Our Storytellers

Fialauiʻafualeafi Tamasese, the oldest grandchild of Taʻisi Olaf Frederick Nelson, daughter of Noue Nelson and Tupua Tamasese Meaʻole – brother of Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III, Mau Leader and the first joint Head of State of Western Sāmoa with Malietoa Tanumafili II – and sister to Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Taʻisi Tupuola Tufuga Efi (former Prime Minister and Head of State of Sāmoa).

As a child I was always watching. Watching the world around me and those who filled it. Outside of my immediate family was my wider ‘āiga, cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents who were to be respected and viewed as extra siblings and parents. As we connected each week at family to‘ona‘i or visits to each other’s houses I remember learning early on that these were the only houses I was allowed to visit and that outside of my #AssignedBFF4Life my Samoan father, my cousins were the only friends I was allowed to hang out with – without islander adult supervision.

So there’s no surprise that my most memorable childhood memories involved being around our ‘āiga. There were family poker nights and parties at Aunty Frances’ house in Porirua. Us little cousins were kind of looked after by the older cousins who took turns watching for the moment Uncle Bob or Uncle Henry got so excited with their Poker winnings that they would give us a handful of coins to go to the shop to buy anything we wanted, like all the different flavours of old school Biguns chips. Then there was the time my cousin Evelyn had a sprained ankle and became the experimental subject of the uncles who all of sudden claimed to have physio/medical licenses and proceeded to Samoan fofo #massage her foot back to health. I still remember the screams and the lesson learnt to always down play any sports injuries. I’ll also never forget the time I learnt that my cousin Ashley’s real name is actually Melissa, and how my Nana preferred ‘Ashley’ and started the new name trend without many of us cousins knowing that it actually wasn’t her name. We still call her Ashley today.     

But it’s the storytellers in my ‘āiga and the stories that were told that are my favourite memories. Like the incidental storytelling sessions at my Nana and Pa’s house #MirandaStreet where all the cousins sat in the lounge or hallway waiting for our turn to eat and clean up after our elders. I would hear my Aunty Ruby explaining who she knew, how she knew them and her own thoughts about them – for no real reason. At times there was roaring laughter from a story my Uncle Joe would tell at the table about one of his regular taxi customers and his sister, Frances, teasing him before he got to the actual point of his story. Uncle Henry arguing his point about something before randomly changing the subject. And when my Aunty Lina was there she would be the one to leave the table if she had had enough of everyone or try to get my Aunty Ana to relax as she mopped the floor around her siblings hinting at them to eat faster since “these tamaiti don’t know how to clean up properly.”

Then there were times that silence would fall over the kitchen table, like when my Pa, the quietest person in our family, would speak. Or when serious matters were being discussed by my Uncle Bob or my father, who is the matai #SamoanChief of our ‘āiga. And sometimes there would be tears, like when my Nana missed my Pa when he passed, which would set us all off.

For years I watched from the sidelines and marvelled at these storytellers who seemed to have this invisible connection that got them through the good, bad and ugly of everything, effectively bonding them for life. Through their stories they seemed to have this unspoken understanding of what each other really meant underneath it all as well as cultural rules and norms that they had been raised with in Sāmoa. And as a Samoan born in New Zealand, early on I felt a disconnection from my parents generation and the stories they shared with each other. I wanted what they had – the knowledge, insider cultural understandings, access to it all to be able to participate in the storytelling sessions and have a seat at the kitchen table with them.

So it wasn’t until I was much older that I had built up enough confidence to ask (and keep asking in case they used the, ‘eh you know’ or ‘eh you should know’ or ‘eh you don’t need to know,’ line on me) my elders questions to fill the cultural gaps that I felt were holding me hostage every now and then along my own identity journey. 

I started with my parents. Mum was a safe space and very receptive to anything I asked. She explained our family gafa #Genealogy #FamilyTree and the different parts of fa‘asāmoa life. My Dad explained different Samoan cultural protocols and helped me to understand and practise our gagana – by getting me to repeat and practise in front of him like I was doing Lotu Tamaiti again, but as a 20 something year old #LeoTeleLOL. 

Then there was my aunty Fuamai with her, ‘Why do you want to know?’ questions followed by her suspicious side eye scanner. She was our family’s one-stop-cultural-shop so she would always end up more than happy to share stories with me about everything. My uncle Amoko and uncle Tai would tell me stories about our Samoan villages, Vaivase tai and Fagaloa, family connections, their strong #feisty sisters and what life was like being born and raised in Sāmoa. My aunty Mavae told me stories of being the spoiled one with her BFF, my mother, and I even remember her husband, my uncle Pisi explaining to me at a funeral that the ‘real fa‘asāmoa way’ is beautiful – and is based on alofa, tautua and support for the family, not on how much money you can give or what to expect back, with a reminder to never forget this. Then there was my fun Uncle Tona who was like an older cousin trapped in an uncle’s body – always happy to retell and re-enact family stories with me, even about my Grandpa Saletele whom I had never met.

