Emele Ugavule, Rarama Ink Press

Emele Ugavule is a Tokelauan Fijian orator, writer, producer, educator and storyteller. Emele is a member of the Studio Kiin collective and the Creative Director of Talanoa. Emele shares her storytelling journey that led to the creation of Rarama Ink Press.

I come from a family tree of strong women who believe in the importance of knowledge transference. My work as a storyteller is an extension of the roots that run deep through my community, and a reflection of my responsibility to their legacies.

On my grandmother’s line my nana, Maselina Potuvaka Pereira, was a respected elder in the Tokelauan community in Te Awa Kairangi ki Tai and she was passionate about knowledge sharing and creating spaces for women and youth to embrace their Tokelau culture. Her older sister, Sr Juliana Perez, was the Minister for education for Tokelau and a children’s book author who championed education for our people. Their younger sister, my great Aunty Huhana Lemisio, started the first Tokelau language nest for Early Childhood Education centres in Aotearoa. Her daughter and my godmother, Nila Poasa-Lemisio is a teacher and community builder who has worked in Aotearoa and now on Nyoongar Country in teaching performing arts. On my grandfather’s side, my cousin, Selina Alefosio, is a children’s book’s author and the takitaki hiva for the Hutt Valley Marlins.

It is women like Nana Maselina, Sr Juliana, Aunty Huhana and Selina who I see as fetū that light the maps of our history as storytellers and educators, and illuminate the way forward. And I know that their work is not possible without the incredible people that support them - their husbands, children, friends and elders.

I have been fascinated with the world of self-publishing since I wrote my first book. ‘The wishy-washy washing machine,’ on a thrifted typewriter from my Great-Uncle Dr Chris Griffin. I made three copies of these, and gave them out for free. As a young person, I came across the culture of independent publishing through Zines, and was fascinated by how specific zine’s are to the author’s interests and perspectives. So I started making my own zines in high school.

In 2018, I was asked by Arieta Rika to become the Creative Director of Talanoa, a digital storytelling platform for Oceania stories. This is where I began to embrace and champion Pacific publishing in the digital world, and it allowed me to build upon my desires for my Pacific voices in literature through publishing the Recycle Zine for Talanoa featuring works of artists from across Oceania. Always seeking opportunities to collaborate, I produced a book of poetry, ‘Rooted in Freedom,’ for Soul Alphabet featuring poems from African and First Nations writers and have run zine-making workshops across Dharug and Nyoongar Country for youth and young adults.

It hasn’t been a straightforward road for me, as I’ve had to learn on the job through observation and asking questions. In reflection, as I’ve worked with various Indigenous artists from across Australia and Aotearoa I would have loved to have had a mentor working in editing and publishing who understood the unique challenges presented when working with Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property (ICIP). I am grateful to authors like Terri Janke and her work, ‘True Tracks,’ and Dr Unaisi Nabobo-Baba and her work, ‘Knowing and Learning: An Indigenous Fijian Approach,’ who have showed me both through their work the history of ICIP rights, and how it applies to my own worldview as not only a Pacific person but iTaukei. Straddling multiple Pacific identities means that I have had to be careful and intentional about how I engage with stories and knowledge from my communities and any presentation of stories to my communities.

It has shown me that where possible, it is important to bring people with me laterally and horizontally. Over the last few years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with incredible Oceanic graphic designers and illustrators like Tatanja Ross and Elsie Andrewes who have brought forward incredible sensitivity, love and vision to each storytelling project we have collaborated on. Similar to my family of educators, I could not bring forward any stories without collaborators who understand the heart of the work and are able to bring their unique skills to it in a way that honours the integrity of the story. This is how Studio Kiin came to me.

Studio Kiin is a collective of storytellers who champion normalising story sovereignty, cultivating kinship and prioritising healing in the creative process. We are passionate about empowering artists to lead with culturally responsive, ethical and sustainable creative practice. Our core collective consists of storytellers, makers, community builders and visionaries - women I am proud to call Kiin - Linda Iriza, Natasha Ratuva, Elsie Andrewes, Arieta Rika, Iya Ware, Nduta Gathoga, Amy Zhang, Makanaka Tuwe and myself.

In 2022 I wrote for Studio Kiin about how story sovereignty ‘values the ways in which storytelling can be used as a way to build social bonds, support collective decision making, and recognise our interconnectedness with all living things.’ It is in these storymaking spaces that people are able to share and access knowledge in ways that are accessible, multi-textured, grounded in cultural values and tied to place.

At the core of what we do is our love for stories and our ancestral ways of knowing. This has led us to begin our own publishing press, Rarama Ink. In vosa vakaViti Rarama means to light and in Shona it means to live/to be alive. We chose this name as a collective because it embodies our ancestral kinships and what we hope our work will express and inspire. We will be publishing our first works in 2024, including Arieta Tegeilolo Tora Rika’s debut poetry book, ‘Kalokalo’ in collaboration with local publisher, 5ever Books.

Our focus for Rarama is uplifting Mana through sharing Indigenous stories, by and for Indigenous peoples, we are interested in stories that reflect our interests and the communities we come from and however that happens - books, posters or card decks. Collaborating with 5ever Books, allows us to design and produce our books ourselves from start to finish, this means not only do we edit and design our own publications, but we physically print and bind books in Te Whanganui-a-Tara as well. We look forward to learning about more stories, locally and regionally, connecting and collaborating.

It is a privilege to hold story and Rarama Ink, take the responsibility of story with joy, heart and courage.

Storytellers are historians.
Storytellers are knowledge holders.
Storytellers are prophets.