rizván and I met once again at a magazine photoshoot for the Tongan Creatives Collective of which we are both members of.  He is a very talented guy and it has been great to see him in his elements.

With a background in audio engineering and music production, Rizván’s tertiary studies continues in the field of Design and Visual Arts. He balances his family life with work as he continues to tell his stories through his music and acting. He is a humble guy who proudly acknowledges his Tongan heritage in all that he engages in. I am honoured and humbled for the time that he has taken to share his background story which has brought him to where he is today.

Many thanks Rizván for your time. I truly appreciate it. Wishing you all the very best in all your future endevours. ‘Ofa atu xox

Without further adieu, I present Rizván Tu’itahi’s write up for this blog. Enjoy!

My Story

Written by Rizván Tu’itahi 

Growing up in the Friendly Islands of Tonga during the mid to late 80’s all I heard was reggae music.  From Bob Marley and Lucky Dube to more local Polynesian artists like Foni Pole’o and Daniel Rae Costello.  Both my parents were very musical and my father use to play guitar and sing in a band with his brother and a few friends back in those days. My mother (Tupou Halaholo) is from Kolofo’ou and my father (Sione Tu’itahi) is from Pukotala, Ha’apai, later settling in Haveluloto, Tonga.  When I was born, we built a little home in the small village of Tofoa and later, my brother and I went to school at Tonga Side School in the city.

In 1990, a couple of my cousins came from New Zealand to visit.  They brought with them a ghetto blaster stereo and one cassette tape with an artist named MC Hammer.  This new sound was fascinating to me and I wanted to hear more.  In 1991 we came to Auckland for a visit and the same cousins had a VHS cassette playing one song over and over by a group called Naughty By Nature and the song was ‘O.P.P’.  I was drawn immediately to this new genre of Hip Hop; by the lyrics, the rhythm, the fashion and the way it made me want to dance and sing along.  It also became a motivation for me to improve my English so I could try and rap along with my new idols.  Back to Tonga now in 1992 and a new programme was being broadcasted on television called TV3 JAMZ playing music videos from the US including, Kriss Kross, Snoop Dogg, Cypress Hill and many more.  I was hooked instantly!  I started imitating the videos and trying to write little rhymes (which in retrospect, I cringe at because they were so fresh and cheesy).  Little did I know that these were the beginnings of a long path of creativity, expression and a lot of learning.

In 1994 we moved to New Zealand and settled Harbour side on Auckland’s North Shore.  Initially, it was intended to be a temporary move, as my father was having an operation at a private hospital. So, we came to be with him and of course this lead to us wanting to live here permanently.  At that age, I was not completely aware of the culture shock that I was experiencing because New Zealand was so different to the islands; the people, the food, and the kiwi accent among other things. By the time I hit High School, I had become comfortable and had adjusted myself to the kiwi lifestyle.  I had grown up in a diverse community and felt at home.  After my schooling at Glenfield College, I moved out to west Auckland to live with family.  A friend and I started our little crew called ‘the Usual Suspects’, and a few years later an independent underground label called ‘BreakinWreckWordz’ picked us up.  We started recording songs and performed some awesome gigs including Big Day Out, opening for Busta Rhymes, Hip Hop Summit, Pasifika and many more.  Soon after, I joined my cousin in a group called ‘the Immigrantz’ and worked on music under a music label called ‘D1 Entertainment’, while I worked and attempted study.  At the end of 2011, after several different tertiary institutes, I finally graduated with a Diploma in Audio Engineering and Music Production from MAINZ (Tai Poutini).  These two years of learning set me up perfectly for my next venture.

In 2012, I took time out to build my own home studio (at my parents house of course), recorded my first two solo projects, put out three music videos, constructed a website and started building a solid foundation for my own record label, ‘Renaissance Music’. www.renaissancemusic.co.nz

I released two projects, ‘Gemini’ and ‘Lost In Translation (1993)’.  The first of my works ‘Gemini’ was a short nine track EP with a mixture of different sounds that reflect my taste in music.  The second, ‘Lost In Translation’ was an ode to early 1990’s New York Hip Hop, which was the golden era of Hip Hop un my eyes.  A time where artists like Nas, Lost Boyz, Mobb Deep and many more thrived and brought substance and conscious content with their music.  These artists and their music were a great motivation and inspiration to me so in return in my music, I try to incorporate concepts and subject matter that can be useful to people, make them think, be inspired, empowered and uplifted.

This year I am focused on a new band ‘The Midnight Trips’ which I am also a part of. Under the ‘Renaissance’ label I am joined by my brother Saia (S.F.T) on the beat, Tonga Vaea on keys, Isaac (Ice) Etimani on bass and Psalms Marsters on vocals to bring a whole new sound to the industry.  We are ambitious and have big dreams, thus at the moment we are working on our self titled EP which can be downloaded for free here:


Also coming up next will be the release of my third solo project, Gemini II released June 10 and hopefully a few more music videos.  Stay tuned!

Thank you and much love to Maryanne for giving me the opportunity to share my story and music! And one last word of encouragement to all my Polynesian people out there, young and old alike; do your thing and don’t ever give up on your dreams! To the youngin’s eager to establish themselves in the music/entertainment industry, stay focused and stay true to yourself and your loved ones.  You don’t need to rely on major labels or anybody to get your music out there, you can do it yourself; do it independently.  Be in control.  Be who you are and never let anybody bring you down.  The world is yours! Malo ‘aupito, ofa atu!



Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/northcityrizzy
Twitter: https://twitter.com/northcityrizzy
Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/user/renaissancemusique

Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/renaissance-musique

OFFICIAL WEBSITE: www.renaissancemusic.co.nz

The Talented Tongan Author and Poet: Mepa Taufa-Vuni

Mepa Taufa-Vuni on her graduation day from The University of Auckland, New Zealand

Tongan born Author and Poet, Mepa Taufa-Vuni, is a mother of four children and she is married to Siaosi Vuni from Kolomotu’a. Mepa’s father is from Vainī, Tongatapu and her mother is from Ha’ateiho. She has two sisters (Malama, Seini) and four brothers (Maikolo, Taitusi, Mosese Tava, Kanitiola). A graduate from the University of the South Pacific and the University of Auckland, she works as a maths specialist at Fairburn Primary School at Otahuhu, Auckland, New Zealand. I have had the pleasure in getting to know Mepa and I have also had the honour in reading poetry alongside with her at a recent public event.

Mepa’s short stories and a few of her poems were published by the University of Hawai’i in an Anthology of TransPacific Writing entitled Making Waves. You can order your copy here:  The University of Hawai’i – Making Waves. She has also had her work published by the University of the South Pacific alongside other Pacific writers. In addition, she has a short story published by the Learning Media here in New Zealand entitled The Wing of Maui’s Moa. More recently, Mepa was the organiser for the Matala Poetry Night which was part of the Matala festival – a celebration of Tongan arts and culture hosted at the Mangere Arts Centre, Auckland, New Zealand. It is with great pleasure that I share with you my interview with the beautiful Author and Poet, Mepa Taufa-Vuni. Enjoy! (Please note:  MP = Maryanne Pale and MTV = Mepa Taufa-Vuni).