I found that each one of these storytelling sessions were helping to complete a puzzle that was impossible for me to solve as a child. It was like their stories were becoming part of a mini library collection in my heart that was helping to fill the cultural void inside. They gave me a better understanding of who they were, why they were and the impact this had on me and my life – which was taking shape through the stories they were sharing with me.

So when the time came to meet with Fialaui‘afualeafi Tamasese to view and provide feedback for our upcoming picture book, Grandpa’s Siapo, more missing puzzle pieces of who I am as a Samoan and the importance of my MIla’s Books mission came to light. 

I was lucky enough to have previously met Fialaui‘afualeafi a number of times where we exchanged polite acknowledgements and courtesies, while secretly fangirling that she was a direct descendant of a number of our Samoan forefathers. So I knew as part of our Samoan custom of fa‘aaloalo #respect I needed to at least try to seek her feedback on our book, which included her ancestors, and that if granted, our next meeting would be much different.

Prepared with my ‘ie lavalava and the mock up of our book, I entered her room and we greeted each other as I respectfully lowered myself in front of her. She smiled at me and I saw my Nana in her eyes. I was instantly transported back to my childhood. I started explaining Grandpa’s Siapo and what it was about. The look on her face reminded me of my Aunty Fuamai, silently assessing my intentions and the words I was saying. At the back of my head I heard my father’s voice reminding me, “Remember don’t talk too much, it’s rude,” while I handed her the mock up to look over. She flicked through each page before speaking. I held my breath because if she didn’t like it, I knew I had totally missed the point and my plan to share our Samoan history, her family history, as part of the book with the world would be a total failure.  

“Where did you get the information from?” she asked. I explained the sources and that due to the book’s target audience we were only touching on key historical events and figures since so many are still unaware of our Samoan history. She leaned forward in a way a strong Samoan matriarch would and said, “There needs to be more of our stories. For too long our history has been reported by outsiders, when we, the Samoan people, should be given opportunities to tell our side because it is our history. These events and the decisions made happened to us and impacted our people – and people need to know about it.”

Big exhale.

The Samoan activist and patriot within this 86 year old woman was woken and what came next was an intergenerational storytelling session I will never forget. Time seemed to stop as the talanoa flowed with Fialaui‘afualeafi sharing personal details about her Grandfather, prominent Samoan leader and patriot, Ta‘isi Olaf Frederick Nelson, who was at one time the richest man in Sāmoa and how his fight for Samoan independence eventually bankrupted him showing his determination to ensure that Sāmoa was led by Sāmoa. Also how Ta’isi and Sir Maui Pomare, who supported Samoan Independence from New Zealand, were very close friends who regularly wrote letters, encouraging each other on their journeys of indigenous sovereignty. 

She went on to emphasise that Samoans at the time called the Talune ship – “The ship of death,” due to passengers sick with influenza being allowed to disembark by New Zealand administrators, who also denied medical support for American Sāmoa. This led to Sāmoa having the highest fatalities per capita in the world during the Influenza Epidemic which was documented in her Grandfather’s book, Tautai: Samoa, World History, and the Life of Ta’isi O. F. Nelson. 

Our discussion moved to the kitchen table where she shared her frustration with the historical amnesia when it comes to our Pasifika histories and the treatment of our Pasifika peoples due to colonisation and its legacy still evident today. “Our tamaiti are taught to celebrate ANZAC Day and commemorate the fallen but what about the fallen who died at the hands of New Zealand’s misadministration of Sāmoa during the time of the Mau, like Black Saturday?” We talked at length about the racial discrimination she faced being schooled here in New Zealand and the need for our stories and our histories to be taught today in schools to change this for good – especially with the Pasifika population being the fastest growing in New Zealand.

I was in awe of Fialaui‘afualeafi. Her knowledge, her conviction and toa spirit. Having lived our history, with fa‘asāmoa running through her veins, being raised by our Sāmoan forefathers, her New Zealand school experiences of racial prejudice and discrimination, combined with her lived observations and learnings across her life made her the ultimate storyteller. 

Near the end of our talanoa her son Tuifaasisina Mea‘ole Keil joined us at the kitchen table where personal stories were shared about Fialauiafualeafi’s father, the first co-head of State of Sāmoa, Tupua Tamasese Mea‘ole. Over two and half hours we laughed, we shed tears, took deep breaths to help the feelings of anger and sadness subside as memories were re-lived and strengthened re-connections were made to our Samoan past.

With a full heart I took a moment and looked around the table and I realised something. I was finally at the cultural table I had been longing for. Included as part of the talanoa to help our tamaiti and future storytellers which ended with Fialaui‘afualeafi saying, “We must fight to keep our stories alive for future Sāmoan generations, we must never forget the sacrifices made for our Samoan language, culture and stories to survive.” Something I will forever be reminded of at each table I am invited to sit at and every time I look at our book, Grandpa’s Siapo.


