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 –