Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Matangi Tai by Sia Figiel

A wind has just blown through Malaetoa
But it ain't no ordinary wind
It is a wind that that has woken me up
Calling me from Mesa, Arizona
Sia, wake up
Wake up sis
How can you still sleep at this early hour?
Didn't you hear me back in May
When these motherfuckers came at me with patons...
And fists
In front of a grocery store
And I'm just there minding my own
Jumped by mens in uniforms
Supposedly here to protect us
To serve and to protect
Das was on the side of da cars dey drive
SIs, even da judge says I don't deserve protec-shun
Threw my ass in jail on the count of mental problems
Mental problems my az
Couldn't find the Ocean in dis here landscape
Dis here desert
Searching for it all 37 years of my life sis
But gotta tell you man
I'm tired
Tired of looking
Tired of always looking out the corner of my eye to catch a wave in this heat
This desert
This purple mountain majesty of A-Me-ri-Caaaaaa!
Just stopped by to say Ofa atu
I gotsa go sis
Epeli and them dudes calling me from Pulotu
I gotsa go
But e! Keep listening to dat SEAL song you laig listening to
And keep rocking 'em bikinis and show em sis
Show em the salt
Showe em that while dey might taste salt in a lake out here
Dere's a whole motherfuckin' ocean where you and I was born
And I going back there
Going back to my roots, yeah, yeah
Reggae Music and water
Is all this brown assed nigger is axing fo'
P.S: Don't go inciting no violence now sis
I know you and that heart of yours
I can see your salt already boilin' girl
But eh, fink of da mens Martin Luther King Jr.
And Mahatma Ghandi
And taste me in your ocean girl.
Is what I axe.
Peace Out

Fa'anoanoa (Melancholy)
by Sia Figiel 

Poem posted with permission.
Author's comment:
Before Matangi Tai was to be buried in Mesa, Arizona, the National Tongan American Association held a peace march for him. Several people spoke: Bishops, Family Members, Singers, Community Members and myself. I had been asked the night before the march to write this poem. It was August 2013.

When I submitted the poem to the president, Mrs. Fahina Passi, a fantastic woman, she told me to tone it down. I understood it was in regard to the word 'motherfucker' in the poem, which I knew stood out like a sore thumb in a Tongan gathering ... it would, too, in a Samoan context.

But when I got there that night and felt the spirit of Matangi Tai and the thickness of grief in the air, I explained to the audience how my poem came about. I also told them that I apologised for offending anyone, and that if my words should offend anyone, to throw them towards an uninhabited island, where they will offend no one. BUT tonight, I will insult Matangi Tai and his memory if I don't read the poem I wrote for him in its entirety. I did read it and it turned out to be the right thing to do as Tongans (the young generation) came up and embraced me afterwards. So did older Tongans who said it was 'powerful'.

Editor Helen McKinlay:
Matangi Tai died in jail a few days after his arrest and imprisonment in Mesa, Arizona. For more information see here. Sia wrote the poem in August this year. The dignity and love which encircles the poem and the tragedy of Matanga Tai, are an example to all.

I am always looking for poetry which speaks of the indigenous origins of the poet. Poetry which springs from the poet’s deep love for their homeland; its culture, its beliefs and its values.  Poetry which sometimes bears the scars of conflict, but never bears a grudge…poetry which makes us laugh from the belly and cry from the heart. A few weeks back I found such a poem: Songs of the fat brown woman, and began a search for the poet.

On the way I discovered an amazing woman, Sia Figiel, a single mum with two boys, an aunty of seven, an award-winning novelist and poet, a performance artist, (the first Pacific Islander to read and perform at the Shakespeare Globe Theatre), an academic with two degrees in liberal arts and history, and a visual artist. Her paintings have been exhibited in Leipzig and Berlin, Germany, where she held an artist's studio and lived for three years from 1991-94. Oh, and did I mention she teaches Polynesian Dance and Culture?

Sia is also a health activist and a self-proclaimed Rainbow Warrior of Maleatoa.  'A rainbow warrior,' explains Sia, 'is someone who has decided to take charge of their life, by becoming more proactive in their own healing or in the healing of close and dear ones who are suffering from Diabesity (diabetes and obesity). Malaetoa means a resting place for warriors.' Her Facebook page is called 'Sia Figiel has diabetes. Diabetes doesn’t have Her'. Sia is successfully fighting diabetes and its causes on a daily basis She has lost over 45 kilos in the last year!
Sia Figiel

Sia says,
As a writer and as a public figure, I hid my diabetes from the public. I was ashamed to admit that I had been diagnosed as I felt it a sign of weakness. That I had lost control. However, as the years went by, and more and more family, loved ones and young people kept dying from diabesity-related complications, I felt that I could no longer stay silent about these killer diseases. That I had to speak up. I had to act.
To read more of Sia’s inspiring story go here.