MP:     Thank you Mepa for taking time out for this interview. I truly appreciate it. Now, with the recent success of the 2nd Matala festival – a celebration of Tongan arts and culture, tell me what has been the highlight for you in working alongside other Tongan artists?

MTV: Thank you for this interview Maryanne, I am excited about it. To answer your question, I think for me, I loved seeing the different talents coming together like Filipe Tohi with his Visual Arts, Sesilia Pusiaki with her contemporary dance show and others with their unique skills. I was exposed to different ideas and skills of talented Tongan people within our Auckland community. It was a great experience!

MP:     I thoroughly enjoyed the Matala festival this year. Included in the Matala event was the Poetry Night in which you had successfully organised. It was lovely to have Tongan Royalty present as well as Dr Karlo Mila as the featured poet. How did you find such a wonderful line up of Tongan poets for the Matala Poetry night?

MTV: Yes, it was good to have ‘Eiki Lupepau’u Tuita and ‘Eiki Moheofo Tuita for the night and they thoroughly enjoyed listening to live words. Dr Karlo Mila is awesome and she is a very humble and a gifted Poet.  Well, through thousands of emails, phone calls and more emails I was able to locate poets who were willing to partake in the poetry night.  We are very lucky because we have the technology and I can sit in my living room and make online connections with people from around the world.  Sesilia Pusiaki also helped in finding contributors for our Poetry Night. She had suggested Rizvan Tu’itahi, Seini Taumoepeau and yourself which was awesome.

MP:     The entire evening was heart-warming and I applaud you for the time that you had taken to ensure that everything would run smoothly on the night. And it did! What were the highlights from the Matala poetry night for you?

MTV: Thank you Maryanne. I am grateful for the support that I have received from people around me which helped. One of the highlights for me is having my children, friends, cousins and my husband Siaosi Vuni to listen to my crazy ideas through my poetry.  I also loved sharing the stage with Dr Karlo Mila, Rizvan Tu’itahi, Vaivai Kailahi, DanaRae Tatafu, ‘Elina Tukunga, Luti Richards, yourself, Manase Lua and having ‘Alisi Tatafu as the MC was brilliant.

MP:     It almost felt like it was a family gathering for me because it was truly heart-warming and very humourous. The feedback from people who had attended the Matala poetry night were very positive, what do you think could be improved for the next Matala Poetry night?

MTV: Yes, I can understand why it felt like a family gathering, it was very mafana. Well, as far as improvements for the next Matala poetry night, I think having more chairs for the audience would be great because we had an overflow of people that evening. Some of our audience members as you know had to stand at the back of the gallery and others chose to sit on the floor. I am humbled by that but better preparation for the attendance of guests would can be improved. Also, to find sponsorship for the next Matala Poetry night would be helpful.

Here is a slideshow of photos from the Matala Poetry Night. Photos were taken by Melino Maka:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

MP:     Yes, I think at least 100 people were there for the Matala Poetry Night which was wonderful to see. Well done once again on the success of that special evening. You are a published Author of short stories and also a published Poet. Please describe your first experiences in discovering that writing was something that you are passionate about.

MTV: Thank you for your kind words and your support. Well, when I studied in the University of the South Pacific for my first degree, I met ‘Epeli Hau’ofa and I found his novels very interesting. So, I decided to do creative writing and loved it since then.  I used to read my poetry at the bar and he and other lecturers would be shouting since I was a poor student. He used to come and talk to us about his novel ‘Kisses of the Netherlands’ and he had a wicked sense of humour. In my creative writing courses – I used to go to his Oceania fale and I used to write there. It provided me with opportunities to talk with him about the visual artists that created work in ‘Epeli’s fale. I loved reading ‘Epeli Hau’ofa stories because I can relate to them easily and his honesty is hilarious.

MP:     That is awesome! You are lucky you were able to learn from ‘Epeli Hau’ofa. He was a great man. So you were educated in the Pacific and you are currently a teacher here in New Zealand. Please identify the major differences that you see in our schools here in NZ in comparison to the schools back in the Pacific.

MTV: Well, the education system here in New Zealand is very advanced and I always learn something new. Our Principal, Frances Nelson, encourages teachers in our school to do further studies and to learn new things from time to time.

Currently, I work as a maths specialist for Fairburn Primary School. I love teaching maths to Year 3-6 students and I always tell my students especially my Tongan students that they are lucky here in New Zealand. Unlike Tonga, the classrooms here in New Zealand are warm, clean and there is no leaking from the roof, they have activBoard while in Tonga is still blackboard, they have counters in different colours and back in my time I used to take hundred candlelight nuts or sticks as my counters. In other words, the schools here in New Zealand have a lot more resources.

MP:     That is very interesting indeed. Thank you for sharing that. You had mentioned ‘Epeli Hau’ofa as one of your inspirations. Were there family members that you were you greatly inspired by and/or encouraged by to start writing and to continue to write?

MTV: Yes, my father is a very good story teller and my late grandmother (‘Ana Finau Taufa) was hilarious with her tales. My mother grew up with 8 sisters and they were very creative in their unique ways – when I was in primary school, they used to read me the myths and legends of Tonga in Tongan language of course. I used to love listening to the tales of Hikule’o and Pulotu, Taufatahi and the sharks at ‘Eueiki, Kava from Faa’imata and all myths and legends that I mostly used in my writing. As a child, I used to be thankful to Maui for slowing down the sun and fishing out Tonga.

Also, my aunt Sepi Taufe’ulungaki used to read Tongan stories to me when I was young and my aunt Meleane Taufe’ulungaki used to write Tongan stories for primary schools, and I used to read those black and white stories when I was a kid. Those stories have stayed with me even up until today and some of which is reflected in my poetry work.

Oh and my grandmother (my dad’s mother) told me stories about everyone in my village and I learnt people’s characters from her. ‘Ana Finau Taufa was very loving and I was very close to her  – I believed I got my sense of humour from her.  My father, Siopau Taufa can tell stories really well. I believed that my grandmother and my dad were great story-tellers and I need to capture their stories on a piece of paper for others to enjoy.  I am grateful to all my family members for their support and encouragement.

MP:     I love that! Your writings stem from a strong foundation of family support which is wonderful to see. In your work, what are the themes that you enjoy writing about?

MTV: Well, reflecting on the MATALA POETRY NIGHT, my theme was SIO KEHE. It means different perspectives, different point of views and looking at thing differently. So my themes for my short stories and poetry are based on Tongan myths and stories that I grew up with. Also, I love to write about people’s lifestyles and how a person behaves in different settings.  I add humour into my work as I want people to enjoy it.  I love writing about things that everyone else can relate to especially Pacific Islanders. My being honest in my work can be very hard but I continue to stay real to who I am as a writer because it reflects my personality.

Alisi Tatafu, Honourable Lupepau’u Tuita and Mepa Taufa-Vuni during the Matala Poetry Night

MP:     I hear you. I love that you’re able to stay true to your personal voice and stand by everything that you write. Your poetry reflects your sound knowledge in traditional Tongan protocols, values and beliefs not to mention Tongan myths and stories passed on from one generation to the next, do you feel that there is an importance in sharing your Tongan knowledge, values and beliefs?

MTV: Yes of course, I believe that sharing my stories with Tongan values and beliefs are very important for my children (first generation here in NZ).  They are continuing to learn what beliefs, characteristics, values and stories a Tongan person has. However, sometimes I talk to my children about the importance of having fun and at the same time to be well educated.

