Our Measina

In 2009, I remember flying home from Samoa to New Zealand for the first time, crying.

It had taken me over twenty years to find home and I was leaving it behind. Looking out the Air New Zealand airplane’s oval window I quickly caught silent tears, each one a memory of newfound cultural love, connection and now loss. The simplicity of life in Samoa and being immersed in our language and culture full time. Being able to walk on my family fanua that I had only seen as a child via old VCR tapes. My grandparents concrete tomb at the front of our family house that I washed and talked to everyday. And then there was my family who spoilt us with food, day trips and my favourite – stories.

Stories about our fanua (land), my aiga and ancestors who I had wondered about came to life in my mind as each story unfolded – my great grandfather Punua Silipule Aliivaa with his fu’e resting on his shoulder, being served ava mixed from the tanoa in his village of Fagaloa or my Grandma Sala being raised in the village of Alipia and all things faasamoa, which included weaving fine mats and making Siapo to be gifted on behalf of her aiga. Then there was the story of how my other nana Sophie, who first taught me how to use a salu properly, had ran away from her home in the village of Aleisa to be with my Pa #SamoanRoman&Juliet after being kept home to clean and look after the house under the watch of her very strict French mother #SamoanCinderella #AndWhyI’mACleanFreak.

My ancestors were brought back to life, and their spirits smiled as a piece of them and their story was being shared, lifted and carried along waves of our gagana. Not being able to speak our fluently and not wanting to lose the essence of the stories and spirits that had came forward I thought, How was I going to bring this home with me?

Nearing the end of my trip I hit the Samoan markets for the first time and I remember a familiar feeling as I searched through the items for sale. I watched a man carve a tanoa bowl from a solid piece of wood with his bare hands, using only a chisel and mini tomahawk hammer … My great grandfather Punua Silipule, I saw a siapo being decorated in the back corner of a stall that had smaller completed ones on display … My grandma Sala, then there was the line of salu that were ready to clean the dust off of any floor … My nana Sophie.

Our Measina,” my aunty Leilagi interrupted in the midst of hand picking gifts for me. She could probably tell I was quietly buzzing, overwhelmed and in awe, all at the same time, of everything that I did not have in my own fale back in New Zealand. “These remind you and let others know you are Samoan … because these are Samoan and you are Samoan – That’s why they are our Samoan treasures, our measina.” My sad thoughts of leaving Samoa left me for a moment as I hugged her arm and continued shopping around looking for ‘ie lavalava (because you can never have enough) and sei to try to match my aunty Leilagi’s collection.

Fast forward another ten plus years and just like that return flight home from Samoa I am in tears again – a few things are different though.

Instead of looking out the Air NZ airplane, I find myself standing in Te Papa Tongarewa, our National Museum of New Zealand’s entire Pacific Collections – a warehouse sized storeroom that is filled with stunning measina from across the Pacific.

Instead of crying sad tears of loss, I am catching happy tears of gratitude for being invited to partner with an organisation that respects, protects, promotes and values our language, culture and stories.

And instead of missing Samoa, my home, I am immersed in a space where the spirits, essence and stories of measina, once owned by Samoan royalty, high ranking chiefs, warriors and everyday Samoan people, welcomes me, making me feel like I am home.

I quickly realise that being tasked with the first ever Pasifika Bilingual Board Book for Te Papa has truly been a full circle life experience for me, and as I scan and search the draws, shelves, aisles and rows of measina I couldn’t help but marvel at the raw beauty, vibrant histories, my ancestors and their stories – transporting me back to first time in the Samoan markets all those years ago.

So when I look at the beautiful board book we have created, I see our measina acting as connectors and gateways to those who have come before us. I see our measina being part of what makes us Samoan and that our masina help to keep our stories alive.

I see a tusi faitau that I wish I had as child, a parent and a teacher. I see a model of what is possible and the positive impact such work has on us as Pasifika and our tamaiti, to be able to see ourselves, our cultures and languages in major spaces of the worlds we live in.

See for yourself –

Mila’s My Aganu’u Series

Mila’s My Aganu’u Series –
Release Date: 27th May 2021

I just couldn’t help it. When you’re excited about something you have created – that the world has never seen before – it’s just so hard to keep it a secret.

This week I shared a sneak peek of our Mila’s My Aganu’u Series with students for the first time. And the experience was pretty interesting, nerve-racking and enlightening all at the same time.

But as usual when sharing the finished product with students, the number one question asked was – ‘Miss, how did you write these stories?’ …

Part 1: Fale Sāmoa

Last year I had bumped into an ex-student. After the usual, how’s everything chit-chat, he randomly blurted out – ‘That’s right Miss you write books now!’

I nodded and we continued to talk about the random writing exercises I used to give students in class – ‘Think about the last memorable conversation you had. Use it as inspiration to write something. Pick a patch of grass outside. What would be a possible diary entry that patch of grass would write? Close your eyes and grab something in front of you/behind you/beside you. Use it to start your story.

