Struggles of hou’eiki fafine in new homeland inspires groundbreaking work by Tongan student

The struggles and successes of Tongan women who  moved overseas to make  new lives in different countries has inspired a Tongan student at Auckland University of Technology to create groundbreaking art.

It has also won her a PhD from AUT.

According to a report by Ariana Adam released by AUT-based Pacific Media Watch, Talita Toluta’u has become “the first Pacific woman graphic designer in the world to have achieved a PhD with a practice led thesis.”

Tolutaʻu’s work includes a number of two metre-long paintings and three sets of projected images.

The overall title of her work was ‘Veitalatala: Matanga ‘oe Talanoa.’

The work is centred on the lives of three Tongan woman who left the kingdom and settled overseas

The three women were Lesini Finau Vakalahi, Senolita Vatuvei Afemui and Telesia Tonga.

According to the Pacific Media Watch story, the women  struggled to fit into their new homeland.

Talita Toluta’u told writer Ariana Adam her exposure to both Tongan and western cultures helped her bring together different aspects of her life and blend spiritual and academic ideas into her work.

“As I matured, the Tongan voices of the hou’eiki fafine in my community permeated my ways of thinking. They caused me to reach for understanding by listening, feeling, learning and luva,” she said.

“Their talanoa has shaped my understanding of culture in profound ways because my personal growth and cultural identity was (and remains) intrinsically connected to their past experiences.

“The stories of migration that they told me as a child were not like those written in my social studies books. Nor were they like the representations of Tongan people portrayed on the news items that flickered occasionally over the television set.

“They were something different. Their talanoa is full of laughter, sadness, detail, memory and loss. There are secrets alluded to, and experiences of something missing. The spaces between what they say and the distinctive ways that their recollections reconstitute time are as important as what is recounted.”

The main points

  • The struggles and successes of Tongan women who moved overseas to make  new lives in different countries have inspired a Tongan student at Auckland University of Technology to create groundbreaking art.
  • It has also won her a PhD from AUT.
  • The overall title of her work was ‘Veitalatala: Matanga ‘oe Talanoa.’
  • The three women were Lesini Finau Vakalahi, Senolita Vatuvei Afemui and Telesia Tonga.

For more information:

‘Tonga: Artist’s innovations win world’s first Pacific woman practice-led PhD’ (Pacific Media Watch/AUT – contains details of one of her works of art)

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