"Language is really important and sacred"
6 Sep 2021
We spoke with Tongan contemporary artist Lyncia Muller, a proud ta’ahine who is passionate about dance, theatre and her cultural roots.
Lyncia graduated from the Pacific Institute of Performing Arts (PIPA) and has created dance and theatre works that have been performed at the Basement theatre, Pacific Dance Festival, and Auckland Art Gallery. She has also worked with artists/companies such as Lisa Reihana, Auckland Theatre Company, Black Grace, Tupua Tufuga, Fasitua Amosa and LADI6 to name a few.
Over the years, Lyncia has learnt different choreographic tools and performance mechanisms to develop her ideas, concepts and understanding of a dancer and choreographer. With a strong background in urban, Pacific dance and contemporary dance, Lyncia looks forward to contributing to this evolving arts industry and most importantly understanding the lessons that these experiences will bring.
Tell us a moment where your cultural identity became a defining moment in your life?
Growing up my dad always made my siblings and I speak our mother tongue at home and this was important to him as we were the first-born generation in Aotearoa. As I grew older, I started to lose being fluent in Tongan and being a naive teenager, I thought it wouldn’t be important in the future or useful in my career path.
I had so much passion for dance and after high school, I attended PIPA (Pacific Institute of Performing Arts). My first year of PIPA really changed my whole perspective on my culture and educated me on my heritage; this really made me understand that who I am is powerful and enough! I was able to engage in Pacific arts, music, indigenous storytelling and dance with other like-minded creatives around me. This is when I realised that my cultural identity and language held so much knowledge that I didn’t know would benefit me and that the importance of knowing more about who I am has enabled me to express myself more freely and creatively.
How does language and/or culture help form your artform today?
Both my Tongan language and culture go hand in hand with how I create my art. I feel that having the understanding of my culture and language enriches the work that I create and has the element of relatability within our Pacific communities.
It helps me connect with audience members on a different level and more importantly to put Tongan work out on various platforms. I studied at UNITEC dance for 3 years and built a strong background in contemporary dance; this alongside what I learnt at PIPA, I was able to explore the fusion of Tongan movement with contemporary dance and the juxtaposition between a cultural dance and a westernised art form.
What motivates you to do the art you do?
My parents, family and friends, being able to see other Pasifika people’s art and them striving to do what they love! I’m motivated by my own personal goals, dreams and of course my manifestations.
A lot of motivation also stems from wanting to create more work to inspire other young Tongan creatives and to encourage them that they can pursue a career in the arts too. I went from a place where I didn't know how I would be able to work as a creative full-time, to growing, understanding and trusting myself more and making works for my Pacific community as a full-time creative artist.
What’s a phrase or proverb in the Tongan language that speaks to you?
‘Oua lau e kafo kae lau e lava’ which means stay positive and count your blessings.
This proverb reminds me all the time that I am so lucky to be doing what I love and to be grateful for it. Not many people are able to be active in creative arts around the world right now due to this pandemic so to be able to create freely and safely at home or on stage, it's truly a blessing.
How will you be celebrating Tongan Language this week?
I wish we weren’t celebrating Tongan language week in lock down because I would be celebrating it with my family most likely with an umu and a pig on spit as we do for special occasions.
But aside from playing Tongan jams every day, I’m planning on cooking a little Tongan feast - lū sipi, lū kapa pulu, ota ika (raw fish), talo (taro), otai apele (Tongan apple drink) and keke isite (panikeke) for my bubble with the help of my beautiful mum via FaceTime because mum’s cooking is the BEST! My bubble is also in for a treat because I’m going to teach them a tau’olunga (female solo dance). I am also planning on calling my nieces and nephews to have a Tongan quiz night via zoom.
I've learnt that language is really important and sacred and I’m grateful that my dad had us speak Tongan at home so this has inspired me to get the kids active in learning our mother tongue in a fun way... then we could close off the week with some kava Tonga... haha jokes.
Who or what are some of your favourite Tongan artists or events?
Her Majesty the Late Queen Sālote Tupou III has and always will be one of my all-time favourite Tongan artists.
Also, other favourites are Amanaki Prescott-Faletau, Frankie Lolohea, John-Paul Foliaki, Tui Emma Gillies, Sione Faletau, Funaki Taulanga, Matavai Taulanga, Sione Fataua, Sesilia Pusiaki, Nastassia Wolfgramm, Gabriel Halatoa, Mosiana Webster, Saane Green, Sione Monū, Manu Vaea, Elvis Lopeti, Lata Monu (Ladyfatz), Swiss, Isope Akauola, Mele Taeiloa, Soana Aleva…. literally all my Tongan friends who are creatives and doing the most out here to put our little big Kingdom on the map. It’s all about putting each other on and supporting one another!!!!