GRANPA’S SIAPO will be released on the 14th of May in New Zealand.

PRE-ORDERS are now available from Lagi Routes from the Pacific store for the general public and Wheelers Books for schools and libraries.

Also in honour of the 60th anniversary of Samoan Independence this year,
our entire Mila’s My Aganuu Series, including Grandpa’s Siapo, will be made available to the world as a paperback and ebook via Amazon on the 29th of May.

For all our different Samoan Superheroes

Mase – Our very own Samoan Superhero and Losi the Giant Fisherman
Publishing Assistant + Advisor

Our Mase had come home from school a little wired which was nothing new. He completed his after school routine of uniform off, favourite after school clothes on, lunchbox on the bench before pacing around the house until he was ready for the daily recall of his latest obsessions. 

Superheroes were on today’s agenda.

Facts about Spiderman and Optimus Prime came first. I took my usual position on the couch next to him as he re-enacted scenes and lines from his favourite books and films in real time. My job was to listen, answer rhetorical questions and ask many more for Mase to enlighten me with all his superhero wisdom. 

Then out of the blue came a surprising question, ‘Mum, why don’t we have Samoan superheroes?’ I took a moment to search the corridors of my mind for an answer. 

‘We kind of have Samoan superheroes but they were around a really long time ago,’ I replied. His eyes lit up and a light bulb went off as he reminded me about Tales of the Moana, a cartoon series about Polynesian myths and legends that had brought to life the Polynesian God Tagaloa and Mase’s favourite, Losi the Giant Fisherman. He jumped up off the couch and took on Losi’s spirit as he splashed about in the ocean bravely catching fish for his human friends.

I marvelled at my son who was in his Losi zone without a care in the world. He carried on as Losi, a mischievous giant and son of Tagaloa who brought taro to earth. But as I watched Mase dart around the room he suddenly broke character and walked over to the fireplace mantle where a siapo hung from a canvas. I stayed quiet and quickly looked away at my phone to pretend I was occupied as he quickly glanced at me from the corner of his eye, Mase’s usual signal to stop watching and let him be. 

Now because I’m a nosey mother and wanted to make sure the brand new glass covered gas fireplace wasn’t accidentally kicked by Mase, who isn’t always aware of his body movements, I watched him through the camera on my phone. 

I observed Mase as he slowly scanned the siapo from right to left. Then he raised his palm and gently pressed it onto the siapo letting the aging fibres brush under his hand. It was as if the siapo was speaking to him. It was a beautiful moment, watching him connect with our culture in this way. I quickly took a snapshot of the moment with my phone to share with hubby before Mase took a deep breath, almost summoning the strength of the siapo, to say, “Mum … I’m different. I know I’m different.”

I was taken aback by the sharp turn of direction in events. I repeated what he said aloud to get hubby’s attention in the other room, my bat-wife signal for hubby to come immediately because for most of his life, our Mase had basically lived in his own world. We learnt how to best manage aspects of his Autism to help him and us cope with the real world as an ‘āiga and we never felt that he was ready to be told about his own diagnosis of Autism. But as our ten year old son stood in front of me, I knew in my heart that he was letting me know in his ‘Mase way’ that he was now ready.

His father entered the room as Mase returned to his seat on the couch and he held my hand squeezing it as his reminder to focus on the words that would come from my mouth. He talked about finding it hard to focus on boring things and that he just really liked what he liked. That he liked being alone and that we don’t have to worry about him because he, “likes it that way.” But as always he broke the ice when he mentioned that he was still wanting to audition for, The Voice, and that he didn’t care if he didn’t get chosen because he likes his own voice and will keep doing concerts for us. Both hubby and I smiled at his cheeky personality that always shone through the black and white tape that held his world together.

We talked about other differences he noticed about himself. Even his observations of other classmates. I spoke about my own differences and hubby talked about the journey we as an ‘āiga went on to learn more about his differences which led us to this thing called Autism, emphasising that it is our differences that make us all unique and special. 

“Just like Losi!” Mase blurted out with wide eyes. 

I laughed and agreed, emphasising Losi’s gigantic differences and how his actions changed our world by bringing taro to earth. A smile stretched across Mase’s face as he jumped to his feet excitedly announcing to us, “So if I’m like Losi, then I can be a Samoan superhero too?” I laughed out loud and gave Mase a huge hug saying, “Okay Samoan superhero what’s the first thing you want to do to change the world?” Not really expecting what he would say next.

“I want to tell the world about Losi! … Then everyone can know about our Samoan superheroes and how they’re different too!” His whole body lit up on the spot. My book publishing mind automatically switched on. It rotated through the 6 book projects that were already in motion for the year, reminding me that our Mila’s Books schedule was already completely full. But looking at the excitement of my son combined with the spirits of our ancestors coming from the siapo, my heart responded with, “Okay, but only if you help me?”