I remember one time I took my class outside our school gate just to observe the world around us and the cars driving by. We would discuss the possible stories, perspectives and ideas that could come from the world around us. It was pretty cool to see their imaginations run wild. I used to do this to prove to my students that inspiration is all around us and with the right writing skills and techniques, you can write something fun and engaging about anything and everything.

We all loved it.

One of my personal favourites was when I sent them on secret spy writing missions around the school – go to the office to ask for more staples and while you’re there observe what’s around, whose there, the mood, how that scene could fit into a story.

My ex-student who I was catching up with even recalled how he was sent into the principal’s office one time to spy-write and remembered writing, ‘Time is of the essence today, she sits very frustrated with the line of naughty kids outside her door’.

We laughed out loud, which got even louder near the end of our conversation, when my ex-student said – ‘So Miss … are you like the islander Dr Seuss of books?’

Later that week I giggled to myself as my ex-students comment popped in my head randomly, but then something stuck.

Dr Seuss = Fun = Rhyming.

I remembered how my sons lapped up Hairy Maclary and The Gruffalo. How strong the visual cues from the images and rhyming words helped them with their reading progress and reading enjoyment overall. And how obsessed they became with them, memorising whole pages or even whole books.

‘Why don’t we have any fun, rhyming Pasifika picture books for our tamaiti? With amazingly rich illustrations? With a story that rhymes and engages our tamaiti with reading and learning about elements of our Samoan culture?’ I thought to myself (FYI – This is honestly how my mind works on the daily #PoorHubsta.)

So I pulled out some drafts I wrote back in 2016. One was entitled, Fale Sāmoa.

And I carefully re-crafted the story so that it had all the important elements about fale Sāmoa and for fun, made the sentences rhyme.

I then spoke to my illustrator specifically about the images reflecting a learning journey or experience, like the ones I would try to create for my students during writing sessions that would inspire ideas, help them see different perspectives or transport them to another time and place.

The last part was adding the translated Samoan version of the book, because safe access to our language is key, and since we have had no books for sooooo long we are obviously on major catch up – and our readers deserve to have two books in one!

Our first picture book story, Fale Sāmoa, was born.

Part 2: Siva Afi Teine Toa

They say a picture can say a thousand words – and it was this picture that gave me all the words I needed for the second story, Siva Afi Teine Toa.

Moemoana Schwenke is one of few women in the world to perform the ‘siva afi’ dance.

SIVA AFI = TEINE Samoa = strength = beauty = TOA/warrior/hero = goddess = Nafanua = ancestors = present & past = next generation. These were the exact words that came to mind and in this order.

Having grown up and raised by strong woman as a child (also wanting to be Beyonce’s adopted islander sister), growing up I wished I had a story that showed the strength of our Samoan women, and not just as the domestic goddesses they are, but about the toa spirit they possess. Something I noticed in so many women in my family and across our Pasifika community all my life.

The beauty, power and strength they had made me wonder how this came to be – ‘Where did it come from?’

This took me into our past to the Samoan war goddess Nafanua who at one time in Samoan history held all paramount chief titles and ruled over Sāmoa.

When I found out Nafanua even existed as a grown adult (yip took that long, proving once again why we need more of our stories) I was instantly fascinated by her – a woman #InAMaleDominatedWorld leading her people to victory. So I made the easy decision that Nafanua had to be part of this story and for it to be told from two different perspectives – the past and the impact that this has on us and today’s Pasifika generation.

Then I got writing.

I wrote the story across two days. It happened so quickly I actually don’t even remember writing it to be honest. And that’s usually a good sign for me – an indicator that the story has been patiently waiting, wanting to be told and who knows, maybe a blessing from Nafanua herself.

The students I shared the story with also loved the illustrations. The present day story is in full colour, while the story from the past was purposely created as a graphic novel. The two stories are intertwined throughout the entire book and help to reinforce the connection from the past to the present.

‘I like that about the book Miss, it’s so different – like what has happened before is still connected to us now,’ one student said.

The most interesting comment I received from another student was, ‘I didn’t know islanders were allowed to write books Miss’ – which I told him that an islander not only wrote it, another islander edited it, another islander illustrated it and another islander designed it #PasifikaBeginning2End #PasifikaPower #It’sPossible.

This student looked blown away and proudly gave me a high five, like we had won something.

But there was one comment that kind of took my breathe away. And it has honestly left me feeling and knowing that our Mila’s My Aganu’u Series will do some good in the world – ‘Miss this is so cool, it’s like about us … It kind of makes me want to write my own story, like maybe even my own book one day.’

#Malaga #MPP #CopyrightNZ

NZ PRE-ORDERS: Online at Lagi Routes from the Pacific
RETAILERS & INTERNATIONAL SALES: Contact milasbks@gmail.com