Indigenous | Books

First collection of young Pasifika poems soon to launch

A Sāmoan woman has put together the world’s first book representing the voices of young Pasifika poets, which is soon to be released.

Dhalia Malaeulu, owner of Wellington online store Milas Books, will be launching a book she says has never been made before.

"We are releasing Pasifika Navigators, which is the world's first Pasifika student poetry collection. I'm really, really excited about it. It includes the poetry of 52 Pasifika students from across Aotearoa.

"There are schools that participated and individuals who participated outside of school as well who submitted their poetry. It will be released on World Poetry day 2023,” she says.

Malaeulu and her team have spent the past twelve months collecting poems from year 7 - 13 students around the country.

The students range from schools such as Breens Intermediate in Christchurch, to Tawa College in Wellington and St Paul's College in Auckland.

'Brutally honest'

The former schoolteacher feels many of the poems in the new collection focus on issues Pacific families aren’t ready to talk about, openly.

“Our tamaiti (children) are brutally honest in these stories that you will read but they’re beautifully honest because they need to be.

"Because we want them to journey back to themselves, and not stay lost out there, not worrying too much about what other people are saying about us and who we are,” Malaeulu says.

The project was supported by the Ministry of Education and all students who contributed to the making of it were given a monetary donation.

Malaeulu talked about the impact the teenagers' poems have had on their school and staff.

“One college, in particular, had their students who participated in the project share their poems with their staff at a staff meeting. They read them to their school and staff and they made all their teachers cry because the teachers had never heard their kids speak like this.

Nine Pacific cultures

"They heard their truth, standing in their truth, proud as Pasifika and delivering something that honours who they are and what they are,” she says.

Milas Books opened its website in 2019 to sell educational books on Pacific history, language, and culture.

The students tell their poetry through the lens of nine pacific cultures, including those of Tuvalu, Kiribati, Niue, and Papua New Guinea descent.

Malaeulu hopes that this book will help Pasifika celebrate their culture more regularly rather than just in one of Aotearoa's language week celebrations.

“Because who we are and what we are is not within a week. We are Sāmoan, we are Fijian, we are Tokelauan, we are Tongan, we’re Niuean and we’re Rotuma. Our cultures are with us every day, and our kids need to see themselves every single day.

"So, what that looks like will look different in different contexts. But I’m just really hoping that all of that comes from this and the conversations that are needed alongside them,” she says.

The book can be found here and will sell for a recommended retail price of $30.

Milas Books is already working on its next release in April which is an educational book helping Pasifika whanau dealing with autism.