A Tokelauan love story of migration, arts and kaiga
26 Oct 2021
In recognition of Tokelau language week, we caught up with arts entity Kupega Affect, a labour of love formed by Tokelauan couple Selina and Sale. The pair have combined their experiences across performing arts, mental health and social services to create ‘cultural osmosis’.
We are privileged to hear about their kaiga’s journey, a realisation of their Tokelauan Tupuna and their efforts towards creating a ‘meaningful cultural equilibrium that is effortless’.
Ko Selina he tamaiti e a Sefilina (Née Koloi) ma Fiava’ai Isara Alesana. Ko na matua o Sefilina ko Isitolo (Tokelau/Uvea) ma Vitolia Koloi (Tokelau/Portugal). O Mātua o Fiava’ai o Reverend Āretaseta Alesana Isara (Faleāsi’u, Vaie’e) ma Tūmanu Alesana (Falefā, Ti’avea, Satalo, Ulutogia).
Ko Sale he tamaiti e a Lili (Née Alofa) ma Lemuelu Alefosio. Ko na matua o Lili ko Tavita ma Akesa Alofa. Ko na matua o Lemuelu ko Suia Vanilla ma Sosetene Primo Alefosio.
How did the Kupega Affect journey start?
Like all great things it started off with a blissful union of two people, one was filled to the brim with culture on the long burn through her tupuna and village of significant loved ones. They toiled and invested unconsciously layer by layer. Hutt Valley born and bred, Marlin Proud.
The other had a strikingly similar investment, with slight variances. Raised in electric city of Porirua and his home away from home, Mt Wellington, Aukilani. His childhood was spent listening to vivid stories tossed with gossip from his mother and aunties, to taking out the Kupega (fishing net) with his grandparents, dad, and brothers. From watching crochet kie kafu (blanket) being made to weeding lush backyard gardens. All gave cultural infused experiences.
Both Selina and Sale are woven into the tapestry of Tokelau malaga to Aotearoa, they are children of the migration who are the hopes and dreams of their Tupuna.
For Kupega Affect our ethos is on the emphasis of ‘cultural osmosis’ meaning of the natural diffusion of high concentrate to a low concentrate, to create a meaningful cultural equilibrium that is effortless.
Selina has worked in the Performing Arts sector, travelled across New Zealand and internationally for over 25 years, participating in national and international events. In parallel to this Selina has also taught in various schools, tertiary institutions and youth groups in Porirua, Wellington and the Hutt Valley. Selina is an active member of the THVCA – Tokelau Hutt Valley Marlins, for over 20 years.
Sale is an aspiring writer basing his works around his unique perspective as an ‘Aotearoa-born’ Tokelauan. He has previously worked with youth and adults in the mental health and social services in the Hutt Valley and Porirua for over 10 years. Sale has spent the last seven years in his most important role as a stay-at-home dad, as their daughter lives with Autism and son with ADHD.
In 2017 Selina and Sale created and developed the ‘Koli with me workshops’ for children and youth, an introduction to Tokelau drum and dance. This led them to host the first ‘E Mawhai Celebration’ at the Dowse Lower Hutt, focusing on special needs Pasifika children and their families, to give music and performing arts a go. Both worked and choreographed dance performance pieces, Whatupaepae, Lavelua, Te Leo o Tavita for Measina Festival, Pacific Dance Festival, International Dance Day, and Hutt Winter Festivals. In 2021 Selina and Sale became directors by formally creating the arts entity Kupega Affect Limited.
How does language and culture help form your artform today?
Language and culture underpins everything we do. Our artforms are informed from our kaiga and their environments. For both it’s a collection of many events, these are our stand outs. For Selina it was time spend at her grandparents’ (Isitolo and Vitolia Koloi’s) home at Richmond, Petone. The nucleus of whakatokelau and fakauvea teachings - learning language, belief systems, customs, and values. All unpinned by her grandparent’s staunch catholic faith.
Sale was similar but learnt his whakatokelau by experiential means, his kaiga placed the importance of ‘fai mea faka tahi’(do things as one), watching his Porirua grandparents mea lalaga (weave) and talatalai (carving), to his aukilani tupuna taking him and siblings whagota (fishing), and listening to stories of Tokelau, Samoa, and Papua New Guinea from his grandmother.
