20 Oct 2020

Teine Sāmoa project shines light on lives of Samoan women in NZ

4:42 pm on 20 October 2020

A Samoan author who wrote a book during a week of New Zealand's Covid-19 national lockdown, hopes her new project will show the value of Pacific women of all ages.

Dahlia Malaeulu

Dahlia Malaeulu Photo: RNZ Pacific / Koro Vaka'uta

The paperback version of Teine Sāmoa, or Samoan girl, was launched this month following on from a popular e-book of the same name.

Dahlia Malaeulu is a teacher, turned author, who wrote the e-book while in lockdown this year.

Since then, she has spent time gathering the stories of how seven students and seven educators, all Teine Samoa, navigate the challenging world of two cultures in New Zealand.

Malaeulu added these stories to the original material with other additional features including discussion points designed to be used in the classroom.

"As Tagata Sāmoa, as Tagata Pasifika, only we can see the world the way we do so it really should be up to [us to] share our stories so our stories reflect us and help others to understand us better and connect with us," she said.

Malaeulu said that connection was something that could help bridge gaps within the education system.

"You hear about the 'brown tail' that we were labelled once and how Māori and Pasifika tamaiti really dominate underachievement so when you are Pasifika yourself and you actually have the insight into this world, you actually understand how rich and how knowledgeable our tamaiti are and also what our cultures are and that no learning can actually happen without culture."

Vaia'ua'u Pilitati

Vaia'ua'u Pilitati Photo: RNZ Pacific / Koro Vaka'uta

Vaia'ua'u Pilitati has been a teacher for more than 35 years and said she had seen a gradual change.

"People in the community, in the schools, parents are more aware of celebrating not only Samoan, but all our Pasifika sisters and brothers, so yes [there's] definitely a growing awareness and also not just thinking about it and hearing about it but also putting into action that celebration - whatever it looks like."

Pilitati, who arrived in New Zealand as a child without being able to speak English, said she loved sharing her story and reading everyone else's.

"There was definitely connection in each and every one of us. We have a lot to say but I loved reading about how we did connect. We connected through our culture, through our identity, through our family, through our friends and community. It it just amazing to be able to experience that connection."

Niusila Faamanatu-Eteuati, a lecturer at Wellington's Victoria University, contributed to the project and agreed that sharing stories was valuable.

"Most of the time we tend to think that we are inferior, I mean in the world that we are living in, and we think our story and our gagana and our experiences are not that important so having this project is a way to share those stories and inspire young people ... to use their own knowledge and their own experiences of their culture as sources of empowerment with the work they do."

Victoria University lecturer, Niusila Faamanatu-Eteuati

Victoria University lecturer, Niusila Faamanatu-Eteuati Photo: RNZ Pacific / Koro Vaka'uta

The youngest contributor, 13-year-old Telesia Tanoai, was doing some inspiring of her own. Born in Taiwan but schooled in New Zealand, Telesia said she had struggled with her identity and being accepted.

During lockdown she created a short film based on her journey, during which a young girl holds a conversation with a spirit version of herself.

"She's basically explaining, I don't feel Samoan, I feel like a foreigner to my family, I feel like I'm not accepted and Telesa [the spirit] says 'it doesn't matter how much Samoan blood runs through your body or if you speak the language or if you live on Samoan land. You are Samoan and no-one can tell you otherwise.'"

Sacred Heart College studen Rebecca Sa'u said she wanted to explore the aspects of teine Samoa.

"I wanted to incorporate the ideas of a teine Samoa from Samoa and raised in Samoa and a teine Samoa raised in New Zealand, because there are differences and similarities that I think a lot of people should know because we are not all the same.

"For Pasifika people in general, I just want them to feel confident in embracing who they are."

Wainuiomata High Head Student, Sarah McLeod-Venu

Wainuiomata High Head Student, Sarah McLeod-Venu Photo: RNZ Pacific / Koro Vaka'uta

Wainuiomata High School Head Girl Sarah McLeod-Venu also contributed to the project.

The up and coming representative netballer is of both Samoan and Scottish heritage and wanted to share what being Afakasi was like.

"I wanted to share how my experiences are different to say full-Samoan, Teine Sāmoa, and I wanted to share how it's perfectly fine to have different experiences and how being different is good and you should embrace it and that you can find strengths and opportunities to use your cultural experiences to help others."

Telesia agreed.

Telesia Tanoai

Telesia Tanoai Photo: RNZ Pacific / Koro Vaka'uta

"It doesn't matter how I am or my personality or how different I am. I know I am Samoan and I just have to believe that I am and I am proud to be a Teine Samoa and I love my culture.

"I am different, I was raised differently from most of my family and peers but that's what makes me different, that's what makes me unique. I'm proud to say that."

Dahlia Malaeulu said although the 14 stories contained common threads, they also displayed how there was diversity.

"Within our culture, our Samoan culture, as well as many of other Pasifika cultures, there is diversity within it. So that many years ago you had this idea going around or this stereotype of what a Samoan is; that they typically go to church, that they typically all speak the language."

She said that was definitely not the case today.

"There is so much diversity. There are families who have Afakasi children. There are families who have been brought here, scholarship children who have to be raised in a foreign country. There are teine Samoa who struggle with the dual worlds, our tagata Samoa who struggle with the dual worlds of pālangi and then their home life."

Teine Sāmoa contributors

Teine Sāmoa contributors Photo: RNZ Pacific / Koro Vaka'uta

But whatever the case she hoped the project would do at least one thing.

"It would enable us all to better support our tamaiti to succeed as themselves. So succeeding as Samoan, succeeding as Pasifika, because our language, our culture, who we are, is worth it."

Malaeulu said schools across the region were already inquiring about the book.

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Photo: RNZ Pacific / Koro Vaka'uta