Growing up I was never an avid reader. I always remember being told to read when there was nothing else to do. After homework, ‘alu faitau le tusi’. Sitting in front of the television, ‘alu faitau le tusi’. When asking to go to a party at College, ‘alu faitau le tusi’ #TrueStory.
So it was no surprise that my sister and I had read and re-read the one pile of school books that were accidentally not returned to school and the second hand books my parents had collected for us when we were younger.
Then one day we found dad wiping down a surprise he had for us with a cloth in the back sunroom, where all the books in the house lived. Hearing us enter he proudly stepped back revealing the Britannica Encyclopedia set he had purchased from the door to door salesman #IMissThe90s.
He was so excited as he talked about how we could now read all 26 volumes and will never run out of books to read. My dad was #NoJoke.
The next book that stands out in my reading history was the Tusi Paia, the Sāmoan bible. We had joined the Sāmoan Methodist Church at the time and it was an automatic requirement, especially with bible passages to read and memorise for White Sundays.
At school, my teacher replaced my dad as the person telling me to read a book. The only difference was that the teacher would recommend or select books for me most of the time. I remember reading about Sally going on picnics and Timmy going on family holidays – as well as a long list of characters and storylines that I didn’t necessarily relate to but helped me to acquire information to complete tasks and understand the palagi world I lived in.
So it would be safe to say that for most of my childhood I read because I had to and not necessarily because I wanted to.
Then one fateful night, I remember going through the ‘biggish’ books my older sister was bringing home from her Bursary English class to read and study – especially since the Britannica Encyclopedia set was not really doing it for me anymore.
Then a book caught my eye. It was different. The cover featured two boys, primary aged sitting on a bench. They were Māori because they looked like some of my Māori friends I had grown up with and the author’s name was definitely Māori. I remember sounding it out, ‘Wi-ti … Ihi-mae-ra’. It was called the, The New Net Goes Fishing.
Then I started to read the stories inside. My eyes widened. Connections fired off in my brain. The New Net had gone Fishing and it had caught me.
I read the whole book within a day, without my dad telling me too.
My favourite short story in the book was one that has stuck in my head over the years – Yellow Brick Road.
The story followed a young Māori boy Matiu and his family who had decided to leave their rural home of Waituhi for the Emerald City of Wellington. In search for a better life, the family’s car journey highlighted and hinted at the challenges and issues they would encounter living as Māori in the Emerald City of Oz, leaving the reader to ponder – will this move really make their dreams come true? Or are they disillusioned by the bright city lights?
In recent years I have realised what has made this particular story so memorable.
I could relate to Matiu. Although he was a Māori boy, he was the first brown character I had seen in a book, telling it like it was, from his perspective. The story gave him a voice.
Then there were the themes of the story which made me think and make connections to my own parents journey from Sāmoa to NZ and the challenges or issues Sāmoans faced when moving in search of a better life #WasItWorthIt?
Finally the story started to help me make sense of my world. I could see elements of my own Sāmoan reality in the story and is what made me WANT to read it. I wanted more – Where can I find more of these stories? I thought.
Fast forward 15 years after reading the Yellow Brick Road story and unfortunately, I still find myself asking this same question.
Along my journey as an author of Mila’s My Gagana Series I have come across interesting comments that indicate why there isn’t an abundance of Pasifika books out in the world today. Like the one person who jokingly told me that – ‘Islanders don’t read’ #OhNoYouDidn’t. In which my response was, ‘Actually there are not many books made for ‘us’ to read and is why we need more books for ‘us’ islanders’ #OhYesIDid.
Have you also heard about Pasifika people not being writers or not good writers with stories not good enough for publication?
These people who believe in and are perpetuating this myth obviously don’t know about how our Pasifika elders love talking in stories to us. Every. Single. Day. I also just think that this highlights another real need for education and understanding around the rich Pacific storytelling histories and traditions that our people come from #PacificHistoryBooksNeededASAP #Fa’afetaiLavaDrDamonSalesa🙏🏽
So what do we do?
For me the answer lies in the Yellow Brick Road story I read as a 12 year old – Why follow the Yellow Brick Road when we are more than capable of creating our very own Brown Brick Road ourselves?
A road created out of beautiful brown story bricks that leads to an Emerald City overflowing with endless options of Pasifika literature at all levels and for all purposes. Letting us and our tamaiti know that we can and should be seen, heard and valued – while also reminding others that there is a need and market for our Pasifika stories.
One thing I know for sure is that this road has been under construction for some time now by some amazing Pasifika authors, past and present, who have opened our eyes and the gates to what is possible. But the Brown Brick Road is definitely far from completion.
This is why we have made the decision to contribute another brown story brick to the road by publishing our first young adult fiction e-book, Teine Sāmoa #ComingSoon, as well as launch this blog – in the hope of not only sharing my malaga as a Pasifika author with you, but to also encourage you to explore and contribute to the Brown Brick Road with me.
Follow the brown brick road,
follow the brown brick road,
follow follow follow follow,
follow the brown brick road …