Mase grabbed his large drawing book and skipped over the pages of Sonic the Hedgehog, Bumblebee and King Kong to a fresh new page. We brainstormed all the important parts of Losi’s story that he could remember, the kind of pictures he wanted in the book, cover colour schemes and of course the length which he said, “Tales of the Moana episodes are not long mum so not too long.” Fast reader it is then, I thought to myself.

Then I did some further research about Losi the Giant Fisherman and realised that there are different versions. I shared this with Mase, whose directive was, “Include them all!” Followed by a gorgeous smile that I couldn’t say no to. The idea of making it a pick a path book was born, and when shared with Mase he said, “Four stories in one book that’s even better!” 

Next I went to work writing. Mason gave feedback at each step giving a thumbs up or in one chapter a screwed up face telling me to, “Make the words easier mum,” followed by, “Don’t worry mum I’ll make us some taro for all our hard work, Losi would like that!”

Then there were illustrations based on Mason’s initial briefing. I filled in a few gaps for clarification and the final image of Losi came back instantly getting Mase’s approval. For Mase it was simple, decisions were easy and his mind was set. I, on the other hand, had a few questions –

Me: “Mase, Losi is the most handsome giant I have ever seen! … But do you think a giant from a very long time ago would look this handsome?    

Mase: “Losi looks great mum! He should be handsome because us tama Sāmoa are handsome,” followed by a model pose.

Me: “Okay why don’t we make the pictures on the inside colour instead of black and white?”

Mase: “No mum, give people a break from colours because it sometimes hurts people’s eyes like how noise hurts my ears sometimes.”

Me: “What do you mean change the letters son?

Mase: “Like make them bigger so it’s easier to read and use the normal little ‘A’ not the weird looking ‘a’.

Mase naturally became my publishing advisor, wanting waves made from the`~’ button on the keyboard he had recently discovered as chapter header images to connect back to Losi’s love for the ocean and taro leaves on the pick a path pages so that it wasn’t “too boring.” 

It took us four weeks to complete the book and the final part was deciding what the dedication should be. So we returned to the initial brainstorm we did in Mase’s big drawing book and circled a few key words. Then we were able to sum up our little project which not only supports our Mila’s Books mission of creating stories that help all our tamaiti be seen, heard and valued but also our Mase and his ongoing journey with Autism as a growing tama Sāmoa –

LOSI THE GIANT FISHERMAN – Launching 2nd of April in celebration of International Children’s Book Day and World Autism Awareness Day.

***NZ PRE-ORDER: https://www.lagi.co.nz/collections/dahlias-books/products/losi-the-giant-fisherman

***INTERNATIONAL PAPERBACK & eBOOK PRE-ORDER HERE VIA AMAZON

Mila’s Books 2022: Homecoming

Our 2022 book year has started with celebrations. Receiving our Notable Book Award, being invited on the forthcoming Storylines National Story Tour in Canterbury and confirming 7 book projects for the year, so far … because last year we had scheduled 7 and ended up taking part in 11 by the end of the year #IaGale

Dame Joy Cowley is an internationally recognised author. She has written many novels and hundreds of stories #AKALegend.

Another highlight was meeting and chatting with Dame Joy Cowley #Legend. She spoke to me about the difficulties she experienced and observed across the book industry around the acceptance of more diverse authors and stories, and we both agreed that more needed to be done in this space. Then after giving me a big hug, congratulating me for all the work we have done with Mila’s Books, she said something that I will never forget and has officially become the theme for us this year  – “Your stories bring your people back home.” #NotCrying #You’reCrying
#OkICried

But when we thought nothing could get better than all of this, we found out that our YA book, Tama Sāmoa, sold 2000 copies within 6 months, which we have recently learnt is huge in the book industry. Supposedly it is considered really good if you sell 500 copies of your book within 6 months, which seems to be the norm for us considering our other YA book, Teine Sāmoa, sold over 1000 copies and our Mila’s My Aganu’u Series (Fale Sāmoa and Siva Afi Teine Toa) each sold 500 copies all across 6 months.


You might be thinking, but who cares? Why is this important for me to know? Especially since our Mila’s Books are predominantly sold either direct to consumer or through our own amazing Pasifika retailers with no real attention from major mainstream book shops or the trade publishing industry, none of this matters right?

Tulou lava, but WRONG – This actually means EVERYTHING for us as Pasifika, as Pasifika indie authors and indie publishers and here’s why:

  1. The mirror mirror on the wall myth: We as Pasifika are used to not being featured in most of the stories we read and there have been many reasons that I have heard over the years for this #TheseBooksDon’tSell. But our Mila’s Books stories prove that we are more than capable of being the main characters in stories that SELL, dispelling the myth that Pasifika belong in the background of stories or should be the sacrificial brown lambs alongside other minority groups in storylines. There is a place for us and we ALL belong in the stories that we read … we also need way more across all genres ASAP!   

