Talanoa founder, Arieta Tora Rika, reflects on the importance of reminding ourselves that connection is a form of resilience in the face of adversity.

Storytelling may seem trivial during a crisis and yet it is one of the most powerful pathways to connection. During times of uncertainty, fear, panic, and stress, it’s natural for people to emotionally disconnect from one another, only exacerbating these overwhelming emotions. 

So many of us from across the Pacific are born storytellers. One of the greatest storytellers and poets of our time, Konai Helu Thaman, talks about an uncertain future in her poem, ‘The Way Ahead’.

She says that if we look deeper, beyond the surface of what we can see, our roots intertwine and create a pathway to the future, and I believe her. Our roots are made up of our relationships, our values, and our ways of life. These roots connect us with one another and can be strengthened through the telling of our stories. 

Konai Helu Thaman

We cannot see
far into the distance
neither can we see
what used to stand there
but today we can see trees
separated by wind and air
and if we dare to look
beneath the soil
we will find roots reaching out
for each other
and in their silent inter-twining
create the hidden landscape
of the future. 

Storytelling can be used as a tool to empower people and to help us navigate through these uncertain times. A good story connects us with the storyteller. A brilliant story connects us with ourselves – our hopes, fears, dreams and desires.

From this place of connection, we feel less alone, we have realisations, we think about how we might change, and actions often follow. 

As we move through the COVID-19 pandemic, I encourage you to connect with someone you trust to share the story of what you’re going through. Create spaces for open and honest conversation where you can be vulnerable. With restrictions on meeting face-to-face, lean into using tools such as technology to create virtual spaces for talanoa – it can be as simple as creating a Facebook or WhatsApp chat or group to send funny memes, positive stories, and difficult experiences whenever you need to share.

Be intentional about creating these spaces, keep them safe, and keep up the momentum. 

These pathways to connection are not just for us, but for the people we care about too. When my late father told me, dola-va na kātubavei ira na weka-mu / open the door for your family”, I thought he was talking about opening the door for economic opportunities.

After his passing, I’ve had many revelations about my Dad and how he showed his love for his immediate and extended family members. I now realise that he also meant that I should have an open door for my loved ones when they need emotional support – to make sure they know they can come to me when they need someone to help carry them through adversities.

This sentiment isn’t unusual in many Pacific cultures.

Our relationships with one another underpin the fabric of our societies, and strong and positive relationships create strong and positive outcomes in both the short and long run. 

When we experience fear and pain, it’s easy to forget who we are. All fear and all pain are valid. You must know that. We cannot belittle what we’re feeling and what those around us are feeling too. Yet in all of this, we must remember that we are not alone. When I see the world around me worrying about whether we will have enough essential goods to go around, I think of the words of the late Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.

“E na sega ni mate na i taukei ni sega na kena, e na mate ga ni sega na wekana” – “The indigenous Fijian will not die when he does not own anything, he will die when he does not have family.”.

This is true for all Fijians, and for all of us from across the Pacific.

This sentiment can apply to the sacred relationships between our chosen family too – the people who aren’t related to us by blood – yet are there for us when we hit rock bottom, when we’re on our way back up, and when we are celebrating overcoming the most difficult challenges that life throws our way.

While we do not know how long this pandemic will go on for, we must know that we have each other. We must know we can ask for help when we need it, and that we can lean on each other for support. We can share, we can laugh and we can cry together – the stories that we choose to tell will build bridges and dictate the depth of our connections –  and it’s these connections that will carry us through this crisis and beyond.