Voices of the Pacific captures stories and poems from 14 Palmerston North students

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Laifone Liuvaie, Fonotele Lokeni and Vallene Banga are three of the writers who contributed to the Voices of the Pacific zine. Photo / Judith Lacy

What were you bothered about when you were at the intermediate level?

Your size, your body odor, your hair?

The poems and stories of 14 middle-aged students from Palmerston North not only capture the challenges of tweens, but provide insight into Pasifika experiences.

Voices of the Pacific was edited by Massey University writer-in-residence Feana Tu’akio and launched last week.

Students read their work to a grateful audience.

Amazing Fa’atasi wrote about Samoan Easter celebrations. The 11-year-old from Roslyn School wrote that people looked at her, “like a glass eye and a mad bull”, when she played the violin because few Pasifika churches have a violinist.

‘Ana Palelei from Ross Intermediate School wrote about Tongan funerals. The 11-year-old’s eponymous poem includes these lines:

Calm when nervous
Talkative when brave
Body perfume
nothing but air

Fonotele Lokeni wrote about developing confidence and the challenges of blending in because he hates being the center of attention.

“Strange sensations invade my body and control my mind…I feel like my hot, sweaty face is surely changing color and a huge and dangerous earthquake wants to shake me.”

The 12-year-old of Samoan descent also shared how much he has grown since attending Palmerston North Middle Normal School.

Another PNINS student, Vallene Banga, shared the joys and tribulations of being the eldest child and how her brother, Hakai, sometimes infuriates her. “I refuse to acknowledge his messy cuteness.”

The 12-year-old of Samoan descent ends her story with the comment of always loving her mother and cherishing the family she helped create.

Esther Folaumoeloa shared how nervous she was performing a traditional Tongan dance. In her eponymous poem, 12-year-old Monrad student Te Kura Waenga o Tirohanga wrote “long frizzy hair, stressful thinker”.

Laifone Liuvaie wrote of her two great-grandfathers who were Niuean soldiers. The 11-year-old from Roslyn School describes himself as “a brown giraffe, combined with an elephant”.

Liam Qiokata, 11, wrote about his first vacation in the Cook Islands and the time he spent with his family. For his poem, Monrad’s student wrote:

hair like Medusa
feels like a lost object
skin like dry sand
built like a burger

Vea Folaumoeloa wrote about being a Tongan child. The poem by 11-year-old Monrad includes these lines:

My saliva jumps up and down
in my mouth,
like children in a bouncy house.

Other contributors to the zine were Camille Togisia, 11, Samoa, from Ross; Celia Hala, 12, Tonga, Ross; Daniel Fuafiva, 12, Samoa, Monrad; Kalisolaite Fonongaloa, 12, Tonga, Roslyn; Kilauea Petero, 12, Tokelau, Roslyn; and Sontel Liuvaie, 12, Niue, Roslyn.

Sontel also designed the cover.

Tu’akoi is married to Sione Tu’akoi, originally from Tonga. She said that when their four children were in preschool, almost all children’s books centered on Palangi. She didn’t find any with Tongan characters, ideas, situations or even legends.

“When it comes to books, kids like ours didn’t exist.”

She said the zine confirms to contributors that their stories matter and that we want to read them.

Sione Tu’akoi welcomed the Tongans. He said emerging Pasifika writers add flavor and value to New Zealand literature. He urged them to keep writing because we need their stories and their voices.

The Massey Writer-in-Residence program is run in conjunction with Palmerston North City Council and Square Edge Community Arts.

Mayor Grant Smith said the artist-in-residence program has grown from strength to strength. The town has a large and valued Pasifika community and it is important that the children’s stories go beyond their own communities.

Copies of the zine are available from Bruce McKenzie Booksellers and the Square Edge Community Arts store. It can be borrowed in some public and school libraries. Although free, donations to the Tonga Tsunami Relief Fund are encouraged.

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