Bev Uipi, Marc Roberts, Jake Fitisemanu Jr. — Pacific Islanders in Utah politics

“If we truly believe in government that is by, for, and of the people,” Jake Fitisemanu Jr. said, “then by definition our governmental bodies should represent the makeup of our communities.”

Story by DIEGO ROMO

In the current social climate of the United States, even a half-mention of the word politics sends many fleeing. The word conjures feelings of distrust, misuse and abuse. But, in Utah’s Pacific Islander community, there is a different story to be told — a story of values, community and customs.

Bev Uipi, Marc Roberts and Jake Fitisemanu Jr. are three Utahns of Pacific Islander descent who are serving their communities in various governmental and political roles across the Wasatch Front. Their backgrounds and stories are unique and diverse, but the culture of community that has always run through the veins of Pacific Islander history connects them all and drives their political outlooks. This trait seems at odds with the current culture of American politics.

For Millcreek City Councilwoman Bev Uipi, politics is no unfamiliar game. The daughter of the only Tongan, and first Pacific Islander, to be elected to the Utah State Legislature, Uipi knows what it means to be truly at the service of her community. And through this firsthand experience of her father’s tenure as a Utah state legislator, she figured she would never put her name on the ballot.

“When he ran, I thought I would never do this,” Uipi said.

But all of that changed when Uipi was studying for a master’s degree in public administration at the University of Utah. It was there that she found a new interest in city management, which sparked the idea to run for office.

Uipi found herself conflicted as she was faced with the decision to pursue a path she never thought she would be traveling.

“For all of that pushback you’d think I wouldn’t want to run, but I did,” added Uipi.

And in 2016 Bev Uipi put her name in the hat for the office of Millcreek city councilmember for District 4 and won by a landslide. Uipi credits the win to the fact that her campaign had far more resources than all of the other campaigns.

“We raised and spent more money than all other campaigns combined,” Uipi said. “I learned a lot of strategies from Dad.”

When she was a young girl, her father told her “Don’t think outside the box, live outside the box.” Phil Uipi also spent time teaching his children about their Tongan heritage and about the epic stories of transoceanic voyages that their ancestors undertook. He shared, too, their keen ability to adapt to new situations and places because they were frequently on the move.

“We were given the skills to survive this far,” Phil Uipi would say, encouraging his children to pursue their dreams.

Uipi credits these lessons with her ability to navigate the very white, very male world of Utah politics.

“Water moves, so does politics,” Uipi said, commenting on her ability to adapt fluidly in this strange environment.

Marc Roberts, state representative for Utah’s 67th district, also never saw himself running for office. But, in 2012, he found himself in a new district after the 2010 census called for redistricting within the state. This change led him to become a more active member of his community, and eventually to office.

Roberts’ fellow community members noticed his newfound passion and encouraged him to run for a leadership position within his community.

“I was looking at people like, you’re crazy, I don’t want to do that,” Roberts said in a telephone interview. “But, push came to shove.”

Roberts ran against four longtime and well respected residents in his community and beat them in the caucus.

“I still remember going to vote. Sitting there standing in line realizing that everyone there is going to vote for me,” Roberts added. “And here I am in jeans and a hoodie looking like a regular guy.”

Roberts grew up in a very large family: nine siblings to be exact. And although he was reared in a household that taught him the core values that are prevalent in many Pacific Islander families, he was not raised in a home where Polynesian culture was at the forefront.

“I’m one foot in, one foot out when it comes to the Pacific Islander community,” he said.

But to Roberts, like many Pacific Islanders, family has always come first.

“To me family is the first level of government,” Roberts said. And that is how he views his role as a political leader in his community. “The stronger the family, the stronger the community.”

Jake Fitisemanu Jr., the current West Valley City councilman for District 4, grew up in both Hawaii and Utah. He never saw himself running for office, either. But during his time in college, Fitisemanu came to find himself elected to student senate on somewhat of a whim.

“I didn’t really campaign in any formal way, I just put my name on the ballot and hoped for the best,” Fitisemanu said in an email interview. “To be completely honest, at that stage in my life, I felt that getting involved would be great for my resumé. It wasn’t really out of a sense of civic duty, but more like an experiential challenge.”

Fast forward a few years and the experience that he thought would only be a footnote on his resumé became a full-time responsibility as the new councilman for West Valley City’s District 4.

In this new position, he hoped to connect his community to policies and resources that would impact their lives in a positive way.

“I feel like local government is the closest access point for everyday people to connect with the policies that impact our daily lives. I wanted to help improve the community where I live and I knew that representing my neighbors on the city council would be an effective and meaningful way to do that,” Fitisemanu said.

Regardless of their background, it seems that for most Pacific Islanders, it all comes back to the family and to the community, which makes them great candidates for leadership positions in their communities. Unfortunately, there are not enough role models in the community.

