Solwata Kin is a podcast, produced by Talanoa, that highlights and celebrates Oceanic thought leaders hosted by Talanoa’s creative director, Emele Ugavule, and associate educator Brandon Tacadena. We will be speaking with academics, artists and educators from across Oceania, diaspora and on-Country, about their journey to becoming who they are. This podcast is an opportunity for you to learn more about the uniqueness of their journey and how their Oceanic identity is not only integral but is inseparable from their work.
Through responsive storytelling, we aim to highlight the ways our thought leaders have carved their own paths, uplifted their peoples and re-imagined the future of our Ocean.
Vinaka vakalevu to our platforming partners South Pacific Islander Organisation
South Pacific Islander Organization (SPIO) is a 100% grassroots nonprofit founded in December 2018 by four Indigenous and Pacific Islander Stanford alumni who believe in democratizing Pacific Islander access to higher education and economic opportunities, globally. They came together in response to the lack of cohesive Pacific representation in higher education, professional fields, and in the media.
Emele: Welcome to our trailer episode of Solwata Kin!
We acknowledge that we are settlers, recording this podcast from the lands and waterways of Hawaiʻi and Bibbulmun Country. We stand with the first peoples of the lands and waterways we occupy, Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Kanaka Maoli peoples as well as acknowledging our own peoples of Olohega for our continued and united fight for self determination and land back. From sand to saltwater we extend all our deepest alofa to tupuna, past , present and future – we are leaning in, learning and listening.
My name is Emele Ugavule and I am a Tokelauan Fijian storyteller. I am descended from Te Kaiga o Fagatiale and Te Kaiga o Koloi Uvea in Nukunonu and Delailasakau, Naitavuni in Naitasiri in the province of Namosi but my ancestors migrated and settled in Sauniveiuto, Deuba in the province of Serua. I was born in Aotearoa and I am currently living and working on Bibbulmun Country.
Brandon intro – Howzit going guys? So my name is Brandon Tacadena, I am second generation Filipino with connections to Binalonan, Pangasinan in the Phillipines, I am third generation Samoan Tokelauan with connections to the island of Tutuila in the village of Faleniu and the island of Olohega. I was born and raised in the island of Oahu of Hawai’i where is where I currently reside now.
Emele: You’re probably wondering – why is this podcast called Solwata kin? Solwata (also spoken as Solwara) is Melanesian pidgin/kriol for Saltwater – , and kin centres our connections as brothers, sisters, cousins across the Ocean. Though they vastly vary and differentiate us, they also connect us, no matter where we are in the world, in ways that only we can understand as people who have forged kinship lines over thousands of years.
Brandon: We will be speaking with academics and artists from across Oceania, diaspora and on-Country, about their journey to becoming who they are. This podcast is an opportunity for you to learn more about the uniqueness of their journey and how their Oceanic identity is not only integral but is inseparable from their work.
Emele: So, nows a chance to talk a bit about ourselves. Brandon, do you want to talk story about your education journey?
Brandon: Sure! Let me just preface this by saying that I, I think as Pasifika people, a lot of our stories are always in relation to those who have come before us. I just want to say that this is one part of a larger story, if that makes sense, and I’m not necessarily entitled to it but it’s kind of how it happened. My mum is second generation Samoan/Tokelauan and when it comes to education, I think for her parents, as immigrants, coming to the US the priority was about survival. They were coming into a new context, new cultural norms, different language so I guess the priority then was to get the 9 to 5, to be able to pay for a roof over their heads, for the family, to buy food and stuff like that, those were the most important things. Education wasn’t necessarily a priority for my mother growing up and since then, my mother has been a huge component for us going into education, studying, really investing her time for us to go do sport, going to school and doing extra curricular activities. A lot of people would understand this to is identifying education with this myth of economic upward mobility. If you go to college, if you get a degree, you can get a good job, you can make a lot of money, you can buy the house with the white picket fence, those quintessential American dream motifs that are happening. I think that’s what the original motivation and even as a child, I knew what we were leading in to but for me, the longer I spend in education, the more I realise that the content was teach me how to think critically about my situation and my identity as a Pasifika person living in Hawaii which is a colony of the United States. Being able to understand my context and what that means for me going forward in terms of location, education is wild. If I could speak about it, I’m one in this spectrum and now that I’ve finished a bachelor degree, partially it’s capitalised propaganda. But then on the other hand, I think there is potential for liberation, I think a lot of us go to school to learn how these systems work and how they’re pinning us against each other and pinning against us as Pacific people. So I think that was one of the most powerful things about my education, especially in grad school, I attended Union Theological Seminary in the city of New York, I did a masters in divinity with an emphasis in social ethics and systematic theology. For my projects, my interests, it was mainly looking at Christianity and the influence Christianity had as a tool of colonisation in the Pacific but that’s the large idea of what my educational journey has been like.