  2. Pasifika don’t read or buy books myth: Our Mila’s Books stories have continued to prove that there is a need and a real hunger for our stories. Pasifika people do read and guess what – we have buying power too! And it is definitely not a matter of having an author of Pacific Island descent, write a story and then assume that it will sell. What people forget is that for so long there has been a huge disconnect for our Pasifika people who have not been included in stories, or have not had their own language and culture included in books. So when we don’t address this and a one-off book written by a Pasifika author is released, you really cannot blame our people for not running to and selling out mainstream book stores whose shelves have continually rejected us, our stories and who we are.

    Publishers have a huge responsibility of healing and mending this broken vā, with an extra duty of care as the ultimate fulltime culturally responsive connector between our people, the outside world and our stories.

  3. I need a publisher myth: As grateful as I am for the publishers who took a chance on our stories and have supported us on our journey, it’s important for you all to know that like Mila’s Books, you can learn to do it all yourself and publish your own stories. Obviously this all depends on how much work you are willing to put in and it is more than just write and put it out in the world. But if you don’t want to face all the rejections (because remember over the past 40 years there was like 1% of Pasifika authors traditionally published) then like most things these days you can learn all the steps to take to ensure you produce a high qualtiy version of the book or ebook you envisioned. #YouTubeTutorials #StepByStep  
      
    There is also funding available nearly everywhere – even crowdfunding is becoming very popular. You can even create your own website or online book store. In terms of marketing and promotion, social media now has a greater reach than traditional methods of marketing which are now waning. Don’t forget there are Pasifika radio stations and a huge range of Pasifika platforms that are eager and willing to share and promote our stories too.

Ultimately, all of this proves we don’t need to hope and pray on a chance from a mainstream publisher or a space on a mainstream bookshelf to get our stories out into the world to be sold. And in our experience, based on the need and demand for our stories at Mila’s Books, we must no longer wait for these people and places to learn to value us as writers and our stories. We as Pasifika are now in a position to take a chance and back ourselves, by creating our own spaces for our stories on a Pasifika bookshelf that is made, promoted and marketed by us, for all of us.

If you have always done what you did before, you will always get the same results. Thankfully Mila’s Books are not doing what has been done before and have found some success in doing so. This is why we are spreading the word because as Pasifika, when one wins, we all win. Our Mila’s Books achievements belong to the village of supporters across the world who have shown huge alofa and support for our stories. So as we prepare for the launch of our first tusi for 2022, we want to say fa’afetai lava for all your support and for helping us show the world that our stories are worth telling, worthy of writing, creating and buying. We did that.

Looking forward to our 2022 Mila’s Books journey with you all this year and continuing to help us come home to ourselves – right at the top of our very own Pasifika made bookshelf where we can all be seen, heard and valued as who we are.

#HomeComing
#Mila’sBooks2022
#MoreThanBooks

Tama Sāmoa Project 2021

The contributing authors for the Tama Sāmoa Project from top left corner clockwise: Okirano Tilaia, Emmanuel Solomona, Saul Luamanuvae-Su’a, Aleki Leala, Liko Alosio, Senio Sanele, Darcy Solia, Elijah Solomona, Dr. Sadat Muaiava, Israel Risati Sua-Taulelei, Isaac Sanele, Mikaele Savali, Simati Leala, Atama Cassidy.

Our forthcoming YA book, Tama Sāmoa, is a story based on Sione, Lima, Tavita and Filipo who are high school friends, uso or brothers. They are part of a special letter-writing project that helps to start a brave new conversation, an open and honest talanoa with themselves starting with the words, Dear Uso … Here they share the cultural challenges they face, and without realising it, their need to belong, to be accepted and the impact this has on their wellbeing overall.

The book also includes student study questions #LiteracyIntegration #RichLiteracyResource #VersatileText and the amazing Tama Sāmoa Project. A space created for fourteen Samoan male students and educators to share their own boys-to-men stories, lessons and journeys to help today’s tama Sāmoa, our tama Pasifika, to be better understood and supported in succeeding as themselves.

Co-author, Mani Malaeulu explains the power and beauty of the stories written for the Tama Sāmoa Project in his introduction from the book –

In my role as a mentor, coach and facilitator in high schools and businesses, I have met some amazing tama Pasifika. Many have talked to me about being proud of their Pacific cultures, their duties and responsibilities as growing young men and even as fully grown men. But I have also heard stories from our tama Pasifika about not being fully supported – not feeling clever enough, not knowing how to talk, having anxiety and fears about not being ‘man’ enough.

