SUSANA LEI’ATAUA shared the stage with TAPU TUISUGA to deliver the Graduands’ Speech on behalf of the Class of 2018 - Mana Moana Experience.
We have not graduated. We have returned.
We have completed a committed time hosted by a vision of another way - our way - and the potentials of this dedication when otherwise fully occupied individuals take time out to be together. I am deeply grateful to the participants of the inaugural Mana Moana Experience for asking me to speak at our completion ceremony to our hosts, to our families and to our friends who welcomed us ashore to hear where we have been.
That night I completely abandoned my notes and spoke in the way I had each time we sat at our fono on the big deck of the retreats. Listening to the voices who spoke before me, listening to the voices who were speaking within me, so that I may hear myself in their tone, and they in mine. These words are therefore a recall of those thoughts tempered by the days since.
We each arrived at Mana Moana to discover how deeply connected we already are, and how to consider our bearings in this time and space with the advice and guidance of those who have lived here in the millennia before us. Advice and guidance held aurally, and only more recently recorded with writing. That our time and place in Aotearoa New Zealand is held within the fine weaving of these generations of people. Those who have come before us on this sea of islands, Te Moana Nui a Kiwa. Their commitment to guide with their words of experience. Their commitment to us.
We are the specificity of our gafa, tupu’anga, papa’anga, whakapapa, genealogy. We have been polite in accepting the collective label ‘Pasifika’. It has made sense in times past, mostly to those who are not us, and we have not wanted to offend. We have been their guests. But these hosts have not been here as long as our forebears and so this framing has been misleading.
As more and more of us are born in Aotearoa New Zealand and as New Zealand understands itself as part of Te Moana, we are all realising our context with greater detail. It is this detail that renders any collective label without clear definitions a poor fit. It is this detail that holds clarity about our relationships. And it is inside this clarity where there is space for us all to exhale.
Our gafa includes tūrangawaewae. This is a clear and consistent understanding throughout Te Moana. Another shared understanding is that with the movement of people there is the embrace of place. That one comes ashore to bring seeds to be planted, to contribute, to share, to sustain and to enhance. We are here to acknowledge Aotearoa New Zealand, to understand it is also our tūrangawaewae, and to make the connections between our tūrangawaewae throughout Te Moana. In so doing we offer ourselves in service, to care for the relational space between us, so that we may lead by example.
SUSANA LEI’ATAUA is Founder and Director of Onehunga Gallery