Brandon: Do you want to talk story about your education journey?
Emele: Thank you so much for sharing Brandon. Listening to your story, there is so much that resonates, particularly the genesis of your relationship to the formal western education system, very much mirrors in some way my family’s relationship to education. The matriarch in my family was my great grandmother on my maternal side, Malia Hei Perez, she raised my mother. My mum was as a result was raised as a tough young island girl who was very independent and very hard-working, she went over to Aotearoa on a scholarship at the age of 9 and was kind of thrust into this new education system, to this new colonial system. So my mum’s journey as experiencing education as a young girl by herself in a new country having to learn a new language and literally fight at school with kids who would bully her for being different and smaller. That had a massive impact on me and my journey which I’m only really starting to understand now as an adult and as a mother as well. My father as well, my grandmother sacrificed a lot to raise her 8 kids, put them through school. Both how my set of grandparents viewed education or how my great-grandparents viewed education as something so important, was handed on to them and then to me and I do believe is a result of the same thing that you spoke about which was, they were of generations that education equaled emancipation and that financial security equaled financial freedom. I’m realising now as an adult that they are not the same thing and I started in a similar place to you, I was studying non-stop, I had so many extra curricular; sports, drama, music, debating, I was in all the clubs, I was such an overachiever, I was a head prefect of my high school, president of all these student councils, doing my undergrad and I was working so hard because my parents really believed in that dream of – get a good education, get a good job and set yourself up for life and survive. I remember those words specifically and my mum saying, “I’m teaching you how to survive in this world like the way I had to as a young kid.” But in a similar way to you Brandon, once I reached the age of 20-21, at the time I was doing my undergrad and I was studying at NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Art) doing a Bachelor of dramatic arts, I realise that I actually really enjoyed studying and I reached a point where I needed to make something of it for myself. To that point, I had really been studying on auto pilot and doing what my parents wanted of me which going to get a degree but I started to within my university, question a lot of things and that was due to me feeling isolated as a Pacific Islander, not seeing myself reflected in curriculum, not seeing the stories that were on stages or around me being reflected, not seeing the ancient Pacific being acknowledged and not understanding what was going on. Because of that internal desire to kind to see some sort of – I was being taught those critical discourse skills but not in relation to my geographical location and not in relation to being an indigenous person on Aboriginal land, not in relation to my positionality as a settler, that’s when I started to realise that there is so much more to this education system, I desired so much more from it. I think part of my educational journey that was a privilege and something that I’ve enjoyed and still enjoying is learning how I learn, I find that really satisfying because I’ve realised that throughout so much my life I have lost opportunities or been misunderstood because of the way that I learn is not the way that the systems I’m engaging with are teaching and they are not interested in changing either. So I’ve used my education journey as an opportunity not to literally like learning and trying to empower myself and my community or people I meet but also refrain from the way I think because I’m receiving information in English but I’m not on English country, I’m on Aboriginal country. I’m a Pacific Islander and I’m interested in the way that my Tokelauan and Fijian heritage informed the way I can learn and receive information and therefore I think contribute back to my local economy and my communities so that’s been probably the most satisfying part of my education journey and where I’m at now and I think what I’m interested in investigating more on my journey and helping others do as well. It’s still ongoing and I’m sure it’s the same for you Brandon and I feel like I can say with confidence that because of that, that’s why we’re here because we love to talk, we love to listen. We love to learn but what good is that if you keep it to yourself and we want to be able to Solwata Kin to share what we know and learn from all these amazing people who are out there in our community who are thought leaders, makers, embodying their practice of critical discourse.
Brandon: I just want to honour your journey, I think that it is very unique. Something that you said made me think about how western ways of learning are very disembodied and similarly I felt those things too as I was going through school in New York. It took a second for me to understand what I was being taught and the work of contextualising was exhausting. Longing for other Pasifika academics, teachers, longing for them to be conversation partners didn’t exist which made the journey much harder. I respect you so much, can we do our first podcast with you?