MP:     Absolutely! Thank you for sharing that. Other than the language, what do you think are the major differences between Tongan poetry and poetry of other cultures?

MTV: I think Tongan Poetry paints the lifestyles of Tongans – no one tells a better story about Tonga than the real Tongans. I used to study William Wordsworth, William Shakespeare and other famous Poets but somehow I favoured late Queen Salote’s poetry and songs.   When I was in Tonga High School (1989 -1994), we used to study poetry written by the late Queen Salote by hard and then we had to recite them. I still can remember some of them. Her work is unique and her usage of metaphors, similes and poetic devices is beautiful like:

 ‘Si’i hengihengi e kuo ‘alu,

Kapakau ai si’ete manatu

It looks at nature, creatures from a different perspectives but very smart and romantic.

MP:     Beautiful! I love Queen Salote’s poems and songs. You have a young family, how has motherhood influenced your writing?

MTV: Well, I wrote my first children’s story ‘The Wing of Maui’s Moa’ for one of my sons. We migrated here in 2007 and my son Taaniela couldn’t read, speak nor write any English and I was a very frustrated mother. I wrote Tongan stories for him and translated them to English and got published in 2009 by the Learning media. Here is a poem that I had written in dedication to my four beautiful children: Fangu, Taani, Sē and Tea.

My Dear Children

They sat in front of the big flat screen surfing the available channels

Complaining, whining how boring most programmes were

Little they knew of their fortunate situations

“Buy us dvds, xbox and ipad for entertainment please,” they pleaded.

“My dear children,” said I “Come closer, open your ears and carefully listen”

Back in my days when videos and televisions were very rare

We entertain ourselves with little things we did find

“Like dvds and x-box dear mother”, they chorused.

“Those things were still a mystery back then in the island”, I said

But we did have lots of fun when I was like you

“Playing with coconuts mother dearest”

They sarcastically smiled at each other and cackled

“My dear children,” said I, “We did play with coconuts as our rugby balls”

Empty tuna and corned beef cans were our toys

We did recycle those tins and made good use of them

We piled them up making our own patterns with those cans

We had to remember each pattern, each layer to win the game

For missing one would be a disaster and would be a shame

Then we called the game ‘pani’ and we learnt to count very fast

Backwards and forwards, we sequenced our numbers correctly

I learnt skip counting in 2’s, 5’s then 10’s to arrive at 100 quickly

“So you guys were poor mother dearest”, laughed my kiwi children

“Define Poor,” said I to my laughing children

Listen to me my children, said I with my Tongan accent

To be poor is a very strong word my dearest ignorant descendants

I may be poor for not having McDonalds, KFC or Chinese takeaways

Or not having NIKE, ADIDAS, PUMA slashed into my possessions


There were heaps of mangoes; green, red, orange, yellow, big and small

Guavas were juicy; hanging from thousands of trees at our backyard
White sands softly blanketed our beautiful beaches

Green cool coconuts quenched our thirsts in hot summer days

Is this poverty to you?

Think carefully of the word ‘poor’

For it defines and narrows heaps of others’ perspectives

My dearest kiwi children you do miss heaps in my so old days

I wasn’t stuck inside the house with a flat screen for entertainment

My eyes used to feast on colours of flowers in our forest

I wasn’t stuck with an xbox with my fingers pushing buttons

My fingers ran white soft sands, dripping the ocean between them

I wasn’t stuck with an ipod with heavy noise in my ears

I sang with the elders and danced through the rhythm of the night

I wasn’t stuck with an iphone, surfing the net all time, ruining my sight

I roamed our streets with all my school friends

“I may be poor in your eyes, my little Kiwi children”, said I

“But I did have fantabulous FUN in my days” laughed I

MP:     Aww thank you for sharing your poem. That piece is moving and it resonates with me. How do you manage your time as a Mother, maths specialist and writing?

MTV: Thanks for asking. Well, as a mother, I am juggling my full time job as a maths specialist for Fairburn Primary School, my four children and my writing. Fairburn Primary School is treating me well and I feel comfortable working there, my colleagues are very supportive and they are understanding of me being a mother and an emerging writer. My husband is also very helpful.

MP:     That is fantastic that you have support from people in all areas of your life. Thanks for sharing that. What does creative writing mean to you?

MTV: Well, I see writing as a hobby – it helps me to relax, think of something else and escaped somewhere in my wild imagination. I don’t have a special place to write, except the kitchen table while my children eat and run around like mad hares.

MP:     Lol! You are a busy woman so it’s great that you are able to find moments to write.  What is your current creative writing project at the moment?

MTV: I need to finish my collection of Poetry for my theme of ‘Sio Kehe’ and to start on my first novel.

MP:     Oh I can’t wait until your collection of poetry is completed! I love your work, it’s humourous and shares the realities of the Tongan lifestyle of some. I am intrigued by the novel that you’re about to embark on. So what is your novel going to be about?

MTV: Oh hehe! The novel is just a dream to complete – I have started writing it but haven’t had the time to complete it. It is about a life of a Tongan woman who refused to abide by all the rules (because she is so honest with her feeling except for being true to her heart) that are applied to good and proper Tongan girls.

I am planning to also start my Master in Professional Studies – Understanding Difficulties in Numbers so maybe it will take me 15 years or 2 years to complete the novel – we will never know … LOL!

MP:     Hehe! Well, that is something to definitely look forward to! Keep going. I can’t wait to read both your collection of poetry and also your first novel. What has been the best piece of advice that someone has given you which has helped you along in your creative writing journey?

MTV: Well, Sepi Taufe’ulungaki, my mother’s sister once told me that she loved reading my writings. Sepi is well educated and urging me to write, coming from her is huge.

MP:     That is a blessing indeed. So on a typical “free day”, what do you enjoy doing?

MTV: I love reading and cooking with a good bottle of wine.  I love going to the flea markets and sometimes I buy my reading books from there because it is only $2 or less.

MP:     That sounds wonderful. We should get together and write sometime. Can you please share your thoughts on being a writer.

MTV: Yes, we should get together and write. That would be awesome. I’d like to say that being a writer is tough especially when waking up to emails, phone calls from cousins, families, friends accusing me that I wrote about them or their wives, their husbands and their children.  I have relatives who are not talking to me nowadays because they said they see themselves in my Poetry or my short stories which is very sad.  On the positive side, being able to bottle up an event on a piece of paper is really cool. It is good to share with others.  To the aspiring writer, I would say, be honest with yourself and write from the heart and do not worry what others think of you.

MP:     That is truly a reality for writers. Thank you for your honesty and for sharing your thoughts and experiences. In closing would you like to share one more poem?

MTV:   Thank you Maryanne for having me on your blog, I am honoured. In closing, I would like to share this poem which I dedicate to my weavers – ‘Ilaise Tongilava Kupu, Tupou Pasikala, ‘Alaimaluloa Tamihere – memory of the little English room at the old Tonga High School.