According to a 2016 article in “@ the U,” Representative Marc Roberts was one of four Pacific Islanders who were elected and had served in some form of Utah politics. That is only four out of about 37,000 Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders who reside in Utah, according to 2010 census data. Millcreek City Councilwoman Bev Uipi credits these staggeringly low numbers to representative bureaucracy.

Something has to change.

“If we truly believe in government that is by, for, and of the people,” Fitisemanu said, “then by definition our governmental bodies should represent the makeup of our communities.”

Misrepresentations of Pacific Islands culture in Disney movies

Story by DAYNA BAE

Cultural delineation in media frequently involves praises and criticisms at the same time. The Pacific Islands culture could not avoid such portrayal.

The Walt Disney Company Co., one of the major entertainment companies in the world, has depicted various cultures through its film productions.

As a result, Disney’s animated films gained large popularity and reputation for their diverse cultural representations. Up to the present, Disney has released numerous films including “Aladdin,” “Mulan” and “Pocahontas” based on different cultural backgrounds around the world.

With success of prior films, Disney released two animated films “Lilo and Stitch” and “Moana,” both of which describe Pacific Islands culture.

Two films depicted culture and stories of indigenous people in the Pacific Islands. The films starred a number of actual artists and professionals with Pacific Islands background.

Jacob Fitisemanu Jr., a clinical manager with Health Clinics of Utah and an associate instructor of ethnic studies at the University of Utah, said in an email interview, “Lots of Pacific Islander artists got into the production of the films and movies, and it became a good opportunity for them.”

The production and release of movies about the Pacific Islands not only aroused public attention about its mysterious and veiled culture, but also provided a good opportunity for Pacific Islanders working in the field of animation production.

“The major positive aspect of those films is the showcasing of the incredible potential and abilities of the Pacific Islander artists who lent their expertise and talents to the films,” Fitisemanu said.

According to the Guardian, the writer-director team of Disney’s “Moana” conducted a five-year research trip to Polynesia to interview elders and people living in Samoa, Tahiti and Fiji to have a better understanding about Pacific Islands cultures.

Despite the efforts of the research team, the public reactions to “Moana” varied. Some people showed optimism about the movie for displaying unique features of a minority culture, while others, reported the Guardian, criticized the movie for misrepresenting the culture and history of Pacific Islands.

Fitisemanu said, “Some people are very upset about Maui’s depiction and the way his legendary exploits are shown in the animation.” Maui is a main character who is a demigod in the movie. He also said that some people are uncomfortable with the fact that Maui is not put into context. According to Fitisemanu, Pacific Islands legends are in fact metaphors of actual historical events, unlike how the movie portrays them as mythological and fantastical ones.

Dr. Malie Arvin, an assistant professor of history and gender studies at the University of Utah, said, “The movie was not making sense to me, because Maui was described as a braggart, comical, and arrogant person in the movie.” She said that Pacific Islanders criticize the movie because many of the legendary stories of Maui’s are missing. “Maui has lots of stories such as slowing down the sun and fishing up islands,” Arvin said.

Another criticism of “Moana” deals with tourism. According to the Guardian, “Moana” caused a flurry of travel articles about the Pacific Islands triggered by the movie’s depiction of vibrant landscapes. Disney partnered with Hawaiian Airlines to promote the film and tourism catalyzed by “Moana” led to more ecological destruction of the Pacific Islands. The Guardian reported that the problem is due to the “merchandise and tourism machine [which] operates in direct opposition to the morals of Moana, a young girl who cares fiercely for her people and her island.”

According to the Huffington Post, one of the major flaws of the movie is its failure to mention Hina, a companion goddess of the god Maui. “In Polynesian lore, a goddess with a god creates symmetry that gives harmony and beauty to the story.” In this regard, “Moana” lacks a critical concept of “symmetry” in the story.

However, this is not Disney’s first time to be criticized for its misrepresentation of indigenous cultures. “Lilo and Stitch,” an animated film released in 2006, was also blamed for using inappropriate lyrics for a Hawaiian traditional song.

According to Arvin, “There is an aboriginal song about King Kalākaua, who was the last monarch of the Hawaiian kingdom before he was overthrown by the U.S. government.” The lyrics are a dedication to his honor, which is very respectful about his legacy. “However, ‘Lilo and Stitch’ just took that song and replaced his name with Lilo’s name. It was disrespectful and painful to see,” Arvin said. “And that was really depreciative of the history of Hawaii,” she added.

Although there are fierce criticisms toward Disney’s films about Pacific Islands culture, there are still positive voices that compliment the works for their valiant efforts and attempts.

Fitisemanu said, “If the Disney movie inspired Pacific Islanders to learn more by doing their own research, opening dialogue with family elders and cultural custodians, and increasing the sharing of our own stories with the next generation, then I think that is a good thing.”

