Traditional Pacific Storytelling in New Zealand

A couple of months ago I came across an interesting article on the Radio New Zealand Website that was written by Sela Jane Hopgood. It was about sharing traditional Pacific stories throughout New Zealand where a large population of Pacific Islanders reside.

The instigator of Moana Pacific Storytelling says she saw a need for traditional Pacific tales to be told in Aotearoa New Zealand. Pacifica Arts Center’s project manager Tuaratini Ra’a gathered Pacific storytellers to share the lore of the region, including the classic Samoan myth, “Sina and the Eel.”

Stories from Cook Islands, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu was present at the Corban Estate Arts Centre in west Auckland. Ms Ra’a said the Pacifica Mamas, a group of women who travel around New Zealand teaching Pacific culture, was her motivation for this event.

“I started storytelling for the Mamas in 2008 when I worked for their Pacific experience program. One day we were hosting a workshop for school kids around the ‘Sina and the eel’ tale and our Niuean mama usually tells that story. However, she was away sick and so I was thrown in the deep end and stepped in her place on the day. Since then, storytelling has stuck with me,” Ms. Ra’a said.

The event was part of the Pacifica Mamas exhibition called ‘Turou’ meaning the call from our ancestors, and featured in the Pacific Heritage Arts Fono (PHAF 2017). Ms. Ra’a was approached by the director of the Pacifica Arts Center, Jacinda Stowers-Ama, to bring storytelling to the community during the fono.


Fire-walkers walking over hot stones, Fiji

The theme for the PHAF 2017 was transmission, preserving, developing and passing on Pacific heritage art forms. Ms. Ra’a asked Tongan academic Hufanga Professor Doctor ‘Okusitino Mahina to represent the Kingdom of Tonga. She said it took some convincing to get Dr. Mahina on board, due to the different styles of storytelling from the Pacific. He said that Tongan storytelling is a dying art and that Tongans don’t do it the way Cook Island people do it.

Ms. Ra’a told him, “No I don’t want you to do it the way I do it. I want to know how stories are told in Tonga.” He said, “Well we tell stories all the time in my faikava group.”

“Can you imagine the kind of stories that come out of the kava bowl?” she asked. Ms. Ra’a wanted to prove that stories in the Pacific language would not be a barrier for the audience to understand.

Pacific poet, writer and musician Daren Kamali represented Fiji, with his bilingual story written on Masi or tapa cloth. Mr. Kamali was initially worried the audience would not understand the plot due to it being in Fijian and English.

Ms. Ra’a told all her storytellers for the event that people tend to observe the storyteller’s facial expressions, gestures and body movement to get the gist. “It’s a rare opportunity to get a taste of this authentic style of storytelling and you won’t see this in the theaters. It is truly an expression of identity, an expression of culture, a vehicle for the language,” she said.


About islandculturearchivalsupport

Island Culture Archival Support (ICAS) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of records pertaining to the cultural identity of island peoples in Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia whose national and public archives, libraries, cultural centers, and business organizations are underprivileged, underfunded, and understaffed. The specific purpose for which this nonprofit corporation was formed is to support the needs of these South Pacific cultural heritage institutions by helping to preserve and make accessible records created for business, accountability or cultural purposes. The organization will endeavor to add value by providing resources or volunteers to advise, train, and work among island residents to support their efforts in building their future and preserving their collective memory through the use of modern archival techniques.
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