Weave me a fine mat

As my hands move alongside the flax

Feeling the brownness of your skin

Muscles tense as heartbeats race

The firmness, the softness of the lou’akau

The rising of your chest and your hunger for a touch

Slice the flax, feel it with my fingers for the width; for the length

I can taste the lust in your eyes ripping into the lou’akau

It takes time to make one good fine mat

Flat on your back, I lay the flax softly on the floor

Starting is the hardest part like a virgin on her first night

Exciting, awaiting a new horizon, hidden from sight

First touch weaves your veins into mine and mine into yours

Flax goes over one another – binding, holding securely safely

Arms, legs entwining locking in the rhythm of the weaving

Flax goes over and under – twisting, turning, making pretty pattern

Flax twitches, moans softly against the approaching dawn

Languidly dews kiss the hardness of the lou’akau

Softening it from fresh wetness of the new morning

Crispy air caresses the new beginnings of the lalanga

The fatu of the lalanga is done

The fatu of the fine mat is done

It takes time to make a one good fine mat …

MP:    That is a great poem! Thank you once again for the time that you have taken to share your thoughts and experiences. I truly appreciate it! Malo ‘aupito and ‘ofa lahi atu xox

The Amazing and Beautiful Poet Dr Karlo Mila

Dr Karlo Mila (Mila-Schaaf) is of Tongan (Kolofo’ou, Ofu), Samoan and European descent.  She lives in Newtown with her husband and two sons.  She is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Otago Campus based at Wellington Hospital.  Born in New Zealand, Karlo grew up in Palmerston North, went to school and worked in Tonga, and spent ten years in Auckland before relocating to Wellington.  She has always been interested in the cultural experiences of the New Zealand-born Pasifika population which eventually led to a PhD in Sociology focused in this area.  Prior to an academic career, Karlo worked as a Trade Union Organiser and as the Manager, Pacific Health Research at the HRC (2001-2004).

Karlo’s first collection of poems Dream Fish Floating won the NZSA Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry at the 2006 Montana New Zealand Book Awards. Her poetry work has been published in several anthologies, including Whetu Moana: Contemporary Polynesian Poems in English. She has had poems selected for Best New Zealand Poems in 2003, 2005 and 2006. Karlo collaborated with German-born artist Delicia Sampero in 2008 to produce A Well Written Body, a combination of text and image.

A former fortnightly Op-Ed columnist for the Dominion-Post, Karlo believes in the power of voice and of narrating your own stories, rather than being “storied by” the dominant social narratives. I am deeply honoured that she kindly set time aside for this interview. She is an amazing woman whom I admire for her work. I have also had the pleasure in meeting her on a few occasions where we have shared stories and laughter. Enjoy the interview! (Please note: MP = Maryanne Pale and KM = Karlo Mila).

MP:        Thank you so much Karlo for your time. I truly appreciate it. You are of Tongan, Samoan and European descent please explain how these diverse ethnic heritages influence and/or inform your writing?

KM:        Being of multiple ethnic heritages is a double-edged sword.  There are both positives and negatives involved.  One of the negatives is never really feeling like you fit in properly, you are either more or less than what you are supposed to be.  This can be a really lonely place to be.  Having said that, you are connected through blood and community to a diverse range of people and you learn multiple ways of being in the world.  As I get older, the cultural differences within my own family become more and more marked and I see how people see the same set of circumstances very differently, how they know the world in different ways.  I cannot imagine being any other way now.

Despite being parts of this and that, the challenge is to be a ‘whole’ person who is able to move between cultural spaces and places and connect meaningfully.  I think to some degree, I have spent my whole life trying to work out where I belong, what it means to be Tongan, how I am influenced by my Samoan heritage as well.  What it means to be Palangi?  These meanings unfold and are part of my experience of being human at this turn of the century.  I have a poem about an ancestor, Mary Stowers who was also of mixed heritage, and I reflect that it probably meant something different for her.  In an increasingly globalised world, being of more than one ethnic background is increasingly common and what it means to people will continue to evolve.  My poem “There are no words for us, there is no language” is probably my favourite resolution of this quandary… we “widen the palate of the world”.

I grew up in an environment filled with “mixed race” kids and we all looked alike.  Most of that mixing was Maori and Pakeha, I grew up in Highbury in Palmerston North.  We were probably the only Tongans at our school.  Growing up in New Zealand in the seventies and the eighties was a time when racism was still reasonably overt, but you also didn’t let it get in the way of a good time.  I grew up strong on my Dad’s migrant dreams of believing in myself and that one day, if I worked hard enough at school, I could be anything I wanted to be.  My Mother spent a lot of time taking me to the library and working with me, reading and writing and learning at home, so that I could excel.  From a fairly early age, I was celebrated for being a high achieving “brown girl” from the wrong side of town, who was going to go “somewhere” one day.

In some ways, despite many challenges and setbacks, self-esteem issues and my parent’s separating, in some ways I would not accept anything less than a good outcome for myself.  I had to believe in my own weird story, write it, when I could not find it already mapped anywhere.  Dare to write the poems that outlined the contours of my journey, because it was not in any textbooks at that point.  In answer to your question, everything goes into my poems.

MP:        Wow! Beautifully described. Your courage, dream, determination and resilience is moving. I am deeply encouraged by your answer. You are a mother of two, how has motherhood influenced your writing?

KM:        A fellow writer, Grace Taylor, posted on facebook recently that being away from your children (to perform and write etc) is a special kind of ache.  I completely relate to that.  I was pregnant with Nikolas when Dream Fish Floating was launched and Karlos was still in nappies.  In the full flush of the success of that first book, I was struggling with being a new Mother to small boys only 15 months apart.  I was off performing in Australia or talking at Literary Festivals and they were only tiny wee things.  David and my family always made sure that I could travel and looked after the boys for me, so they have always had to share Mummy with poetry.  That’s tough I guess, especially when I was doing a PhD at the same time.  When you are a Mother, choices about what gets sacrificed is always hard.  Sometimes it is quality time with my boys, sometimes it is poetry itself.  Poetry is small enough to sneak in the small of your quiet times and sometimes it demands itself to be written.  Other times months and months will go and you are too exhausted, too un-creative, and life feels too literal to be doing anything poetic.  I have written poems about both boys, but I am mindful too of their privacy.  So it’s a balance.

MP:        What a busy schedule! Amazing! Your first collection of poetry Dream Fish Floating won the NZSA Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry at the 2006 Montana New Zealand Book Awards please explain who had inspired you publish your poetry work?

KM:        I owe being published to Albert Wendt who encouraged me.  My first manuscript was rejected and I was not courageous enough to resubmit it all over the place, but Albert talked to Huia Publishers and they actually rang me and asked for material.  I realise that this doesn’t happen to everyone.  I sent them my poetry and luckily for me, they liked it.  End of story.  I am not one who is confident about sending poems to literary magazines for rejection.  I admire those who do it, but I don’t have the time or the stamina.  I was gobsmacked when I won the award.

MP:        You’re so humble about it! It’s a fantastic collection indeed. In the report for the 2006 Montana New Zealand Book Awards, the judges commented on Dream Fish Floating saying: ‘Karlo Mila writes with flair, energy and passion, creating a direct, accessible poetry. This multi-cultural, lyrical voice is one the judges expect to hear a lot more of.’ How would you describe the collection Dream Fish Floating?