To prevent and correct cultural misconceptions created by major film production and entertainment industry, Arvin said that there should be more Pacific Islands directors. “One of the most famous Pacific Islander directors is Taika Waititi. He is a Maori film director who directed Marvel’s ‘Thor: Ragnarok’,” Arvin said.

 

Bring the fire, bring the energy: The Nu Tribe

Story and slideshow by MCKENZIE YCMAT

At the edge of Salt Lake City in a small quiet neighborhood, a grocery store is closing for the night as the rest of the town gets ready for bed. It’s 10:00, the streets are dark and the parking lot is empty, except for a glowing light at the far end of the building. Music is blasting, laughs can be heard from the street, it sounds like a party. This is where the Nu Tribe gets together every Thursday night.

The energy in the Just Dance studio at 8087 W. 3500 South in Magna is contagious. The air is hot, the energy is high, everyone laughs but focuses on the teacher for the day when it’s time to dance. On that late night in early March, the teacher was a sassy but passionate man named Nate with a confident 9-year-old sidekick named Susie. The song of choice was “Oh” by Ciara.

Susie is the DJ and quickly runs back and forth between the plugged in iPhone and the front of the dance floor. The students yell and laugh when the music starts and follow the dance moves Nate taught them earlier in the night, with a mix of their own style.

“It’s the only time and place that we can practice for cheap,” Ofa Vahe said. “But we don’t mind. We’re just happy we get to teach dance.”

Vahe is one of the original founders of the Nu Tribe, alongside other dancers Moana Aiono and Teresa Kuma. The Nu Tribe is a Utah-based dance crew consisting of only Polynesian dancers who travel all over the state to teach others about their heritage. They also provide the younger generation of Polynesians a safe place to dance.

Each week a member of the Nu Tribe teaches a class of about 20 students, usually members of the Polynesian community, for an hour. The dance styles change every week so that the students learn different traditional dance routines.

“Our rule is that no matter what style the teacher brings that week, you have to fully submerge yourself in that style,” Vahe said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s hip hop, ballet, contemporary, or anything else the teacher wants to do that day, you have to do it.”

The Nu Tribe teachers mix up their styles of dance to teach the students about different forms of expressing themselves and getting that sense of love and family that the Polynesian community teaches.

Polynesian dancing started as a way of communication for most of the islands in the Pacific, including Tahiti, Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and Hawaii. Traditional Polynesian dancing was used to tell a story and to convey a literal meaning that they carry with them after they leave.

After the first hour, the second teacher steps up to teach her choice of dance for the day. She’s a quiet, petite woman who quietly steps up to the front of the class. But once the music starts she becomes a confident and sexy hip-hop dancer.

“That’s Hannah Gagon,” Vahe said. “Growing up, she was always extremely shy and reserved but once she was introduced to the Nu Tribe, we realized she was this insanely talented dancer. Now she teaches her own classes throughout the week.”

The Nu Tribe brings together those in the Polynesian community and gets them to step outside of their comfort zones and enjoy the art of dance expression. Just like traditional Polynesian dances, they aim to tell a story.

Once everyone has learned the two different dances for the night, the teacher splits the class up by groups and has the students dance together. After that, they separate everyone one by one and eventually, a student will find themselves dancing alone.

This technique allows a student who stepped into the class for the first time, shy and hidden in the back of the room, to suddenly show confidence on their own as other members of the class cheer them on, chant their name, and even record them on their phones to share on social media so they can share the love with others not there.

“After I broke up with my fiancé, I was depressed and needed friends,” said Dook Kelsall, a member of the Nu Tribe. “I found the Nu Tribe through my friend Ofa and now we’re like family. He gave me a safe place to express myself and helped me through that tough time.”

By now, it’s midnight and it’s the end of the second hour. Everyone gathers around in a circle to share positivity and any news they have involving the class or news within the Polynesian community. They hold hands, introduce new people to the class, and say a prayer.

“Thank you for the gift of dance, amen,” says a member of the Nu Tribe giving the prayer after they all bow their heads and close their eyes.

Once the prayer is over, they gather closer together in a type of group hug and share more positive words and love with each other. Vahe proclaims, “Bring the fire, bring the energy!” and the entire group yells “Nu Tribe!” They give hugs and high fives and gather their things. Some even still dance around and laugh. It’s late at night and many of the students have to wake up early the next day for school, but they don’t care. They’re with family and they’re just there to have fun, learn and feel loved.

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Teaching Pacific Islander Art Past and Present With Pasifika Enriching Arts Of Utah (PEAU)

Story and photos by ADAM FONDREN

My heritage is who I am

It is where I come from

It is where I’ve learned

That I represent my aiga

And we represent Samoa

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Oreta Tupola sits listening to a presentation on Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources (PIK2AR) at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

In this poem titled “My Heritage,” Oreta Tupola, a Samoan artist and member of Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources (PIK2AR), writes of family (aiga means family in her native language) and standing up for her cultural preservation. For Tupola, this is representative of what being Samoan is and this is what Pacific Islander art is about: being a protector of the past and educator of the future through art.

