By Jennifer Cheuk
“There is a constant need for indigenous and children of diaspora in Oceania to tell their own stories.”
We exist through stories. Words are what allow us to make sense of the world around us and to communicate our perspectives, our experiences, ourselves. Stories also contribute to our cultural understanding. They provide representation, familiarity and a refuge. Unfortunately, we have lost touch with many cultural stories, and as a result, we have lost touch with so many unique ways of thought. So many stories that need to be told.
We do not take the time to really excavate what lies beneath the surface of mainstream literature. We do not take the time to brush away the dust covering the words our ancestors spoke. And because of this, we deny our young people’s desire for representation and cultural connection. Where are the poems, the words, the stories people of diaspora can relate to? Where is the literature that tells of their past? When will Maori and Pacific youth be able to re-‐discover their roots and celebrate their own literary heroes?
Fasitua Amosa and poet, Grace Taylor, have created Upu Mai Whetū as a way to educate and connect audiences with “the trailblazing pioneers of Maori and Pacific literature”. Upu Mai Whetū brings these poets back to life on the stage, rekindling our relationship with Maori and Pacific literature. These poems will no longer be “locked in the books”, but will be breathed out into the world we live in now. Talking to Amosa, I am reminded of just how important cultural stories are.
Upu Mai Whetū is a collection of literature that will be performed on stage. It is a “celebration and remembrance” of the forgotten Maori and Pacific poets and it will provide a genuine cultural perspective. Amosa’s unique take on this performance will heighten the connection between audience and poem/poet: “With a lot of theatre, it’s all [spoken] to the other performer and the audience sits to one side and is watching. But this is going to be directly addressed to the audience, because with poetry it’s about talking to the audience”. He hopes the audience-‐actor engagement will inspire people to further their understanding of Maori and Pacific literature.”We will not be pushed to the side in this performance; We will be immersed in the past and the words of these poets”.
Amosa speaks of the disconnect between this world and the world where Maori and Pacific poets are known. With Upu Mai Whetū, he intends to bridge the gap and make these works feel real: They are part of our world, our reality. Bringing these works to the stage, means the poems will be performed. We will be reminded that these works do exist. The poets walk, or did walk, among us as people. Amosa superimposes poetry and theatre to create a hybrid performance. With this, we will really see, hear, learn and experience the voices of these Maori and Pacific poets.
As someone who wasn’t quite into reading books or poetry, Amosa feels as though performing the literature on stage will open these works up to a wider audience. He especially hopes to encourage Maori and Pacific youth to realise that what they are doing is being acknowledged. Their stories are recognized. “[We want to] provide an opening for Maori and Pacific kids and youth…[they] can come to this and see people do things they are doing- there is already an established group of awesomness that have gone ahead and done this. There is a pathway”. His own experiences with the “dual-‐worlding” of diaspora has added a dimension of authenticity to his approach with Upu Mai Whetū.
As he has been in the acting world for 18 years, Amosa’s advice for those trying to make it in the media/performing arts industry was frank: “persevere…connect with others…and learn the game”. Ultimately, he concludes his advice with “if your heart’s in it, you’ll find a way to stay in it”.
The interview with Amosa solidified my excitement for the show. As the performance focuses on the words – the upu – and the stories of our Maori and Pacific poets, we discussed the importance of stories: “Stories are a human thing” he comments, “It’s a good way for people to bond, to find a commonality, even in our diversity. I could tell a very, very Samoan story that is actually a universal story, but it’s very specific to hear, or specific to people’s situations… [stories] highlight our differences and shows we are all in the same boat, even though we look different or hang out in different circles. As humans, we are all bound”.
Upu Mai Whetū is running at the Basement Theatre in Auckland from 1oth -14th of July. Click here to get your tickets!
Jennifer Cheuk is an English/Communications and Linguistics major with a passion for graphic novels and sophisticated picture books. She likes eating grated cheese and watching niche films. Can be found cartooning and writing on instagram: @selcouthbird.