KM:        Dream Fish Floating is just my inner thoughts about pretty much everything I was paying attention to in my early twenties.  Some of it reaches back to my teenage years.  I walked many worlds and there is a little tribute to many of these landscapes.  I connected with many people and many poems are odes to the politics of relationships, mapped desire or imaginary rendezvous.  I was lucky because I was not that inhibited at the time.  So it was just my truth, mediated via fiction.

MP:        I have a copy of Dream Fish Floating and I love it. When did you start sharing your poetry work with others?

KM:        Oh that’s great! Thank you! Well, not until I did Albert Wendt’s creative writing class.  We had to share our work.  This was painful for me at first, because I had always written things that were personal and private.  The harsh light of day and scrutiny by others was a shock at first.  But there is a joy that comes with sharing too.

MP:        That’s awesome to hear. So, who were the poets and/or writers that you were drawn to prior to your first publication?

KM:        In New Zealand, Roma Potiki, Rawiri Habib, Apirana Taylor and the work of my English teacher, Linda Burgess was quite defining.  Internationally, I remember being introduced to Liz Lochhead and Roger McGough’s poems and they made quite an impact on me, but nobody more so than Alice Walker.  She was my poetry-mother in a sense.  Her work was beyond influential.  Later I discovered Audre Lorde and the Pacific sister writers, Konai Helu-Thaman and Moemoe Von Reiche and of course Albert.  That was the beginning of the end for me; my fate was irreversibly intertwined with poetry.  Other influences have been most obviously Alice Walker, who taught me to: “write what you see as clearly as you can”.  Glenn Colquhoun became quite influential regarding the craft of poetry when he edited my second book of poetry, but that was less about what I saw and wrote and more about how I self-edited.  I really like his poetry too.  I love reading poetry and I seem to like it more than I used to.  Lots of poetry used to leave me really cold, or feeling bored by it.  When it moves me, that’s different… When it teaches me to see something I did not see before, that’s a small miracle.

MP:          Wow! I need to check out the works of some of those poets. What is it about other people’s poetry that moves you?

KM:        Well, poetry either moves you or it doesn’t.  If it doesn’t, it doesn’t and to me then, it is not a good poem.  It’s hard for me to describe what it is that makes a good poem in my view, but if it resonates and makes something inside you swell with recognition and appreciation, then it is doing its job.  Poetry that is very clever but doesn’t make you feel anything is not my thing.

MP:        Absolutely! For your second book,  A Well Written Body, you collaborated with German-born artist Delicia Sampero and you have described it as a ‘multidimensional conversation of images and imaginings between two women, crossing art forms and cultures’. What was that like working alongside another artist?

KM:        It was a lovely thing to do.  It was such a rich collaboration.  I’d love to do it again, perhaps when I have more time to attend to a collaboration.  Because it seemed to happen in the middle of multiple things, kids, PhD, contract work, life… Poetry is so solitary in many ways and to collaborate was a joy.  I’d recommend it to anyone.

MP:        That would have been an exciting time for you both. What do you want people to get out of your poetry work?

KM:        I don’t know.  I really hoped that there would be girls (and guys) who were like me and never saw any of their lives in the library.  Now things have changed, but I hoped that they might see a line or two in my poems whereby they recognised a line or two from their lives.  That would be enough.

Sometimes, when I write poems for particular people and sometimes when I write a poem for an event.  To be honest, often I am trying to get rid of that audience, zone them out of head, so I can get to what is most true for me, and not feel inhibited by thinking about people I know reading it.

MP:        Absolutely. Thanks for sharing that. What you’ve just said reminds of a previous interview that you had where you mentioned that ‘we must not be frightened of telling our stories because they are our stories to tell’. What do you think sets Pacific writers apart from those of other ethnicities?

KM:        That we are barely in print; that we are constantly fed a diet of other peoples’ stories and experiences.  I definitely don’t want to be a Tongan character that Charlotte Grimshaw made up.  The thought frightens me.  We must be the protagonists wrought by our own pens, not shadows in other people’s stories.

MP:        I agree with you! You are well loved in the Tongan community. You were selected to represent Tonga in the Cultural Olympiad London 2012 and you will be featured in the Matala festival this Friday night at the Mangere Arts Centre. How do you feel about all this?

KM:        Attending the Cultural Olympiad in London this year was an honour.  It was incredible.  It will go down as one of my all-time most amazing life experiences and I had the support of many wonderful family members, friends, colleagues and the community at large for which I am grateful for.

With regards to the Tongan Poetry Night, I am looking forward to reading with other Tongan poets and hearing a new generation of voices speak out.  Tongans are incredibly talented in the area of poetry and we have a long legacy of poetry in our culture.  I love seeing how this plays out in the generations to come.

MP:        Fantastic! You are a lovely role model for Tongan women and young girls! What keeps you connected to the Tongan community?

KM:    Well, my own family and my husband’s family too.  My friends and acquaintances, I mean it is all about people and connections.  It has been hard living away from Auckland for so long, because I miss the Tongan community there so much.  A lot of my connections have been made through work, through the health sector and research sector, through being an active part of the Tongan Advisory Council for quite a while, through organising community events and participating, as you do.  It’s been one of the toughest things about being away from Auckland, is feeling those connections grow cold with absence.  One of the good things is that they warm up again when you reconnect.

MP:        Thank you for sharing that and we hope that you and your family move back to Auckland soon lol! I see that you are also interested in other areas of the arts, can you see yourself exploring other avenues of creativity in the near future?

KM:        There was the facebook picture doing the rounds that said “earth” without “art” is just “eh”.  I totally agree.  The “arts” is one of the best things about being human.  I am a big fan of beauty and a big fan of critical thinking.  Art tends to be one or the other.  If it doesn’t blow your mind it will blow your aesthetic sensibility.  What’s not to adore.  And yes, I’d love to explore other dimensions of the creative.

MP:        How exciting! New things on the horizon yay! Throughout this poetry journey, what would be your best moment or best experience be?

KM:        Ooh, that’s hard.  Reading in London was amazing, reading in Suva, Fiji, was another highlight.  It was awesome to read in the Pacific.  I did a reading at a school in Lower Hutt once and there were heaps of Tongan kids.  I could hear them sussing my accent and confirming that my lea fakatonga was ok.  They asked me if I had any Tongan Methodist poems and I was like, “Yeah, I do.”  And they were so excited!  That was definitely a highlight that I will hold with me for a long time.  Reading at my old schools is always special.

MP:        Amazing! You’re Mother, a poet, a writer and you are currently a post-doc research fellow at the University of Otago. Please explain what it is that you are currently working on?

KM:        Thanks for asking hehe! I am developing a mental health intervention targeted at our Pacific young people which draws on cultural metaphors, proverbs and myths, breathes new life into these and improves access to them, sort of like developing discursive resources so that we can tell better stories about ourselves.  It is a sort of narrative therapy that encourages and enables indigenous ways of knowing to flourish and frame our lived experiences.  I am passionate about it.  It is for those of us who aren’t necessarily fluent in our languages, what Courtney Meredith calls “Urbanesia”.  It involves creating visual resources and I have returned to proto-Polynesian “generative words” that are widely shared among multiple Polynesian languages so that they are inclusive and have great reach, resonating amongst many Oceanic cultures.  It’s been a massive undertaking but I am slowly getting there.

MP:        And you will! Your research sounds fascinating and it will be of great contribution of new knowledge within the research realm. What is your current creative writing project now?