Pasifika Enriching Arts of Utah (PEAU) is an organization that falls under the umbrella organization of PIK2AR and aims to do the very same thing: help the Utah Pacific Islander culture with its self-identity and provide outlets and options for self-improvement.

PEAU describes itself as “a Pacific Island community-based group of artists, creators, and patrons of the arts bridging across all art communities to preserve, perpetuate, empower, support, educate and promote artists and creators of Pacific Island descent and of ethnic and underserved communities, to increase income into households through the arts.”

PEAU was founded in 2014 by Alisi Maka’afi, a visual artist of Tongan and Māori heritage. She has since moved back to New Zealand and has formed PEAU New Zealand. PEAU here in Utah has grown and changed slightly to become a large part of what PIK2AR does and how it does it. The organization has about 10 full-time members covering a range of arts from visual to dance and photography along with a number of rotating artists and contributors who contribute as their time allows.

PEAU introduces the cultural storytelling aspect of its goal by holding monthly artist and creator meetups where working artists team with aspiring artists to make art and discuss art. Annual exhibits are held at the Salt Lake County Libraries and at the Sorensen Unity Center. During the annual Utah Pacific Islander Meritage Month, PEAU holds an exhibit, and also take part in the annual People of the Pacific High School Conference (POP) held at Utah Valley University.

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Bill Louis gives a presentation on street art at the People of the Pacific (POP) High School Conference at Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah.

According to Bill Louis, a Tongan street artist and the public art coordinator for PEAU, the organization is open to all Pacific Islanders. But much of PEAU’s efforts are directed toward underprivileged youth, leading to PEAU’s involvement with POP. POP provides an opportunity for PEAU to share its message and introduce the organization to high school age youths.

At the 2018 POP Conference, held in February, several different types of Pacific Islander art were explored. Nephi Prime, a Māori, presented on the haka or Māori traditional war dance. Bill Louis, a Tongan street artist, presented on contemporary graffiti. And Havier Tuitama, a Samoan who hosts a radio program on KRCL, taught a class on traditional dance and spoken word.

PEAU’s goal is to provide as many young Pacific Islanders as possible with an option in their life that they either haven’t considered or haven’t had the resources to explore. The resident artists and presenters from PEAU share the possibility of pursuing art as a career and not just a hobby. And members teach the continuation of the Pacific Islander narrative to remind youth of their place in the world and their ancestry.

The Pacific Islander history is rooted in exploration. Tupola spoke of how the early Pacific Islanders set out to explore the Pacific in small canoes. They couldn’t bring much in the way of possessions. As such, much of their cultural heritage is preserved in art, songs, dances, spoken anthologies, tattoo, and in how their ships were decorated. Art preserves their history. So, ensuring that the tradition of storytelling through art continues to be passed down through generations is imperative to the preservation of their culture.

The largest reason to focus on Pacific Islander youth is they need PEAU more than most to help them escape preconceived notions and the western stigma of Pacific Islander culture. They need additional avenues and experiences in their lives.

“There is more than just football and music out there,” said Louis, the Tongan street artist and PEAU Board member. Through his mentoring, he hopes to be able to influence youth and show that there is more out there, that art is a legitimate possibility in their future.

One of the main problems PEAU faces is a lack of a permanent space. Louis spoke of the efforts of PEAU to utilize everything from the Utah Museum of Fine Arts to county libraries to host exhibits and events. All of this costs money and much of the organization’s financial resources are obtained either through government grants secured through PIK2AR or through the artists themselves.

“I fund my own materials if I need to pay for something for an exhibit,” Louis said when asked about how he goes about getting studio space and materials for presentations.

PEAU has a goal and is working toward it. So far, it has been successful at finding and securing what it needs to continue. The aim is to continue to grow and expand the reach with more art, more shows and more mentoring. As Louis explained, PEAU’s hope is to introduce not only Pacific Islander youth but all Pacific Islanders to their history and their future with art.

 

Utah cemetery unites Islanders for Memorial Day

Story and photos by SHEHERAZADA HAMEED

On a sunny March morning, William AhQuin and his son Job AhQuin are leaving their Salt Lake City home. They are going to visit the cemetery where Mabel Lani Poepoe AhQuin is buried. She is William’s wife and Job’s mother. They haven’t visited since May 2017. Job said winter has been cold and the drive is too long.

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William, right, and Job AhQuin in front of their home in Salt Lake City.

Ready to depart Job remembered he forgot something and went back to the house. He grabbed bug spray. He said, “It is still cold for bugs but just in case.”

William is sitting in the passenger seat and is giving directions to a reporter he invited to go with them. He knows every turn and exit along the way to the cemetery. William seems to have taken that ride so many times.