So many tama Sāmoa I have met over the years struggle with finding real belonging and acceptance as they physically, mentally and spiritually chop and change themselves to fit into the worlds around them. This has sadly become the norm for some of our tamaiti and research supports that this has a major impact on the mental health and wellbeing of our boys and men – who are left asking, what is wrong with me? When will I ever be enough?

I sometimes imagine what life would be like if we were all embraced as ourselves, as who we are in all the worlds we live in because I believe once fully harnessed, being a tama Sāmoa, tama Pasifika, can be a powerful anchor in the storms we face. Year after year with students and clients I am blessed to witness what happens when we know who we are, own who we are and stand in our Pasifika potential – we are unstoppable, a message that has been captured in the courageous stories of the Tama Sāmoa Project.

The Samoan boys-to-men stories that follow give us an insight into the real-life experiences that have shaped the contributing authors’ ways of thinking, living and being. They share their challenges and successes, as well as everything in between. They also give us real lessons and solutions on how to better support our tama Sāmoa in succeeding proudly as Pasifika, while reminding us that it is possible to do it our way, the Pasifika way.

Ultimately, these stories give me real hope for the new tama Sāmoa code that so many of us have been calling for. They highlight the fact that when you succeed, we all succeed. More importantly, they tell us that when we fall it is through real talanoa, through our stories that we can get back up again – because this is where you will find our strength and true Islander resilience.

Ia manuia lou malaga tama Sāmoa ma tama Pasifika,

Mani Malaeulu

Tāma Samoa will be released on 25th Sept 2021 & will be available from:
*Within New Zealand & Australia – Instore and online from Lagi Routes From the Pacific Store
*Schools & Libraries – From Wheelers Books
*Outside of New Zealand – Paperback and Ebook via Amazon.com
*Ebook – Available via Amazon Kindle & Nook
*Retailers and Organisations – Contact us via milasbks@gmail.com

#TamaSāmoa #TamaSāmoaProject2021
#SaveTheDate #25.09.21 #OurStories
#OurTamaPasifika #FaafetaiLavaCreativeNewZealand

How to convince your husband to co-author a book with you.

STEP 1: Talk about it non-stop.
In writing and publishing Teine Sāmoa, I knew early on that there was a need for a book for our boys, so the idea for the brother book, Tama Sāmoa was born. Since December 2020 I was constantly talking out-loud to myself and then eventually to hubsta about ideas – morning, day and night.

Now for those who know me well, I can tautala #talk until the povi #cows come home, especially about topics I’m passionate about. And for those who know my husbsta well, he is my ying to my yang, is the best listener and advisor who coaches people for a living as part of his business – and coaches me for free as part of his wedding vows #Bonus.

So imagine Bubba from the movie, Forrest Gump, where he talks about all the different kinds of shrimp – well, that was me at the time #OKMaybeMostTheTimeLOL talking about all the different ideas, scenarios and possible themes to include in Tama Sāmoa. At the time Hubsta was the ‘sounding board’ but what I was really doing, unconsciously over time, was wearing him down (which took fricken ages because he’s so patient) so he could help me to correct and fill the gaps for the story which led to step 2.

STEP 2: Accidentally brainstorm with him.
First make an assessment of his mood – do not approach if his youngest son (who inherited his mother’s you can’t tell me what to do #Fiabots spirit) has woken up with a me against the world attitude or if his oldest son has dropped his plastic toy in the vent of the brand new fireplace or if he is hungry (see step 3).

If all is good, or better yet if he owes you for something, then pullout some paper and jot down all the ideas you (and hubby unknowingly) have been talking about. Then schedule some time with him to ‘ask for help.’ Ease off on the talking because he will wonder why he is there and leave you to it, so make sure he talks most of the time. You also might need to revise the brainstorm a couple of times so don’t just try to do it all in one go, you’ll lose him. Brainstorming in pockets will do just fine, as long as there is progress.

This is the stage where you first see the magic happen because what you see next is the writer in him come to life – fleshing out the ideas he comes up with or connects to as well as editing the unnecessary ones out. Naturally the conversation should flow, because he doesn’t realize he’s in the zone drawing lines and scribbling everywhere over the paper. It is creativity in motion and it is beautiful. All of us have it, something I have always believed as an educator and unfortunately so many of us grow up as adults not realizing or discovering our creative potential.

STEP 3: Give him food and leave him alone.
Hangry writers become serial killers. So to save your household a lot of heartache make sure his favourite snacks are available #Cheezels, his drink of choice is stocked in the fridge #Bourbon and make sure you are ready to cook his favourite lunch and dinner #TeriyakiChicken #StirfryChicken #GrilledChicken #KentuckyFriedChicken #JustAnychicken.

Also since you have been bombarding him with the book, because it’s obviously on your mind 24/7, you need to keep him off the trail by just leaving him alone, giving him a break from the kids #ForTheGreaterGood to be all by himself or with friends because at the end of the day food and time is love. Love releases endorphins. Endorphins will make him relaxed. Relaxation equals no pressure. No pressure means no stress. Then the feeling of no stress means you can go undetected as you plan step 4.