KM:        Well, the post-doc is taking all my creative energy right now.  But luckily it is really creative, involving reading old mythological stories and trying to breathe new life into them for contemporary contexts.  Similarly, the proverb collecting, the acts of translation, the re-imbuing meaning into old words, all of this feels super-creative and there’s not much space for my own little bits of writing right now.  But I know it will come.  What I’m reading and mulling over are the building blocks of something integral, and it is inevitable that it will inform my work.  For some time now I have been trying to write a novel but I’ve been failing at it.  We will see if it appears out of the work that I am doing because it is very related but in a deeply personal way, whereas the post-doc work is less personal and more about collective stories.

MP:        You’re amazing. Your creativity is not restricted to your poetry but it flows into your post-doc research. You lead a very busy lifestyle! What do you enjoy doing during your downtime?

KM:        Yoga has kept me balanced and sane this year.  Facebook is definitely my modality of wind-down choice.  I would like more time, more space.  The kids keep me grounded and I am protective of family life and expect a reasonably high quality of family-focused energies and activities.  Whenever I get out of whack, I get really out of whack, so trying to keep reasonably balanced is a constant focus.

MP:        You do yoga? How awesome! That sounds like the perfect way to enjoy downtime. What are your hopes for the future in terms of the direction you would like to take your writing?

KM:        I do dream of having the time and space to write the novel and living in conditions where the poetry just flows, because there is time and space for it.  It is a pressured life, filled with responsibilities and commitments.  Sometimes it sucks being an adult.  I’d prefer to be a poet.

MP:        Thanks so much Karlo for your time. I truly appreciate it. I have one final question for you. What would your advice be to aspiring poets who are hoping to publish their work one day?

KM:        Can you tell from my own story of getting published that I’m not good at giving advice about getting published?  Lol! Take all opportunities.  Read everywhere.  Try and share your work, online, on facebook, send it to people, put it out there.  At the end of the day, I see a few hustlers out there who are self-promotional beyond what I’d ever be comfortable with, but hustle will only get you so far, the poems themselves will have to stand up to all kinds of scrutiny.  The literary scene (and those who are in charge of it), are often representative of the last posh bastion of Eurocentrism here, still nostalgic for Great Britain as the penultimate of real culture.  It is these people that you will have to contend with as well, who have no idea and do not care about your communities and how they might have never seen themselves in text.  They will say things to you, as publishing and powerful editing people, “What is wrong with Maori poets?  Why are they not getting published?”  No crap.   They have no commitment to diversity on the page and they will have one standard for judging the worth of a poem and it will be their standard.  This is the reality of it.  There are multiple ways to self-publish now and the publishing industry appears to be falling to bits.  Just don’t stop, keep going, believe in your voice, do the work, make the connections, and get it out there.

MP:        That is wonderful advice Karlo! It’s very encouraging and empowering! Thank you so much! Is there anything else that you would like to add?

KM:        No.  Thanks Maryanne for this opportunity and for asking the questions. It is all my honour. Much love to you xox

Once again, thank you so much Dr Karlo Mila for the time that you have provided. Your insight into your world of poetry is much appreciated. It is truly an honour to have you on this blog. Mālō ‘aupito! ‘Ofa lahi atu xox

Matala – A Celebration of Tongan Culture

The Tongan Artist Collective presents Matala – a Celebration of Tongan Culture.

Starting from Monday 24th September to Saturday 29th September 2012, the week-long celebration of Tongan arts and culture will be hosted at the Mangere Arts Centre – Ngā Tohu o Uenuku. It will feature dance, theatre, dance, poetry, music with traditional and contemporary faikava. You will see Tongan artists and members of the Tongan community come together for the second year running, a celebration specifically for Tongan artists in New Zealand for the wider Tongan Community.

Matala means the blossoming of a flower, but in this sense it is but the blossoming of the mind, the arts and the talent within the Tongan community of Aotearoa and creating a platform in which to create, develop and produce new works to showcase within this week long festival.

Monday 24th September will see the launch of Matala at 6.30pm with the opening of the exhibition No’o Fakataha and featuring a special performance by Kalisolaite ‘Uhila.

No’o Fakataha translates loosely as ‘the concept of tying to a post on a wharf’ – as in, all the boats are on a journey but they come together to form at a common meeting point. Curated by Dagmar Dyck and Sopolemalama Filipe Tohi, this major group exhibition of Tongan artists includes Dagmar Dyck, Tui Emma Gillies, ‘Elenoa Hema-Telefoni, Terry Koloamatangi Klavenes, Emily Mafile’o, Vea Mafile’o, Visesio Siasau, Ahota’e’iloa Toetu’u, Sopolemalama Filipe Tohi, Kalisolaite ‘Uhila, Sam Afu, Czarina Wilson, Glen Wolfgramm and Stan Wolfgramm.

The programme of events will also feature:

– Professional development evening

– The writer of “Kingdom of Lote” presents a new Tongan theatre play “A Heart’s Path”

– The first ever Tongan contemporary dance theatre show “Heliaki”

– A live poetry night featuring Dr Karlo Mila

– A celebration of traditional & contemporary kava “Kava Day”

– Auckland’s 2nd showing of the film “Tongan Ark”

– Live artist demonstrations throughout the week by Visesio Siasau and Sopolemalama Filipe Tohi, Benjamin Work and tattoo artists

The Poetry Night featuring Dr Karlo Mila will take place on Friday 28th September at 7pm, Mangere Arts Centre. I am honoured to be one of the poets to perform at this event. If you are available, please join us. It is a free event! See flyer below for more info:

For booking enquiries/ prices and session times please contact:

A Heart’s Path
Email: talesfromthekavabowl@gmail.com
or facebook.com/TalesfromtheKavaBowl

Email: lima.dancetheatre@gmail.com
or http://www.facebook.com/heliaki2012

Tongan Ark
Phone: 09 262 5789
Email: mangereartscentre@aucklandcouncil.govt.nz
or http://www.facebook.com/pages/Tongan-Ark/121780031235309

For festival media enquiries and all other enquiries and bookings contact tonganartist.collective@gmail.com or mangereartscentre@aucklandcouncil.govt.nz or 09 262 5789.

Tongan Language Week Inspiration: Author and Poet ‘Ilaisaane Kakala Taumoefolau

Last year saw the inaugural launch of the New Zealand Tongan Language Week – Uike Kātoanga’i o e Lea Faka Tonga which was held at the Lotofale’ia Tongan Methodist Church in Mangere, South Auckland, New Zealand. I was fortunate to be invited by Malia Talakai, Dr Melenaite Taumoefolau and the Tongan Language Week committee to participate in this event as one of the speakers along with John Nicholas Pulu, Palesiteni ‘Ilomaisini, Pātele Line, Faifekau Lōpini Filise, Palesiteni LDS Sione Tuione, Faifekau Tāufa Pulu, Faifekau Tīmote Moala Hafoka, Faifekau Siale Sa‘ili and Faifekau Tavake Tupou. The inaugural launch was chaired by Faifekau Setaita Veikune and special guest Honourable Lupepau’u Tuita had attended.  This event attracted hundreds of people from the Tongan community and I was proud to represent my family, my church Onehunga Tongan Methodist and my Tongan community as a whole at the event.

