Dahlia Malaeulu found herself writing every day in lockdown, drafting 12 stories in seven days before realising what we all now know: it’s a book! We published a sampling of Teine Sāmoa yesterday: today, we present a personal essay from Dahlia about her lightbulb moments while writing.
Over this lockdown period I wrote. A lot. Reflections, articles, poems. And across 7 days, I accidentally wrote a book – Teine Sāmoa.
It all started off by reflecting on my own teine Sāmoa journey which was published by e-tangata last year, ‘Don’t you want to be Sāmoan?’, and the overwhelming response to this article. The countless number of messages and emails. People sharing vivid recounts of their own experiences which told the same story:
- Not knowing our Sāmoan language or elements of our Sāmoan culture.
- Being told they were not Sāmoan enough.
- Being told that being Sāmoan was not good enough.
- Struggling with the dual identities they developed.
- Not being supported in developing cultural confidence or knowledge and being embarrassed by or shamed for this.
- Turning away from our Sāmoan language and culture due to any/some/all of the above, when all they longed for was to be supported, included and accepted as Sāmoan.
I then thought about my many experiences as an educator. The 12 years of conversations I had with Pasifika students from my class, across my own school and other schools. The issues they would bring to my table to discuss, laugh out loud about, problem solve, cry, compare and vent about, which sadly, involved many of the issues listed above.
The issues they would bring to my table to discuss, laugh out loud about, problem solve, cry, compare and vent about, which sadly, involved many of the issues listed above.
Then there were my memories of educators. Those wanting to develop their own Pasifika cultural knowledge and understanding. Or those who automatically ‘got it’, knowing how to connect with our Pasifika tamaiti by developing relationships, their confidence and building upon the cultural assets they brought to their classrooms.
And I also remembered educators who just, ‘did-not-get-it’. Those ones with the ‘my way or the highway’ attitudes, only open to doing what they’ve always known, and the school principal who once told me that Pasifika students can’t achieve due to their parents and their low expectations.
So all of this reminiscing and reflecting led me to ask—what is missing here and what is needed?
And in that instance I thought about the importance of the first teachers in our lives—our parents and our teachers. I wondered about the cultural baggage they carried with them and the impact this had on the lives of our tamaiti. Just imagine if we knew their stories? So I put fingers to keyboard and started writing about four junior high school students, their parents and their teacher’s stories.
I thought about the importance of the first teachers in our lives—our parents and our teachers. I wondered about the cultural baggage they carried with them and the impact this had on the lives of our tamaiti . . .
First, I wrote about Lani, the afakasi, who wants to know more about her Sāmoan side and is scared of the ‘Real Sāmoans’. Then I wrote about Teuila, the proud NZ-born teine Sāmoa who grows frustrated at living a double life. Next was Masina, the free-spirited church minister’s daughter whose destiny is already set and controlled by her parents. Finally, there was Vai, the ‘Real Sāmoan’ and her journey as a teine Sāmoa outside of Sāmoa.
After completing the twelve mini short stories, I found these could be seen as chapters and then I suddenly realised: OMG … This is a book.
My next lightbulb moment was realising that these stories told our stories. They are full of powerful lessons for ourselves and others about cultural identity, the importance of giving our tamaiti a voice, and developing relationships. And learning that we are all products of our environment and making sure we understand the stories that have created this environment.
Then I realised I wanted to encourage our tamaiti, parents, and teachers to openly share their own stories by having ongoing conversations within our aiga (families) and educating our educators, so we can all support our tamaiti in knowing – why they are, who they are and what they can be.
I wanted to encourage our tamaiti, parents, and teachers to openly share their own stories by having ongoing conversations within our aiga (families) and educating our educators . . .
My final aha moment came as I made the decision to publish Teine Sāmoa.
I now believe that just because it was not written with a planned intention or ‘not on purpose’ doesn’t mean it was an ‘accident’. Instead, through accidentally writing Teine Sāmoa, it has reinforced ‘my purpose’ of supporting and helping people to develop their own and other’s cultural confidence.
So the most important lesson of ‘Accidental Writing 101’ is: there are no such things as accidents. Writing with no purpose can actually lead to your purpose.
Teine Sāmoa, is a young adult fiction e-book launched on 24 May 2020 to celebrate Le Vaiaso o Gagana Sāmoa 2020 – NZ’s national week that celebrates Sāmoan language, culture and identity.
by Dahlia Malaeulu
$9.70 (subject to exchange rate fluctuations)
Dahlia Malaeulu is a Wellington-born Samoan author of Children’s Pasifika books and creator of Mila’s Books. She is a passionate educator who enjoys creating stories that develop cultural confidence amongst tamaiti (children), fanau (families) and faiā‘oga (educators) within the home, schools and communities.