From the start – Amataga o le alofa

As I watch Amataga o le Alofa come to life think back to where it ALL started. Not the start of the script-writing but the START.

Despite being born and raised in Melbourne and my Aussie accent I’m still asked “How old were you when you came from New Zealand?”  Even worse when you correct and try to map out where Samoa is on the globe I still get, “I thought Samoa is an island in New Zealand.”  It unfortunately allowed for stereotypes to emanate wrongful judgements to define cultural groups within communities without any questions being asked as to what cultural customs, ties and traditions identify these people as a whole and how can we explore the true depth of these ethnicity groups? But that’s why we are here to educate and showcase who we are.

Surrounded by diversity, cultural ethnicity groups and multiculturalism is celebrated. Yet stereotypes are still planted  as well as preconceived thoughts and misconceptions in the minds of the ignorant. That was no exception for myself as a young Pacific Islander I HATED the stereotype of PI youngsters being painted as “trouble makers” or “gangsters” I spent the entirety of my high schooling defying it and it still didn’t do anything.

After an obsession with Bollywood movies I began to immerse myself in the Indian culture. 3 hours of gluing your eyes to subtitles, bopping your head to their daance numbers (in every second scene might I add) and I learnt so much about the Indian culture – I picked up some common Hindi words, delved into some of their culture’s traditions & ways of life.

So I thought I’m going to show the world what it truly means to be a Samoan or Pacific Islander. I was 16 when I decided this was to be the goal that’ll drive me forward but I held myself to my own word even to this very day I was going to showcase my cultural identity to educate – both non-Samoans and Samoans- and try to minimise the trap of Pacific Islanders marginalising themselves into a stereotype that isn’t applicable to everyone who identify as  Pacific Islanders. It’s time to showcase our identity don’t leave any of it out it; the discipline, respect and honour that is taught in our households, the significance of traditional customs and the fa’asamoa  and the labours of love we pursue and live up to which encompass our cultural and family orientated lives.

I sought out to be a Samoan writer and filmmaker. Not for me but for the generations to come who will not have to be subjected to living under the ideals of what society says where they should fit in or by forgetting their roots.

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks mentally replaying the moments I almost gave up throughout univeristy, when I started lagging and thought “maybe this isn’t my calling” or when taking the easier alternative was the way to go. And you know what? I did.

2015 after I graduated, I did jack sh**. No more late night shoots or hours spent in editing suites. Gone just like that.

I read, wrote a little here and there but the fire that once burned no longer had any fuel. I kept calling it a “hiatus” because I refused to let those who saw me throughout my high school and uni years hear that I had once and for all hung up the camera and the laptop after so many years of declaring the big “showcase Samoan cultural identity for all to celebrate”. Moreover I didn’t want to hear the “ma’imau atoa a le taimi na aoga ai ae o lea e le fa’aaogā le degree”, it was so much easier said than done. The film industry didn’t have a place for a Samoan filmmaker or screenwriter. They wanted a PALAGI writer and while it’s something I could have pursued it wasn’t me.

2016 started and I was determined to just keep swimming.

Enter one of the most assiduous, motivating and passionate women that I am blessed to have as a dear sister Rita Seumanutafa. January 2016 saw the start of Pacific Island Creative Arts Australia Inc. (PICAA Inc) which Rita had asked – knowing for years I was passionate about showcasing Pasefika cultural identities through the arts – if I would like to be a part of this venture. What did I say I?

HELL YEAH! 

So the last nine months I have been incredibly blessed to have been a part of facilitating projects for our Pasefika artists, musicians, dancers, actors as well as up and coming aspiring actors.

Then in April.

Rita: I was thinking you could write a Samoan theatre play for the Emerge Festival in June.

Me: *silent*

Rita: It could be your debut.

Me: Oh.

I know I’m the biggest idiot here it was and my response was “Oh”. *Facepalm*

So in two weeks I wrote the FIRST script. I was not content with this one at all. Originally I wanted to write a play focusing on the Samoan creation myth of Tagaloa. Why? Well firstly all the references to creation myth were written by PALAGI scholars which I am grateful these academics immersed themselves in Samoan mythology. But I wanted to tell the story of Tagaloa as Samoa would know it (which is quite hard given the missionaries brought the Good News, any reference to Samoan mythology or gods before are not documented as well as they should be) I wanted to hear a Samoan elder or read a matai’s account of Samoa prior to the missionary.

So the first script I didn’t feel it. If I was going to put on a play about Samoa’s creation didn’t I want it to be told as closely tied to what our people already know? Yes. Also I made another mental note to listen to our elders stories’ we NEED them to preserve the fa’asamoa.

So what happened?

Meltdown.

The meltdown occurred two nights before the first meeting with the creative team of the production. I met with the director of the play Steve Tafea and opened up with, “I’m not happy with the script. I want to change it.” We brainstormed, plotted, scribbled, envisioned and away I went to write.

16hrs later – thanks to a caffeine overdose – Amataga o le Alofa was written. It became a tala fatu not a tala tu’u and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

June 21st came and the premiere was AMAZING I cried from the wings throughout the entire play.

The response was astounding. We were asked “when is your next show” so many times by people who had missed out. And so PICAA Inc reeled into to score not just one show but TWO.

The script was redeveloped and my amazing shifu of a mentor Asalemo Tofete (who also stars in the play) met with me to get this shieeeet down packed. Asa came to my every crying moment when I said “ugh this scene sucks”, “I’m not happy with this line what should I write”, “I’ve sent you a scene let me know what you think” (at 3am lol). Amataga o le alofa was revamped and so now we count down to FIVE days until our two shows on Friday and Saturday night here in Melbourne.

Last night at rehearsals I kept saying to myself “don’t cry” x1000000000. Tears welled up here and there as I watched the actors fixate into these characters, hearing the Melbourne Samoan Choir sing, Tama Tatau break into their dances and choreograph their moves to set the tone of the scene, drummers and guitarists repeatedly practice their pieces to queue singers and create the energy for the scene and watch as the director moulded the words on paper into action and as our stage manager counted down to make sure we were all on schedule.

I took a moment to reflect on everything during rehearsals. I thanked God for His blessings He has showered me with. But tears of joy welled when I thought about the gifted directors, musicians, actors, dancers, singers, stage crew and volunteers He has brought together to be a part of Amataga o le alofa. For this God sees the gratitude in my heart, He hears my prayers to continue to bless each member of the cast and crew for their hardwork, for dedicating their time to this production, for enduring the long rehearsals and for sharing their talents and gifts with the world.

My role as a writer doesn’t mean anything without this amazing cast and crew. So as we countdown to the last five days before we take the stage again, I thank the Heavenly Father for His grace and guidance but most importantly for the gifted people He has blessed the world with to bring Amataga o le Alofa to life, you guys have gone above and beyond from what initially were just words on paper. But show ain’t over yet!

This is more than just a show to me, it’s a movement for our Pasefika people, the coming generations of those who will have to battle through the negativity shone on our identity and trump such stereotypes. We’re here to promote Pasefika cultural identities and it means so much more when it’s passion that drives you to do that!

So, are you going to come and watch Amataga o le Alofa?

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