The Tongan community at the inaugural launch of Tongan Langauge Week 2011 hosted at Lotofale’ia Tongan Methodist Church

The day after the 2011 inaugural launch of Tongan Language Week, I flew to Singapore for an educational research conference where I had to present so I did not get a chance to observe the celebrations for Tongan Language Week that occurred for 2011.  However for 2012, it has been wonderful to see and read about the different celebrations of Tongan Language Week across the nation. Still in its celebration, the 2012 Tongan Language Week’s theme is Fakakoloa ‘o ‘AotearoaEnriching Aotearoa with Kakai Tonga’s Language and Culture.

 The goals of the week are to:

  • celebrate the Tongan language and culture in New Zealand
  • promote the teaching and learning of the Tongan language
  • raise awareness of the Tongan language as a language spoken by a significant number of people in New Zealand
  • promote initiatives to maintain and grow the recognition, learning and use of the Tongan language in the home, in education, at work, in government, in the media, in sport, in the arts, in the church and in the community.

On Saturday 1st September 2012, Dr Linita Manu’atu led the official opening of Tongan Language Week live on Radio 531pi which was celebrated with prayer, song and discussions held in the Tongan langauge. Tongan people from all over the globe were able to celebrate the official opening of Tongan Language Week by streaming online and listening to it live. The media and in particular social media has been instrumental in providing up to date accounts of events and celebrations that radio stations, businesses and non-profit organisations, schools and tertiary education providers, churches and people in general have engaged in to celebrate Tongan Language Week. For example, Tongan Language Week’s facebook page demonstrates the wonderful support and celebrations across the nation which is heart-warming to see. It has been fantastic to also see people who are non-Tongans celebrate Tongan Language Week.

Yesterday, I was honoured to have been invited by Radio 531pi host Yolande Ah Chong to perform a spoken word poetry piece on air in celebration of Tongan Language Week. The piece that I had shared is entitled “My Grandmother’s Vision” which was written in honour of my late Grandmother ‘Ana Fokikovi Misinale. The piece talks about my journey as a New Zealand born Tongan and it shares my sentiments on being proud of my Tongan language, heritage and culture. It was a great opportunity for me to share a spoken word piece that is close to my heart with the listeners of Radio 531pi who are either Tongan and/or non-Tongan. I am grateful to Yolande Ah Chong (who is a fabulous Samoan woman) for having me on her breakfast radio show.

With the 2012 Tongan Language Week coming to a close this Saturday 8th August, I would like to share a book that was gifted to me last year by Dr Melenaite Taumoefolau and the Tongan Langauge Week committee for speaking at the 2011 inaugural launch of the Tongan Language Week. The book is entitled Melenga-mei-Ono’aho and the author is Dr Melenaite Taumoefolau’s Mother, Author and Poet ‘Ilaisaane Kakala Taumoefolau. The title Melenga-mei-Ono’aho was taken from the Tongan language radio programme that ‘Ilaisaane Kakala Taumoefolau had hosted on Niu FM and Radio 531pi from the period of 2003-2008. Her programme was in part to encourage the youth in New Zealand to maintain the Tongan langauge and celebrate the Tongan stories of our Tongan past. My rough English translation of the title of the book is Remnants of the Past. Author and Poet ‘Ilaisaane Kakala Taumoefolau is featured on the book cover as shown in the photo below.

BOOK COVER: Melenga-mei-Ono’aho by ‘Ilaisaane Kakala Taumoefolau

Published in 2011 by Saane Saafi, SNAP Contracting Studios, Hampton, VA and with 213 pages, this book in its entirety was written in the Tongan language. The foreword of this book was written by Hūfanga Toketā (Dr) ‘Ōkusitino Māhina.  I have taken an extract (see below) from Dr ‘Ōkusitino Māhina’s foreword which demonstrates how he holds ‘Ilaisaane Kakala Taumoefolau in high regard. He describes her as a woman of many talents who is skillful in the way that she articulates Tongan language in the forms of speech and written word and how she has a creative niche in the Tongan arts and crafts. This book, Melenga-mei-Ono’aho, is a testament to her love and passion that she has for the Tongan language and culture.

“Kuo fuoloa ta’u ‘eku feohi mo Kakala o mahino lelei kiate au ‘a e mohutafea mo fonumahua ‘ene ngaahi taukei fuomelie mo uhomelia, ‘o hangē ko e maokupu mo e loloto ‘ene ‘ilo mo e poto fekau’aki mo e ngaahi tufunga, faiva mo e nimamea’a kae ‘uma’ā ‘a e lea, talafakafonua mo e talatukufakholo, pea tukukehe ange ‘a e fālahi mo e mā’olunga ‘o e fuo mo e uho ‘o e ngaahi kaveinga ‘o e tohi. Na’e makatu’unga he’ene taukei, ‘ilo mo e poto ‘a e lahi hono manakoa ‘ene polokalama ko e tupu mei he “ifo” mo “vovo” ‘ene fili mo e pu’aki lea pea mo e fasi mo e tō hono le’o, ‘o mo’oni ai ‘a e lau ko e, “kai pē lea”. ‘E lava pē ke tau pehē ko Kakala ko e fefine ‘o māmani kātoa he ‘oku ‘ikai ke ‘”hama ha me’a” mo “ala i sia pea ala i kolonga”, ‘o hangē ko e tufunga lea, tufunga lea heliaki, tufunga teuteu mo e tufunga fa’utohi; faiva lea, faiva lea heliaki, faiva teuteu, faiva talatupu’a, faiva fananga, faiva talanoa, faiva ta’anga, faiva hiva mo e faiva haka; mo e nimamea’a lālanga, nimameas’a koka’anga, nimamea’a tuikakala, nimamea’a tuimatala’i ‘akau mo e nimamea’a langaleisi.” – Dr ‘Ōkusitino Māhina

‘Ilaisaane Kakala Taumoefolau delicately illustrates her wealth of knowledge through Tongan narratives in Melenga-mei-Ono’aho. The Tongan stories, myths, explanations of Tongan proverbs and more in Melenga-mei-Ono’aho add value to my understanding and knowledge of my Tongan heritage, Tongan language and Tongan culture. Through this book, I am encouraged and I will continue to be a learner of the Tongan language, culture and its histories. I consider this gift, Melenga-mei-Ono’aho, as a treasure that I will always cherish. It holds a special significance for me and it will always act as a reminder of New Zealand’s celebration of Tongan Language Week. It’s even special that I have a signed copy by the Author and Poet, ‘Ilaisaane Kakala Taumoepeau. What an amazing Tongan woman!

Here is a poem that was written by ‘Ilaisaane Kakala Taumoepeau which is printed on the inside cover of Melenga-mei-Ono’aho. The poem talks about the remnants of the past linked to the contents of Melenga-mei-Ono’aho.

Kohai au ke u fakahoa

Kael au pē ko e koloa

Ala fai’aki si’a talanoa

Tufi ni ne fai mei fuoloa

‘O ‘ikai kovi ke faka’aonga

‘A e faka’amu ni kei tu’uloa

Telia na’a tu’u ko e vakaloa

Pe taufa ‘oku fakafaleloa

Kae taumaiā ke kūmoa

Ko e ‘inasi e kaha’u ‘o Tonga.