They drive west on Interstate 80. Along the way is the Morton’s Salt Factory and the Great Salt Lake is to the north. William said, “You need to take exit 77 and drive south about 15 miles.” On the deserted road, just off I-80, the Stansbury Mountains are to the left. There is no single car in both directions. Suddenly William said to slow down at a sign that says “Aloha.” A dirt road up the hill takes them to the cemetery of Iosepa. The only monument left behind of the Hawaiians who once lived here in the Skull Valley Desert.

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Today the cemetery is a Utah Historic Site.

According to Benjamin Pykles, historical archaeologist, Iosepa was a thriving town, where Hawaiians worked hard to turn the desert into a paradise. The first settlers came in 1889. They were given those lands by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS church). They put the foundations of Iosepa.

The town was called Iosepa after Joseph F. Smith. He was a Mormon missionary in Hawaii. Later he became the LDS church president. William said Smith was only 15 years old when he was sent to Hawaii by his aunt and uncle. He was able to learn the language and culture of Hawaiians very quickly. Later he was recognized by the Islanders to be the miracle worker who brought them to Utah so they could be close to their faith and the temple.

William explained that at this time the Salt Lake City temple wasn’t complete so the believers had to walk about 50 miles to the city of Layton where there was located the nearest Mormon temple.

William said that if the Islanders wanted to live in the city at this time, they had to have a skill to survive. He said, “Hawaiians are children of the land and they live off the earth.” They mainly knew how to grow crops and breed animals. They had 1,900 acres of the land in Tooele County, about 75 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, and were given the opportunity to survive in the harsh conditions of the desert.

William said, “The first winter was hard.” He pointed out the numerous graves of children in the cemetery. Children were the most vulnerable to the cold winter and diseases.

The hard work of the people paid off. William said that the Islanders managed to build water canal systems to bring water from the Stansbury Mountains. That’s how they were able to successfully irrigate the soil, grow crops and raise animals.

William said that in 1911 Iosepa was voted to be the most progressive town in Utah. Nearly 230 people lived there, mostly Hawaiians but also some Samoan families moved. They built homes, streets, a school and stores. Then, when the first person died in Iosepa the Islanders needed to organize a cemetery park.

In 1915, the LDS church announced plans to build a temple in the Hawaiian island of Oahu at Laie. The news drove back the Islanders who wanted to help build the new temple in their native, rich and fertile land. The theory of Benjamin Pykles and the LDS Church is that Hawaiians left because there was no longer a reason to be in Utah.

As the years have passed, the houses, streets, school and store have disappeared with the people. Today the wilderness has taken over. There is no sign that once there was a town and nearly 230 people living here.

Only the cemetery reminds of the Hawaiian pioneers

Arriving at the cemetery, William recalls about the area, “Anything that was left was demolished just a few years ago.”

The only memory, left behind by the Hawaiians, is the gate to the cemetery. There is a green aluminum turtle, somehow out of place in the desert, reminding of the Pacific Seas’ lost paradise.

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The graves are lining up in front of the only structure standing.

William wants to demonstrate his gratitude to the LDS church by telling his story.

When he left Hawaii in 1978 and arrived in Utah with his wife and nine children, they hoped for better opportunities. Work, good schools for the children and safer environment to grow a family was the reasons they came. Life goes and after years of hard work and trying to accomplish the American dream, the family lost their house in West Valley City. William explained the family was big. The children who still lived with them promised they will each make contributions to the mortgage payments. Later they were not able to pay any longer. Out of their home, William and Mabel had to find a place to live.

They went to Iosepa with two of their children. At this time some of the abandoned homes were still standing and William was able to survive for a year in a metal home with no running water or electricity. They used a lantern. He said they had a generator, but they avoided using because it was an emergency resource.

William felt it was his duty to clean and maintain the cemetery in honor of his grandfather, who actually was one of the first Hawaiians who came to Utah. William’s grandfather spent only one winter in Iosepa and left; he found the place cold and unwelcoming.

William cleaned the graves and took care of the cemetery. He said the graves were unrecognizable and they had to guess who is buried where. The graves looked like stacks of dirt above ground. To mark them and fence them they had to bring stones from the mountain.

Father and son arrive at the cemetery

William regrets he didn’t take his walker; only his cane. He took a break next to a stone that looked like a bench. He said this is a Hawaiian chess game. It was made by his cousin, who is also buried here. He pointed toward the grave with his cane. William said the game is called konane and is played by two people by placing black and white stones in the indentations of the board game.

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William in front of the konane that was made by his cousin.

Job came back and said, “There are no snakes, you know sometimes the rattlesnakes sleep in the graves, but it is still too cold.”

