"This is a craft which my ancestors have put a lot of love and sweat into creating."
27 Sep 2021
Mama Lakiloko Keakea is one of Aotearoa’s master artists when it comes to Pasifika handcrafts. We spoke with the Tuvaluan born artist about Vaiaso o te ‘Gana Tuvalu – Tuvalu Language Week.
Since arriving in Aotearoa in 1996, Lakiloko Keakea has become one of Aotearoa’s most renowned exponents of Pasifika handcrafts. After learning handcrafts in Tuvalu, she moved to Kiribati in 1971 where she learned kolose (crochet) through a church-based women’s group, making crocheted dresses and tiputa (crochet tops).
Upon returning to Tuvalu Keakea joined a women’s arts group called Fakapotopotoga Fafine Tuvalu. The group included women from all the island groups in Tuvalu, each of whom shared the knowledge and expertise of art practices distinct to their island. In the 1970s three women from the group travelled to the Marshall Islands and brought back the star-shaped design and techniques used in making fafetu (star-shaped wall hangings). This knowledge informed Keakea’s practice, which she brought back to Aotearoa and shared with other artists and audiences at exhibitions.
The 72-year-old is married to Tepae Keakea. Lakiloko is a mother to two daughters and a son, a grandmother and great grandmother. Is a devoted Christian and a part of a Women’s Collective group - Fafine Niutao I Aotearoa.
Ne kamata anafea au galuega konei ki mea taulima? (Where did your journey with art begin?)
It started at a very young age, I learnt from my mother and other women from the village. Later on, I was chosen by my village to represent the women’s collective group to travel to the capital (Funafuti) and be a part of an art event in 1978.
A te gagana Tuvalu mo tuu Tuvalu, e isi se fesoasoani o mea konei kafai e nofo koe o fai au mea taulima? (How does Tuvalu language and/or culture help form your artform today?)
My language has helped me so much in terms of learning the craft as it’s helped me communicate and discuss designs with other artists.
Sea te mea e fai neia ke naunau tou loto o fau au mea taulima? (What motivates you do the art you do?)
My ancestors. This is a craft which they have put a lot of love and sweat into creating and it’s an art which I want to continue for our next generation.
E isi se fakamunaga faka Tuvalu tela e fiafia koe kiei? (What’s a phrase or proverb in the Tuvaluan language that speaks to you?)
“Ko tou malosi, ko tou maumea” “your strength is your wealth”. This phrase is like a reminder for me when I’m in need of a little strengthening. This is a phrase which was used by elders back in the days and is still being used now to motivate the younger generation.
Nea nei au polokalama mo au fakafiafiaga mote vaiaso ote gagana Tuvalu? (How will you be celebrating Tuvalu Language this week?)
My family and I will be watching the live ceremony, sing songs and cook up some delicious Tuvaluan food.
E isi ne nisi tino fai mea taulima tela e gali kia koe ana mea taulima? io me isi ne faiga mea taulima tela e fiafia koe o fano kiei? (Who or what are some of your favourite Tuvalu artists or events?)
Yes! I am apart of a Women’s Collective Art group here in Aotearoa (Fafine Niutao I Aotearoa) and there are so many women in our collective who are extremely talented. There are also many other groups in our Tuvaluan community who also practice Tuvaluan Art and crafts.
Thank you to Mama Lakiloko Keakea’s family with their assistance in sharing her story.