STEP 4: Connect your experiences to confirm ideas and take the leap.
At this stage he may get highly suspicious, that you just haven’t gone on your merry way and started writing yet. So get the talanoa started quickly here by explaining the experiences you’ve had as a teacher and observer of tama Sāmoa and tama Pasifika that connect to the ideas and characters in the story that you have brainstormed together. He will naturally talk about the learnings from his own experiences and from mentoring and coaching Pasifika male youth and men too.

Now everything you have done has led to this next moment. The moment where you have to officially ‘invite’ him to write the book with you and be prepared to use any of the following lines – because I’m not a boy, my hands hurt when I type, you’ve already helped me with the ideas, it’s plagiarism if I use your ideas, I ruined my bikini body and gave you two sons etc. Also be prepared for when he looks at you with all the love in the world like your crazy and laughs in your face as he walks out of the room to eat the Cheezels you stocked up on in step 3 … only to return with two bourbons in his hands saying, ‘Maybe God and the universe wants us to combine our purposes to give back in this way, okay, let’s do this for our boys.’

STEP 5: Thank the Lord – then get writing.
You give thanks for all the lessons and experiences in your life that have helped you to get to this point. Especially for the man who has been there holding my hand through 20+ years of it and continues to do so on your journey as an author #LoveMyHubsta.

And just like life, over time you write and record your thoughts. Along the way you reminisce, laugh and cry together. You edit, add and re-craft chapters. Then when you celebrate the completion of your book, hubsta will explain that he actually knew what you were up to from the beginning because you’re the worse secret keeper #Can’tLie2SaveMyself and he knows me too well. And you know it’s okay because you are beyond grateful for your life, being able to live out your purpose together by sharing a new story with the world that you know will help and encourage others to discover and share their own.

#MissionAccomplished
#TamaSāmoa #Co-Authored
#Dahlia&ManiMalaeulu #TYJ

Lockdown Lowdown

Here we are again. Level 4 lockdown ‘bubble life’ as we know it is becoming so familiar and I am one of those people who fully welcomed the break from the world outside.

On top of the usual busy life of being a mother, wife and Samoan daughter, I wrote seven stories that were released in May this year. It involved so much time and energy #BeforeDuring&After because when you’re working to ensure our Pasifika stories are in the spaces they need to be, it’s not just write the story and then sit back and relax #OMGifOnly. Then amongst all of this I was being commissioned to write stories and complete advisory work in schools, AND we moved house where we completed #Chehooo renovations, because in my mind there is no such thing as impossible – but there is definitely such a thing as crazy #RightHereYall

So the first half of 2021 has already felt like an entire year has flown by, and is why I had promised myself an early Christmas break this August which would help me to slide into ‘chill mode’ for our final book of 2021 #TamaSāmoa.

Then Delta arrived, saving me from myself because to be honest, I probably would not have had a break and just kept on going #AsPerUsual.

I have never been good at just stopping. I even remember having so much energy as a child and would get so frustrated and borderline cry from being bored – but not in front of my Islander parents who would have really given me something to cry about LOL. Now as an adult this non-stop energy has manifested in my life as always being on the go, to keep on going, then going further … until I can’t go on anymore – which I am so used to challenging because I am a serial ‘Do-er’, forever preparing, organizing and thinking about what needs to be done which to me, MUST be followed through because my OCD/undiagnosed ADHD & Asperger’s nature can never leave anything unfinished or un-promised. Then when I’m really on a roll the fiabots kicks in and I start feeling like I’m invincible #NoSleepNeeded because by this stage I turn into a machine – like an AI robot with tunnel vision programmed to GET THINGS DONE. This is of course until I hit my kryptonite wall having spread myself so humanly and mechanically thin that my mind and body shuts down and forces me to stop.

And like so many, I know the benefits of stopping, having breaks and the importance of looking after yourself. But why is it so difficult to abide by our own self-care rules? Having had two weeks of level 4 lockdown reflection and meditation I have come up with 3 theories –

First theory: Self-care was not really modelled in our lives growing up. I think about my parents growing up, dad worked during the day and mum worked at night, always making sure someone was home for us kids. There was no holidays or family vacations, Dad even worked 14 hour days with mum working two jobs at one stage. So from a young age, my parents had no choice but to keep going and by the time we were teenagers they filled their spare time with church. So they never really stopped or took time for themselves. No such thing.

Second theory: Patterns, pathologies and cultural values. Education was big in our household growing up and early on I realized that for my parents, success in the outside world meant achieving at school. The more I achieved, the happier my parents were. So I took this as a sign of how to gain approval and love as a child. By doing things, and doing them well, I made my parents happy but then after making them happy, I wanted more of this #NewDrug and without me realizing it at the time, wanting them to be proud of me led me to chasing over-achievement status.