Slowly William walked toward his wife’s grave. It is decorated with silk flowers and a plastic lighthouse. “I bought this from Walmart. It is plastic, but if it was real, it was going to be destroyed by the weather.” He explained that Mabel loved lighthouses. “Do you know, the oldest lighthouses are in Hawaii,” he said smiling.IMG_0005 v2

William said that not even a year before his wife died in 2005, the AhQuin family was camping here for the Memorial Day weekend. Mabel was already sick and weak. She saw the cemetery out in the wilderness and decided to be buried there. She chose the spot, near the fence so when the family comes to visit, her grave will be the first to be seen from the road. The grave space left between the fence and Mabel’s grave is marked with a bench. William said that for the years of marriage Mabel liked to sleep on the inside of the bed, not near the door.

 

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William at his wife’s grave sitting on the bench that marks where he will be buried when he dies.

One day William will be buried here so he can be between his wife and the fence, to protect her.Today, Mabel’s grave has a headstone with her name and birth and death dates but some of the graves are still unrecognizable. The markers have weathered and are unreadable. William said there was an idea to construct a wall where they can put gravestones with the names of all the people buried in the cemetery. When the plan failed, they lined them on the ground by the gate of the cemetery.

IMG_0008 v2William said the state limited burial in the cemetery only to people who were born in Iosepa. Members of the community discussed with the Tooele City Council and now the cemetery is opened to anyone who wants to be buried here.

Today the cemetery stands as a historical monument. It represents the willingness of people to relocate in the name of faith and belief.

During Memorial Day weekend the cemetery brings back between 800 and 1,000 people from all over the world to pay respect to the first Island pioneers. The tradition started about 30 years ago and William is one of the first people who initiated it.

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The large pavilion with a stage where Islanders will gather to celebrate during Memorial Day weekend.

He said they used to come on that weekend to clean and decorate the graves. Over the years it grew into a celebration. They camp, share food and different performing groups entertain the visitors.

William said the event is open to other communities and everybody can come. He reminded to bring food to share and camping equipment if you decide to stay overnight.

On the drive back to Salt Lake City, William promised to meet the reporter again during Memorial Day weekend.

William, besides the difficult life, is looking forward, making sure the heritage of the first Hawaiian pioneers in Utah is not forgotten.

Iosepa might appear as a ghost town on the map of Utah but is a memory and history for many families that will come to celebrate their departed ancestors this Memorial Day weekend.

 

 

Use of haka as pre-game ritual may be appropriation

Story and pictures by SHAELYN BARBER

 

 

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The haka dance, originally performed by the indigenous Maori people of New Zealand, has become a staple of world wide rugby culture, often performed before important games by sports teams across the globe.

“Haka can be a war dance, but it can also be a way to show love and a way to show support,” Te Anu Tonga said. She was born in New Zealand, but moved to the U.S. with her family when she was a young child.

“To be Maori is to connect, to connect with the people around you, connect with your environment,” Tonga said. Maori value spirituality, family and genealogy, and that is reflected in their haka dances.

In addition to a war dance, hakas are often performed at weddings, graduations or other celebrations. The dance is a way to show love.

“One of the things that does bother Maori is that haka is being used without permission and without knowledge of the stories behind it, the meaning behind it, what tribe it comes from,” Tonga said. “They’re mimicking things that they don’t understand.”

The haka was first brought into rugby by the New Zealand All Blacks, the country’s national rugby team.

“They were kind of the epitome of the rugby culture, still are,” said Nate Fairbanks, assistant coach for the Highland rugby club. “If you know about rugby, you know about the New Zealand All Blacks.”

Fairbanks, a former Highland rugby player himself, recently began his position as assistant coach of the team. While Highland once performed a haka before every game, Fairbanks said that during his time as a player the team reserved it for special or important occasions.

“You know, a bunch of high school kids, everyone was joking, making light of everything, but that was something that it was never appropriate to joke about,” Fairbanks said.

Larry Gelwix, the first coach of the Highland rugby team, introduced the dance as a pre-game ritual.

“He [Gelwix] had a lot of respect for the Polynesian culture, he had a lot of love for the people and wanted to make sure that his love for it didn’t become irreverent,” Fairbanks said.

“We don’t do the haka because we want to be cute or different … We did the haka because we believed it,” Gelwix said in a phone interview.

“It wasn’t that we just took it. We had the tribes and the tribal elders’ blessing and permission to do the haka on certain occasions,” Gelwix said. The team was given permission by one Maori tribe, who even wrote them a haka to perform.

“Larry [Gelwix] was really the one who drove the use of the haka,” coach Dan Berg said. Berg and his two older brothers were former players on the team under Gelwix.

Berg later became an assistant coach and, when Gelwix retired, took on his position as head coach.

As more sports teams picked up the traditional haka dance as their pre-game challenge, Berg began to feel that they weren’t doing it for the right reasons.

Berg said he doesn’t question other teams’ uses of the haka, because each team is doing it for a different reason.

“Under the right circumstances we would consider doing it again,” Berg said. “The boys ask about it all the time.”

