Cultural consultants Lagi Maama Academy from left Toluma’anave Barbara Makuati Afitu, Molima Molly Pihigia (Falepipi he Mafola general manager), Kolokesa Mahina Tua’I and Hikule'o Fe'aomoeako Melaia Mahina.
Photo/ Lagi Maama Academy
A group of Niuean mamas hope their stories and art can inspire others to maintain their cultural practices.
A Niuean publication launching this winter pays homage to an enterprising group of craftswomen who have kept their heritage arts alive for the last three decades.
Fenoga Taoga Niue Aotearoa – Niue Heritage Journey in Aotearoa is bilingual and complements the Falepipi he Mafola Exhibition that wraps up at the Māngere Arts Centre this weekend.
Its pages are packed full of images and stories that speak to the resilience of a community adjusting to a new country, colder climes and unfamiliar norms.
Women sought solace in their weekly Thursday meetings at Auckland’s Ōtāhuhu Community Centre where they would weave, speak freely in Vagahau Niue and share stories of their homeland.
Falepipi he Mafola has since evolved into an institution with its own publishing house, an exhibition that’s drawn record crowds and two books to their name.
Each of the 300 pieces in the exhibition carries the signature of its maker – from exquisitely woven baskets to symmetrically plaited placemats to feather fringed fans, wall hangings and screen printed quilts.
Master weaver and founding member Molima Molly Pihigia says Falepipi he Mafola was set up to encourage older people’s wellness and to have something and somewhere for them to go during the week.
“We meet and fellowship and continue with weaving. Nobody lives forever and some have gone. But it is a joy to continue working with older people and learn from their skills.”
Now 72, Molly was 48-years-old when she started managing the affairs of Falepipi he Mafola.
“When employment for our older generations end, ageing becomes a challenge, but regular participation in Falepipi he Mafola strengthens the daily needs of an older person and their families.
“The cultural practices and programmes contribute to our adjusting to the realities of retirement and ageing.”
Molly Pihigia has collated stories, photographs, videos and safely stored most of the masterpieces members have created since 1993.
Falepipi he Mafola has thrived under the Pacific Arts Legacy Project – an initiative borne out of Creative New Zealand’s first Pacific Arts Strategy.
They’ve collaborated with cultural consultants Lagi Maama Academy under the guidance of curators Kolokesa Mahina Tua’I and Toluma’anave Barbara Makuati Afitu.
Along the way Falepipi he Mafola won the Pacific Heritage Arts Award in 2009, cut two CDs of traditional Niuean hymns and recorded a DVD featuring the stories of 26 retirees.
A lot of their work holds pride of place in art galleries and libraries around the country.
Curator Kolokesa Mahina Tua’I says it’s so important to champion the heritage arts and capture the rich cultural knowledge and practices these artists bring with them from Niue.
She says it’s been a challenge convincing funders and sponsors that the Pacific is made up of 17 plus Pacific nations each with their own unique baskets of knowledge.
“Often things get lost in translation when western terminology boxes all of our cultural heritage into certain categories,” Kolokesa says.
“But conversations are changing. There’s more knowledge and clarity of understanding around what contemporary and heritage arts look like in the Pacific context.”
Molly Pihigia and fellow members of Faleppi he Mafola hope to travel to Niue in December to launch the book Fenoga Taoga Niue Aotearoa – Niue Heritage Journey.
“Some members who contributed to the book have returned to Niue so it’s important we take it back.”
It will be the second book written in English and Niuean that Falepipi he Mafola has published through the Mafola Publishing House it owns.
The first book titled Hidden Talents is about the experiences of Niuean families during the COVID 19 lockdowns.