We place an importance of acknowledging of being Aotearoa-born, understand the challenges of finding identity, as we traverse in both worlds of Pacific Islander and New Zealander distinctiveness. It’s part of who we are because of our Tupuna who migrated from Tokelau and Samoa for opportunities for provision and further education for their kaiga in Aotearoa.
What motivates you do the art practise you do?
We are parents of special needs children, our eldest lives with autism and the other lives ADHD. We all live colourful lives together, filled with wonderous moments of chaos to navigating the ongoing issues and the challenges that comes with. Being special needs parents is hard but the flip side is it also very rewarding. We asked ourselves “how do we transmit culture to our children, that is expressed in a way that they can learn?” We also had to acknowledge their Aotea born nature, like ourselves their learning styles is different from the traditional means. For Kupega Affect our ethos is on the emphasis of ‘cultural osmosis’ meaning of the natural diffusion of high concentrate to a low concentrate, to create a meaningful cultural equilibrium that is effortless.
Our children are our hearts, and as their parents they have taught us so many things. They with our Tupuna, parents and kaiga are the motivation for our artistic gifts, to create opportunities for all Aotea-born Pacific Islanders to participate and interact with.
What’s a phrase or proverb in the Tokelau language that speaks to you?
Te au o Mātua kō whānau, Te au o Whānau kō Mātua - At the heart of the parents are their children, at the heart of the children are their parents. Our children are our future and legacy, we need to leave with them the wealth of knowledge our Tupuna passed onto us. Inter-generational transfer of Whakatokelau, Fakauvea and Fa’asamoa – cultural practices, traditions, customs, belief systems are so important as we’ve experienced the influence in our own lives and we have also seen the impacts of its absence.
It affects identity, self-esteem, and creates an uneasiness not wanting or knowing how to bring cultural sentience because of a multitude levels of barriers. The needs are for ever-changing because of how Aotearoa born come through the generations, if we don’t move with them by passing on our indigenous wisdom, we risk it being lost forever.
How will you be celebrating Tokelau Language this week?
By working, we have an active project - redevelopment of our 3 body of works, ‘Leo o Tavita’, ‘Whatupaepae’, and Lavelua. Whakawhetai lahi lele (Thank you very much) kia Creative New Zealand for investing in Kupega Affect redevelopment through the Arts Grants 2021/22.
Also In partnership with Hutt City Council through Pippa Sanderson and the new CocoPop space in Naenae, Lower Hutt. Kupega Affect is running Give it a Go Tokelau Drum and Dance workshops on the Wednesday 28th of October. On Thursday 29th October acknowledgements to Le Moana’s Director -Tupe Lualua will be hosting a Tokelau creatives meet and greet for our young generation as part of Measina Festival 2021, to which Kupega Affect accompanist, dancers, and ourselves will be attending. Very grateful to be able to attend these wonderful events.
Who or what are some of your favourite Tokelauan artists or events?
Events: Mafutaga Tupulaga Tokelau I Niu Hila – bi-annual Tokelau Tournament, a sporting and cultural event that brings all Tokelauans from their respective regions nationally on Easter long weekend, special mention to the crown jewel event ‘Po whatele’ (Dance night) paying homage to our traditional Tokelau celebratory event in a contemporary setting. ‘Go the Mighty Hutt Valley Marlins!’
Kupega Affect performing for “Cry of the Stolen People” on Anzac day 2021. Created by Tokelau Arts Collective - Moses Villiamu, Jack Kirifi , and the late Zac Mateo. A very heart felt and thought provoking event that expressed a Tokelau visual narrative to the Peruvian slave trade.
Shout outs to our Tokelau Artist Kaiga, who are New Zealand and Internationally based - Herbert Bartley, Taofia Pelesasa, Heto Ah Hi, Helen Fala, Nila Poasa, Emile Ugavule, Hiliako Iaheto, Martha Samasoni, John Misky, Alehana Vitale, Aloihio Kelemete, FANO hard – Liz Atuga, Timena from Moemiti Designs, Isara and Lokeni Alesana. Our contemporaries in their respective fields, all by their own right pushing the boundaries of Tokelau creativity.