The Highland rugby team consists of about 45 players ranging from eighth grade to 12th grade.

Michael Pakofe is currently a senior at Highland High School and one of the team’s starter players. He grew up in Hawaii, where the performance of the haka is a common practice before most sports games.

“When I started this program I thought they did the haka and when I found out they didn’t I was just hurt,” Pakofe said. ““I feel like it just starts with us players. We got to get together and just learn it.”

Highland Rugby player Kaufusa Pakofe said, “It gets you, like, pumped up and kind of intimidating or scared our opponents.”

However, not all the players feel the same.

“It’s very cultural so I would want to make sure it’s a certain group, does that make sense? Let’s put it this way, Italian teams should not do the haka,” Highland rugby player Alexander Whitmore said, voicing his concerns about the appropriation of the dance.

“I’m not really convinced that most teams who perform haka here in the United States understand sort of the deep spiritual and cultural significance of the haka,” said Toanui Tawa, lecturer of English at Southern Utah University, in a phone interview. “I think they view it simply as something that’s ‘cool.’”

Tawa was born and raised in New Zealand and moved to Hawaii to pursue an education at Brigham Young University, Hawaii. He completed his degree in English education at Southern Utah University.

“It’s more than just a form of entertainment, it is a way in which we are able to keep the stories and legends of our communities alive,” Tawa said. “It’s a way to honor the memory and lives of ancestors who have since passed on. It’s a medium through which we are able to communicate our belief systems and attitudes.”

Tawa is hesitant about the use of the haka in the world of sports.

“I believe there’s only a place for haka in sports only if the people who are performing it truly understand it,” Tawa said.

Cultural awareness through dance among Pacific Islanders in Salt Lake City

Story and photos by SHEHERAZADA HAMEED

Traditional Tongan dances are stories sung by the singers and acted out by the dancers, says travel writer David Stanley, author of Tonga Travel Guide. He explains that in a dance the words are represented by the movements of the hands and feet, not the hips.

But you don’t need to travel to the Pacific Islands to admire Polynesian performing arts.

On a cold February afternoon, Haviar Tuitama Hafoka, Malialole‘s leader and drummer, was teaching children from East High School in Salt Lake City. The dance they were practicing was to be performed at an event just a few weeks later.

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Haviar Tuitama Hafoka with a toere drum.

Haviar was teaching three boys the steps of their part of the choreography. Barefooted, they were slamming their feet against the cold concrete where a small heater was working in an attempt to heat up the large space. While the boys were repeating the steps under the sound of the drums, Haviar’s sister, Singa Fonua, was helping three girls to dress in traditional dresses that she was pulling out of large plastic bins. Behind a screen wall, the girls put on black skirts and colorful belts as decoration.

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Haviar Hafoka is teaching boys from East High School the steps of Otai dance.

Fonua is not only the person in charge of the costumes and appearance. She is also the contact person who manages the calendar of events and practices. For her, Haviar said laughing, “She is like the drill sergeant.”

Malialole (mah-lee-yah-low-lay) is a Salt Lake City-based music, dance and art performing group, promoting cultural awareness among Pacific Islanders. The group performs music and dance from the islands of Samoa, Tonga, Hawaii, Tahiti, Tokelau, Niue, Aotearoa (New Zealand) and the Cook Islands. In their dance studio at 1133 Glendale Drive, rehearsal and lessons are held daily.

The group was named for Haviar’s niece, who was the first to be born in Salt Lake City after the family relocated from Kansas City, Missouri. His mother, Merine Vida Tuitama Hafoka, who is Samoan, founded the dance ensemble. Haviar says Malialole is a symbol of something new, innovative and innocent, which is the beat of the group.

The next part of the practice in the studio is to merge the boys’ dance and the girls’ dance into a choreography. Haviar was directing them while drumming on a large wooden drum. “Keep your arms up higher. Girls, your fingertips should match up to your nose. Try it again. Ready?” The drum was loud and the students danced in the rhythm. The boys’ moves reminded a visitor of martial arts while the girls’ moves were feminine. Fonua reminded the dancers a few times to smile.

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The girls dress while the boys rehearse.

Haviar is strongly connected to the art of drumming. Drums are used to call for attention; to announce a town meeting or prayer; or warn of war. Haviar added, “In Tahitian culture, they [drums] are actually representative of the male and female counterparts.” He also said the stick and the drum represent the mother and the father replenishing the earth. Haviar explained the different types of drums. “The big ones are called lalis, these ones from Tahiti are called toere and the ones from the Cook Island are called pate, the big roller ones are takiruas, but they all serve the same purpose.”

Haviar explained the dance they were practicing is called Otea and is traditionally used to appease the gods in a request to make the land plentiful. “That’s why you see a lot of sensual moves and lots of hip shaking.” He said this particular dance tells the story of the ocean hitting the land.

