The contemporary experience of Pasifika communities
Associate Professor Tamasailau Suaalii-Sauni believes New Zealand Pasifika are well-placed to lead conversations about Pacific values in the contemporary world.
"I've always been interested in questions around cultural, ethnic values; in particular, Pasifika values. In Aotearoa New Zealand, 'Pasifika' is a word of self-determination; it describes a way of knowing, being and doing, and a community of Pacific peoples that have both a specific history and identity in New Zealand and ongoing connections with their Pacific homelands.
"We, as Pasifika peoples, have benefited from the unique scholarship and political activism of Māori over the years. We have an ongoing whanaungatanga that precedes and goes beyond European contact and settlement. There is, as we say in Samoan, a 'va tapuia' (a sacred, spiritual and reciprocal relationship); one that is respectful of our shared past, present and future.
"The support given by Sir Maui Pomare and Sir Apirana Ngata to Samoa's Mau Independence movement in the 1920s is one example of how this relationship goes beyond New Zealand shores. And many Pasifika peoples remember first-hand the journey of the Polynesian Panthers alongside Nga Tamatoa in the 1970s."
As a kid, I saw university as the path to independence.
"We cannot deny the breathing space afforded us by Māori developments of Māori models and methodologies such as Te Whare Tapa Wha and Kaupapa Maori. Thanks to this, our Pasifika models of care, ethics and research such as the Fonofale model and Talanoa research methodology have been able to take root and grow here to a greater extent than in Australia and the US, with active government and wider institutional support.
"I believe, because of this history, that New Zealand Pasifika are well-placed to lead international conversations about how to think about Pacific or Pasifika values in the contemporary world. We have at least 30 years of developing Pasifika scholarship here, and there is now a cadre of leaders who can think, write and represent these values in respectful and relevant ways, to a diverse world.
"I always knew I was going to come to university. I came here straight out of high school, and basically haven't left. I went to Waitakere College, which back then had very few Pasifika go past Form 5 (equivalent to Year 11). But as a kid, I saw university as the path to independence. My paternal grandmother, Ailei'u, whom I was very close to, always said to me: "Sailau, aua e te ola faalagolago", which means: "Sailau, don't live a life of dependency". That doesn't mean "don’t be reciprocal or share collective responsibility", it means "don't be exploitative".
"I've always reflected on the nuances of exploitation when thinking through the complexities of social problems such as family violence. When I was growing up, my father had a violent temper, which I tried to escape by burying myself in the world of books. While there is much in our Pasifika cultures that is mana-enhancing, the prevalence of family violence is not. It is encouraging to see the work being done and state resources being given to better understanding and dealing with Pasifika family violence in New Zealand."
The world of ideas and critical analysis is a world I really enjoy.
"As a sociologist, I have worked in a number of research areas —sexual and reproductive health, mental health and addictions, developing research methodologies, youth justice, and law and custom. A common interest throughout has been engaging a Pasifika lens and focus.
"Currently I am co-leading a large international Marsden project, with Dr Robert Webb (Nga Puhi) and Dr Juan Tauri (Ngati Porou), looking at Māori and Samoan experiences of youth justice in California, Queensland and New Zealand. We're interested in understanding the 'community voice' in these experiences, so we're holding hui and fono in ten geographical sites. We are recruiting mainly through community organisations, social media and radio. We are also conducting individual talanoa and semi-structured interviews with young people who have been involved in the youth justice system, and group talanoa and focus groups with families of those young people.
"I've only recently become comfortable with being called 'an academic'. I've accepted that the world of ideas and critical analysis is a world I really enjoy. It's a privilege to be able to work in this space. Academia is ideally set up to be a safe place, both to ask the hard questions and to find meaningful ways to address them."