This addiction was solidified by Dad who always praised our achievements and hard work, but ending his comments with something like, ‘But it would have been nice if…’ Like the time I was runner up to Dux at College and after a teacher congratulating my parents, my Dad’s comment was, ‘We’re really pleased but there is always room for improvement.’ My Dad’s standards and expectations back then were #Hardcore and he eventually relaxed when he realized his girls got their degrees and would be okay in life. Then there was Mum who was the original do-er and problem solver – for family, friends, work, church, random strangers even. Girlfriend was nek level. She would always tell us, ‘What goes around comes around,’ and to talk straight, don’t talk sh**, to ALWAYS do what you say you’re going to do and DO IT RIGHT. Something that has stuck with me.

Next was being Samoan, where tautua #Service is one of the golden rules of our culture. If you do not serve your parents, family, church it is basically a sin that reflects on your entire aiga #family. Being selfish and self-serving is unacceptable. So this just reinforces the lifelong duty of service and selflessness that you are born in to and the inherent feeling you have to give of yourself, your time and energy because this was what my parents modelled and just what good Samoans do.

Third theory: How much does society really value self-care? I remember working fulltime and calling in sick, after going 500% for a couple of months at this particular job. Then within the hour I received a phone call from my boss asking me how sick I really am and if I could just come in. This happened regularly. And when I was younger – I would. The harden up and get on with it attitudes in our workplaces to meet deadlines, outcomes and deliverables doesn’t allow for, ‘I really need some time and space,’ or ‘My mental health and wellbeing are suffering at the moment.’ Which I’ve always found crazy because people are a business and organizations biggest asset. So when we feel supported and good about ourselves we are much more effective, creative and productive overall.

But there is hope. Look at some of the world’s professional sports stars who were recently in the spotlight regarding their mental health and stepping down from major events because of it, highlighting the importance once again of self-care. Reminding us all that today’s generation are already positively taking the right steps to change societal attitudes towards self-care and mental health and wellbeing #OurTurnNow.

Since I know what I need and why I haven’t been able to give it to myself #WhatI’mUpAgainst, I’ve figured out all that’s left is: Breaking the cycle. My plan has included taking the first steps of making self-care a priority and just stopping – because this is when I get the chance to think about the good and the bad, gain clarity, feel and heal from things that are otherwise blocked out by the ‘busy-doing-ness.’ It also gives me the space and time to REALLY listen to myself – to trust and know what I need. And this lockdown, my mind and body have needed to just stop.

So as a recovering non-stop addict, I know it will take work to make it a routine part of my life to stop and I have been trying to make the most out of this time in lockdown – which includes rehearsing how to say leai faafetai #NoThanks and not feeling guilty for not meeting people’s requests or demands. This is why in preparation for what God and the Universe has instore for me for the rest of the year I am working on a much healthier addiction of boundaries with work and a new pursuit of happiness that can only be found with self-care. Simply embracing this moment of pressing pause in lockdown.

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
#PowerOfOurStories
#ByUsAboutUs&4Us
#All4OurTamaiti
#SeenHeardValued
#Mila’sMyAganu’uSeries

RELEASE DATE: 27th MAY 2021
NZ PRE-ORDERS: Online at Lagi Routes from the Pacific
SCHOOLS & LIBRARIES: Wheelers Books
RETAILERS & INTERNATIONAL SALES: Contact milasbks@gmail.com

Sisterhood

My sister to my hood 💯

Growing up I always wanted a brother. Instead, I got an older sister.

My sister was always super quiet and I was always naturally loud and chatty #LikeMyMama. She would always tell me that I was adopted to push my buttons and I would turn into She-Hulk (my cousins still remind me about my violent tendencies & obsession with knives as a child #She-HulkRevengeTime). She would happily stay home and chill, whereas I would cry from boredom and play every sport I could just to get out of my house aka Islander Prison. She prefers luxury items and retail therapy, and I have always been cheap, love op-shopping and make my own clothes. At high school she won creative writing awards and I was the Maths whizz. She was my second mother who wouldn’t lie for me when I wanted to sneak out to go to a party and I would jump out the window thinking, YOLO!

It was safe to say we were total opposites.

Continue reading “Sisterhood”

2021 Choices, Chances & Change.

This is THE year.

A phrase we all say to ourselves, at the beginning of each year really. But after the crazy mixed bag of lollies year we all had last year, I do feel that this will be OUR year – for more choices to be made, for more chances to be taken, for more changes and growth to happen.

This 3C’s formula became the basis of my teaching career quite early on. I remember making the conscious choice to be an agent of change in my classroom. I identified what I could control, then I made choices, took informed chances, accepted and created opportunities which led to student progress and achievement – positive change.

Continue reading “2021 Choices, Chances & Change.”