Haviar gave a break to the dancers and while munching on warm fried chicken and pizza, they prepared for the next dance. Fonua said she makes sure all kids are fed before they leave the practice. She added some of them come from single-parent families or others leave home early for a practice.

For their second dance, they played a song on a large speaker. It filled the room with the sound of a soft and sensual island melody in a native language. The moves are feminine and are performed by girls only. Haviar explained the dance is Aparima and literally means “the kiss of your hands.” It is an interpretive dance and the song is about love and keeping someone close to yourself.

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Girls from East High School dancing Aparima.

Haviar explained that every aspect of dancing in Polynesian culture is about telling a story. The dance is interpretive and lyrical. Meaning that if the dancer’s hands are up, the movements relate to the sky, sun or moon. If the hands are down, they relate to the earth and the ocean.

Haviar said every part of the costume must be made of materials from the land. The colors are meaningful as well. For example, the yellow and red represent fire.

For the parts of the costume, especially the titi skirt, Haviar said, “It is used to enhance the dancer and represents the land wrapped around the individual and is developing the spirit of Tahiti.”

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From left: Singa Fonua, Selu Hafoka and Simi “Jimbo” Hafoka.

Merine Vida said, “Every different island has its meaning and we dance from our soul out to our hands and tell a story about our generations that have past and generations that are in the future for us.”

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Merine Vida Tuitama Hafoka, the founder and director of Malialole Dance Group.

By Pacific Islanders’ tradition, the first and second cousins are considered brothers and sisters. Haviar said the family members in the group number about 70 people. They all participate in Malialole. There are about 30 additional performers from Salt Lake City schools.

The whole family is involved with the dance group. They all have full-time jobs, but when it is time to teach and perform, they are available for the community. The main performing art group is broken into smaller groups by age, starting at 5 years old up to 40 years old. They also have a smaller performing group that goes out and performs at events and weddings.

The Hafoka family and the Malialole dance group are involved in a few different projects. In December 2017, they performed for the Mundi Project. It is a campaign that helps disadvantaged children to have access and play musical instruments and learn music. Haviar’s sister, Selu Hafoka, was the highlighted artist focusing on storytelling through music. She is also one of the choreographers for the ensemble.

Malialole participated in a workshop for the People in the Pacific at Utah Valley University in March 2017. At the annual event, the group teaches students about dance, music and cultural arts in the islands.

Maliaole also manages Talk2Me, an organization reaching out to families and creating a platform to speak about bullying, depression, suicide and family law in Pacific communities around Salt Lake City. About the program and the Pacific youth, Merine Vida said, “The kids understand that they will have bad days, but there is something brighter at the end.”

Another project developed by the Hafoka family is WhoGotRoots. It is a Polynesian high school competition that occurs in April between schools in Salt Lake City. The performers must focus on three island groups. They have 20 minutes to perform three dances or songs and the winners receive a prize of $1,000.

Haviar said students are judged on executing the culture correctly and properly. He thinks the competition gives the kids a platform to present their knowledge of Polynesian music and dance.

Malialole’s involvement in Salt Lake City schools helps to keep Polynesian youth occupied after class. Spending afternoons at practice prevents the young dancers from taking drugs and joining gangs, which are threatening the new generations of Pacific Islanders.

Haviar remembered, “There was a time when my life fell away. And it was our culture. And it was our music. And our dance, that brought us back to reality; to realize that there is something better out there we can be doing. We don’t want our kids to fall into that same sort of habit.”

Haviar said there are more dance groups in town that serve the same purpose. “In our culture, especially, the parents are really grounded, they are really good, they teach us respect, but when kids come out to the society, the kids don’t translate it so well.”

The newest event among the Pacific Islanders in Salt Lake City is the Pasifika First Fridays. It is a Salt Lake City-based initiative dedicated to celebrating Pacific Islander artists and art every first Friday of the month.

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Selu Hafoka singing at the Pasifika First Fridays evening with Nia Haunga and Simi “Jimbo” Hafoka. Haviar Hafoka is on the drums.

Heritage and belonging are essential for the Pacific Islanders and the tradition of celebrating their uniqueness through dance, music and art, every first Friday of the month. This is one more event that will unite the community.

At the EMBER venue in downtown on March 2, 2018, Haviar and his brother Simi “Jumbo” Hafoka opened the evening with some traditional drumming. While the room was filling with guests, Merine Vida sang a song with Selu Hafoka, the lead singer and her daughter, and the vocalists Lavinia Haunga and Nephi Moe. Nana Utai, who is also a choreographer and dance teacher, performed a solo dance.

Haviar wishes the Islanders can be more connected to locals and other communities, but he still puts family first. “Family is the core of everything,” Haviar said.

“What I wish to do more,“ Haviar said, “is to reach out to more individuals to recognize us. We can recognize ourselves within our community, but we are not validated without other communities.”