Emele: I feel like that’s what I want to do every time I’m with you, I just want to turn on you because you are so amazing at turning all the fuzz in my brain to something intangible and understandable. There is so much and I’m so excited at where we’re gonna go, we have some really amazing people that we’re gonna talk with over this first season of this podcast who are from a range of backgrounds, disciplines and interests. In those discussion, I think honouring the complexity of their identities and who they are as people is something I really hope we attempt to do through this podcast as well because that’s something I have definitely come to enjoy throughout my education journey, is realising that, wow, I’m actually a really complex person and I come from a thousand of years of complex systems and way of knowing and being that can’t be reduced down to a moment, a category or a language, and that’s great, that’s actually a really good thing.
Brandon: I think it’s important, well I would like to know how we met. I think as a listener, I would be curious to know how these two came to create this and it’s a very interesting story, I love it actually, it’s a very beautiful story that I love to share with people. About a year ago, prior to a year ago, a friend of mine sent me the web page for Talanoa which is the publication that Emele is the creative director for. At that time of my life I was understanding and integrating aspects of myself that are Pasifika, learning to be Samoan, and even Tokelauan and I just started following all of these amazing people on Talanoa. Basically stalking them on social media and Emele was one of those folks, so following Emele, loving all of the things that she was doing, the projects she was doing with her community, it was super dope. Emele you followed me back?
Emele: Yes I did, which is going to sound strange, but I never check who looks at my stories but one day I did, I just randomly did, I think it was my ancestors to be honest telling me “you need to check out who’s looking at your stories.” I was looking through and I saw your profile picture and I was like who’s this fala and why is he following me?” I literally thought that. So I went on to your page and I realised you were Tokelauan, you were from Olohega and I was reading through your content and the way you were wording things on the page and I was like, I have to connect. So I just hit that follow button (laughs).
Brandon: I feel so cared for. I get to relive it guys so it’s great. So yeah, we started connecting on social media and there was a time where I was taking a class on black theology and Black liberation and I was really curious about Pasifika lens into the concept of Blackness and I learned about blackbirding which is something I had never been taught about before in school, I came across it randomly somewhere. I was researching and I was trying to understand what blackbirding meant for Tokelau, South Pacific and I was just looking for resources. I had posted something, I think it was a quote from a book and Emele, you had responded to that story, right?
Emele: Yeah I did. I responded because I was interested in the book, I had seen it before but hadn’t read it, so I wanted to know what was in it. I think I said something like, “Let me know what you think or what it’s like.” And for context for anyone who is listening who is not aware of what blackbirding is, it’s a term coined referring to the practice of colonial ships coming through the Pacific and kidnapping people and taking them to other parts of the Pacific where they had started colonies to essentially work as slaves but because this was happening after slavery was abolished in most of these colonies, it was referred to as indentured labour. Australia also has a history of indentured labour, of taking melanesians and bringing them here who are now identified as the South Sea Islander Community and for Australia, that was the British bringing people over, for us in Tokelau it was the Portugese which is how my family gets the name Perez, which is another story and a whole other podcast but that’s for some context. Obviously we are both from Tokelau and so we have that connection to that history and myself coming from a family that is connected to someone who was a stowaway – a Perez, my interest in the blackbirding history is intangible, wanting to know more. So when I saw that post on Brandon’s story, I was like, “oh I want to know more about that book” and you were working on a paper at the time right? For Uni?
Brandon. Yes. I was writing a paper on that. It was great, Emele sent me an entire syllabus, a whole bunch of videos which as an academic, I love watching lectures, I think oral traditions is a better way for me to learn. From that exchange, we cultivated our relationship more and there was a time, around this time last year, I had noticed that you were in the states. I threw out the invite and told you if you wanted to, you can come to New York, crash at my place, if you want to speak at an event, we can organise that too, would love to have you to share your perspective and your story and you came.