Ko e faka’amu ni mo e holi

Na’a lave ai ‘a e langatoli

He ‘oku ‘i ai ‘a e fie tokoni

Kuo tupu pē he loto ongo’i

Ke faka’ali e ngaahi mo’oni

Na’e fakaili mo’o onopooni

‘E ‘a’au ia ‘a hono potongi

Mo filihi ‘o taufetongi

Peheange mai ho ha lesoni

Kuo lava atu e talaloto ni.

In closing, I would like to address my Tongan community in the Tongan language:

‘Oku ou ‘oatu ‘ae talamonū ki he kāinga Tonga hono kotoa pe ‘i ‘Aotearoa ni koe’uhi koe uike mahu’inga ko ‘eni kuo fokotu’u ke fakamamafa’i ai ‘ae le faka-Tonga. ‘Oku ou fakatauange ke hokohoko pehē atu pe ‘i he lolotonga ni pea mo e kaha’u na.

Tu’a ‘ofa atu,

Maryanne Pale

For more of my blog posts related to Tongan Authors and/or Poets please click on the names below:

The late Queen Sālote Mafile’o Pilolevu Tupou III

The late Professor Futa Helu

The late ‘Epeli Hau’ofa

Author, Poet and Academic Dr Konai Helu Thaman

Poet and Academic Dr Karlo Mila

A tribute to HRM King George Tupou V by Manase Lua

A Tongan song written and composed by Manase Lua

Poet, Artist and Actress Vaimoana Litia Makakaufaki Niumeitolu

Poet and Music Artist Brian Misinale

Furthermore, check out my blog posts on two young Tongan school students striving in the field of sports:

14 year old Wesley Tameifuna (Rugby)

10 year old Tupou Neiufi (Swimming)

Inspiration by the late Professor Futa Helu

On Saturday 4th August 2012, the world premiere of the feature documentary film Tongan Ark took place at the Skycity Theatre, Auckland City. The theatre seats 700 people and the tickets to this event sold out before the screening date. It was a huge success! I had the pleasure in attending this event with just over 40 of my family members and friends. We thoroughly enjoyed the film and the heart-warming live Tongan performances by Helu’s family, students and ex-students of ‘Atenisi which followed.

Tongan Ark’s film director Paul Janman and his wife, the film producer, Echo Janman, presented a profoundly moving tribute to the late Professor Futa Helu and for ‘Atenisi, the private university that Helu founded in Tonga in the 1960’s. I had the honour of meeting both Paul and Echo in the lead up to the premiere and thereafter. They are such a wonderful couple! From Janman’s film, I found Helu to be a pioneer in his endeavour to preserve and celebrate the Tongan arts within the establishment of ‘Atenisi. He challenged the thought processes and systems of beliefs embedded within the heart of the Tongan community and Tongan polity. Despite conflict and financial hardships, ‘Atenisi has seen graduates lead successful lives within and outside of Tonga. Helu was a man of valour. He was a bold intellectual. He was a fearless visionary. What an inspiration! I never had the chance to meet him in person prior to his passing in 2010. However,  my parents and I were blessed to have met his daughter, Sisi’uno Helu, in the lead up to the world premiere of Tongan Ark. She is a beautiful and humble woman. With the help of family and colleagues, Sisi’uno Helu will continue her father’s legacy.

A synopsis of the documentary film Tongan Ark states: “Paul Janman’s film Tongan Ark is a portrait of ‘Atenisi, the private university Helu created in a swamp on the edge of Tonga’s capital city Nuku’alofa in the 1960s. Helu believed that European and Polynesian cultures needed to learn and borrow from one another, and the staff of ‘Atenisi put his ideas into practice by offering courses in grand opera and English literature as well as traditional Tongan music and dance. ‘Atenisi is the Tongan word for Athens, and Helu wanted to emulate ancient Greek philosophers like Socrates by promoting reasoned and open debate, even when such debate touched on controversial political issues.

Although it has always struggled for funding and resources, ‘Atenisi has had a huge influence on Tonga and on the wider Pacific region. Because of its emphasis on freedom of thought, ‘Atenisi was the cradle of the pro-democracy movement which swept Tonga in the nineties and noughties. Many of the school’s graduates have enjoyed distinguished careers inside and outside Tonga.  

Tongan Ark shows the joys and tribulations of ‘Atenisi’s staff and students, as they celebrate learning and battle against poverty and political persecution. The film ends by showing Helu’s funeral in 2010, and by noting the determination of his colleagues to keep ‘Atenisi open” (Tongan Ark Film).

Here is the trailer for the film Tongan Ark:

The Tongan Ark world premiere also saw the launch of a publication by the late Professor Futa Helu entitled On Tongan Poetry. Scott Hamilton, a New Zealand scholar and poet, provides the introduction and afterword for this particular book thus shedding light onto Helu’s extensive works. This book compiles six essays that Helu had written in the 1980’s. The book is accompanied by a DVD of an informative interview that was conducted by Tongan Ark’s Film Director Paul Janman with the late Professor Futa Helu in 2006. My Father had purchased a copy of this book and DVD for me last night at the premiere and in my excitement, I managed to read the book and watch the DVD today.

Published by Atuanui Press with the support of Creative New Zealand, On Tongan Poetry offers Futa Helu’s insight into the classification of Tongan poetry based on the consideration of some of its general compositions in relation to English poetry.  Helu discusses and illustrates how Tongan poetry is generally constructed, how it can be divided chronologically into ancient and modern periods. In addition, Helu delves into the intricacies of Tongan poetry, dance and music and how the unity of the three existed especially in the art of ancient Tonga. Tongan poetry is included in this book with English translations as he analyses each piece to make sense of the general trend of ideas and thoughts embedded in it. There is so much more to this book. You would have to purchase a copy and see for youself. 🙂 The book and DVD both have given me a deeper understanding of Tongan poetry and its historical beginnings. It is a priceless book and DVD to have in hand. I highly recommend it!

Paul and Echo Janman, Sisi’uno Helu and the Helu family, the students and ex-students of ‘Atenisi would have made the late Professor Futa Helu extremely proud at the world premiere of the feature documentary film Tongan Ark. The late Professor Futa Helu was an incredible man and I truly believe that his legacy will undoubtedly live on.

On Tongan Poetry by Futa Helu (Book Cover)

On Tongan Poetry can be purchased online on this link here: Atuanui Press

For further information about the documentary film Tongan Ark please visit their facebook page: Tongan Ark Film

Since the Tongan Ark, I have been listening to the Afokoula singers of ‘Atenisi. Here is an audio link where they sing a song that was written by Her Majesty the late Queen Sālote Mafile‘o Pilolevu Tupou III. The song is entitled Hala Kuo Papa which is a Tongan proverb that is widely used in reference to a path that is well traveled so much so that it leaves a visible course for others to follow. This particular proverb, in my eyes, perfectly describes Paul and Echo Janman’s work on Tongan Ark and I also believe that the proverb is also significant in describing the late Professor Futa Helu’s legacy.

Enjoy! 🙂

Reviews on the Tongan Ark:

The Ark Premieres: A dog’s eye-view by Scott Hamilton (NZ Scholar & Poet)

A Sea with 700 Tongans on an unruly, but inspirational Ark by Karen Abplanalp