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Behind Me Lay My Future

Written by Iani Nemani, Trades Career Advisor - Pasifika The Competenz Trust


I had a dream once. It was just after I completed the final paper toward a Bachelor of Social Work degree from Massey University, many years ago, many more than I care to remember. In my dream, I saw Bert, my stepfather who had died shortly after I moved to New Zealand as a nine-year-old. In my dream, Bert walked toward me. He smiled, kindly and softly just as I remembered him. He had an empty peleti kapa (tin plate) in his hands. It was the same peleti kapa I ate from as a child in Tonga. It was the only peleti kapa we had in our poor, humble fale Tonga (coconut thatched house). Bert put the plate by my feet. He stood, looked at me, he smiled then he disappeared. I called my Grandfather the next morning and said, “Vili, I had a dream.” I explained to him my dream. He was silent for a minute, then he said, “Kapau ‘oku ongo ki pulotu ‘ae tangi moe to’e, pea huanoa hotau tokangaekina mei he langi” (If our cries can be heard from pulotu (the underworld) then surely the heavens are watching over us). Then came graduation day and in his usual way, Vili sat me down and quietly said “Kuo lava ‘ae fatongia ‘o Bert, ko ho’o fatongia, malo e ako, ko ho’o fatongia ‘o ‘ou, ke ke fakafonu ‘ae peleti kapa.” (Bert’s job is done, he brought you here to educate you, your job is to fill the empty peleti kapa).

I spent 3 days, losing my-self in talanoa malie (exciting conversations) and talanoaring mo hoku loto (reflection) on my own little fala (mat) with others only to find my-self again. I engaged in the search for and talanoa with my ancestors to be reminded of the dreams and visions they also had and to learn that “behind me lay my future.” The solutions going forward were developed many years ago. The frameworks for good leadership and citizenship were built by the [wo]men that had boarded the vaka with Ru. I learned on the shores of Waiheke that no matter what, like Ru one must stay true to the mission but one must also cry out to the wisdom of the ancestors behind me for support and I learned that at times, one must ask for help. Sometimes that help has to come from a blind navigator. I came to appreciate how visionary leaders can lead us astray but the blind navigator, like “Mr. Wendle” (from Arrested Development) has wisdom that is neglected because he is a street bum. I was thankful for my friend Therese and her presentation on navigation and I learned that leadership requires one to navigate the stars. Like Ru, leadership means having followers. I reflected on the idea that leadership is tauhi kakai (caring for people) and thus, leadership is one's obligation. Leadership is a duty. Leadership means being the navigator, always awake, always aware, always feeling the winds, reading the waves and constantly ready to respond, even if that means having to jump in the water.

So one night I went swimming with my friend Tapu. I looked deep into the moana and I thought about William’s talanoa ekonomika (economics conversation) and the political economy of labour migration during the 1970’s and 1980’s. I knew then, focusing on the struggles of Pasifika workers on the factory floors, the office cleaners and the forestry workers that I had a job to do. I thought about the peleti kapa matolitoli (chipped and bruised) after having been tossed and turned in the cruel metallic winds of colonialism, racism and social injustice. I realised then it was time to ‘unu’unu ki he loloto (shuffle over into the deep). Now I know, it is not just a job, but a duty.

In the end, I thought, we can do this. In Tonga, we say ‘oku ha’atautolu (our collective responsibility). It is ours together. We are not responsible for the past, but we are responsible for how we respond, now. I thought about the hand that touched me, in the fale kai (restaurant) across from the moana. An older and seemingly more affluent Palangi (European) woman grabbed my arm and smiled “…it’s so nice to have you here,” she said. We just need to talk, you and me, I thought. You and me both, we can fill that empty peleti kapa. It doesn’t have to be me alone, we can do this. If only we can find that time, together, we can talanoa with your ancestors and my ancestors and maybe, just maybe, we can help to make that shift. Louise Marra said it, we only need to shift the conscience of a few more people, just a few more then we can change the world. But to do that, our vaka’s need to meet in the moana somewhere and it is there, we understand the need for leadership based on “pikipiki hama, vaevae manava.”

‘Ofa atu fau