Emele: Yeah I did! And I never do that, I’ll be honest. And I’m not encouraging other people to do that as well, meet random people on instagram and then go stay with them, but I did. I trusted you. And I’ve said this before but I think that does really speak to that Solwata Kin connection, the way we understood each other and connected and talked stories through social media really resonated with me in a way that I thought bigger than myself. I was with my mum at the time, so mum and I went up to New York City to stay with Brandon for a week, and we just had the most amazing week hanging out, meeting some of the Pacific community there, learning more about Brandon and his journey to education, why he was in New York, life in Hawai’i growing up. For me, living in this part of the hemisphere, the southern hemisphere, I didn’t really know that much about Hawai’i growing up besides what I read in books or what I saw on television, so it was really beautiful for me and my mum to have a context as another Pacific Islander to hear about what it was like and also to hear what it’s like for a Tokelauan being over there in Hawai’i. So it was a life changing week and here we are, a year later producing a podcast.
Brandon: I’m laughing because I remember the night you folks threw in, it was super later and I was like, “you must be hungry, lets order Chinese food” and it was like 1 or 2 in the morning and the only place that was open was this Chinese restaurant in Queens so we UberEats from there and the food was terrible.
Emele: Yeah, it wasn’t the best Chinese that I’ve had (laughs) But we loved it because we were like in New York. It came in like the little box just like in the movies, we loved it. Our connection there speaks so much more than us being Pacific Islanders, us being Tokelauan who were just connecting, it does speaks to something universal that I have experienced in my life which is no matter where I am in the world, when I meet another Pacific Islander, someone who is from the ocean, there are things that we know, that exists between that we can either name or we can’t name and the fact that they’re there, it’s so tangible to me. It magnitises me to people and makes me want to know more, I think this was the perfect example of it and as a result we’ve been able to continue this amazing friendship and I hope it’ll continue for a long time and I’m so grateful.
Brandon: Can I just say, I love you and your mum, aunty Lesina if you’re listening, you’re amazing, I just want you to know how grateful I am for you and pictures of your garden.
Emele: I just want to say quickly, Brandon is also a gardener and my is a gardener and they connected through their amazing gardening practice and I hope this would come up more in the podcast because I love it and I support it, ok keep going.
Brandon: It was that week that they were in the city, for me I can only describe is as a healing experience. Growing up, I didn’t grow up Tokelauan, I knew I was Tokelauan but we didn’t grow up around family much or the culture or the language. A lot of my understanding of my identity happened abroad when I was away from home, stepping in to what it means to be Samoan, what it means to be Tokelauan. I remember calling my mum that night and I was telling her about you folks coming over and was telling her that it’s kind of wild learning these things about Tokelau which you share like kalaga with me and teaching me fatele. I was telling my mum that I came to New York City and I’m learning what it means to be Tokelauan there and not at home, for me it was such a powerful experience, I still have the google docs saved of you folks sharing chants, yes I still have the recordings of you folks so I’m really thankful for your presence there, I’m grateful for how this relationship has manifested to this podcast and just echoing what you said before, that is a perfect illustrations of what the intention was and what the idea of Solwata Kin looks like. Nurturing and Cultivating these relationships across the waterways, I don’t even know how to describe how powerful that time was. We literally just stayed up until 3 in the morning every night talking stories.
Emele: Which is energising I think as well, and that’s what I was this space to be as well, energising discussions, stuff you know, that leaves you with your cup full, to borrow a phrase, leaving it feeling like I’m amazing and I come from amazing kin, I will continue. It’s so special so thank you Brandon.
Brandon: Thank you.
Emele: So today we want to leave you thinking on solwata connection, relationality and kinship. I want to share an excerpt from Albert Wendt’s groundbreaking essay, ‘Toward a new Oceania’.
“I will not pretend that I know her in all her manifestations. No one – not even our gods – ever did; no one does (UNESCO ‘experts and consultants’ included); no one ever will because whenever we think we have captured her she has already assumed new guises – the love affair is endless, even her vital statistics, as it were, will change endlessly. In the final instance, our countries, cultures, nations, planets are what we imagine them to be. One human being’s reality is another’s fiction. Perhaps we ourselves exist onlv in one another’s dreams.”
I love this essay because Albert discourages us from romanticising our Ocean. In this excerpt, he asks us to consider how Oceania is at once everything we embody, as descendants of voyagers and gardeners, and a construct of our imaginations. She is as expansive and unpredictable as our hearts and minds will allow – and beyond. And I believe that through our relations with our soil, salt and one another – she is selfless and transformative. What are your most important relations, and how do you care for them?
Goodbye to you
Nukunonu Te Tuloto O Tokelau Sydney recording plays
Goodbye to you