My emails circled the South Pacific and introduced me to a variety of lovely people, before I finally managed to contact Sia with an invitation to be guest on the Tuesday Poem hub. She was finishing a new novel but somehow found time to say yes and provide a poem, as well as answering all my questions. Thank you for the incredible journey, Sia, and welcome to the Tuesday Poem Blog. Thanks to those who helped me find you.

Where we once belonged (1996), Pasifika Press won the Best First Book award in the South East Asia/South Pacific region of the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1997.
Two other novels,
Girl in the Moon Circle (1996) (Institute of Pacific Studies) and They Who Do Not Grieve (1999), Kaya Press 2003.
To a Young Artist in Contemplation (1998), is a prose poetry collection.
Terenesia, is a collaborative CD of performance poetry with the poet Dr Teresia Teaiwa.

Sia Figiel, who wrote the novel “Where We Once Belonged” (1996), is 29 and she is now the next phase in Pacific writing in English. The novel is a beautiful mix of satire and parody. It is a pastiche of styles; she breaks into poetry, straight sequences of it, and I think that is where we are heading. That is where my work has been heading....she will influence our literature for many years to come.  Maualaivao Professor, Sir Albert Wendt.
Sia's new novel Headless is written from the perspective of a gay Samoan man who attends a two-year writing program at Stanford University. It is in this class that he starts writing stories of his family which chronicle his family's life history, and - in particular - the historical connections between Samoa, American Samoa and the United States since 1900 to present. The expected publishing date is DECEMBER and the publisher is LITTLE ISLAND PRESS NZ.
Fa'anoanoa II
by Sia Figiel

BIOGRAPHY: Sia Figiel was born in Western Samoa and raised in the villages of Matautu Tai, Tanugamanono and Vaivase, the roots of her literary work. As a teenager, she came to New Zealand to finish her schooling. Sia is acknowledged as Samoa's first contemporary woman writer. Well known as a performance poet, she is a frequent guest at literary festivals.

Her work is translated into German, French, Dutch, Portuguese, Catalan, Spanish, Swedish and Turkish. Her writer’s residencies include the University of Hawaii, the University of Technology, Sydney, the University of the South Pacific, Laucala Campus Fiji, and the Catalan Ministry of Arts and Culture, Barcelona Spain. 

She was the Distinguished Visiting Writer at the University of Hawaii, Manoa Department of English, and was appointed the Arthur Lynn Andrews Visiting Professor of Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, an honour also given to Professor Albert Wendt. 

During a decade spent in American Samoa, Ms. Figiel was a Senior Policy Advisor to Congressman Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin and worked with high school students in Pago Pago, until moving to America a year ago. She is now living in Utah, where she will be a language and culture consultant to MANA Academy which opens in September 2013.

This week's editor is Helen McKinlay. Helen is a poet and children's author at present living in the 'Top of the South' (Island), New Zealand. She blogs at gurglewords

Before you leave, check out the rich offerings from other Tuesday Poets in the left hand side bar.


Helen Lowe said...

A very powerful & moving poem, and wonderful commentary - thank you to both Sia and Helen.

Mary McCallum said...

How wonderful to have this voice on our blog. Sia Figiel writes poetry and fiction not just to express herself but to a voice for many things that are unsaid or have been repressed. In 1997 I was reading 'Where we once belonged' on a ferry in Samoa, and a young woman approached me, her eyes wide open and speaking softly. She asked what I thought of the book, and said many Samoans didn't approve of Sia and her writing, thinking she was stirring things up for the sake of it, and saying things that weren't true, or were best left unsaid. She was speaking specifically of the familial abuse in the book. The young woman said many like her admired Sia but were scared to say so out loud. A moving moment for me - to hear of the power of fiction to impact on lives, especially women's lives.

Thank you for all your hard work on this post, Helen, and to Sia for your poem, your talent and your courage.

Helen McKinlay said...

Thanks Helen L. Powerful is the word!
And Mary, what a wonderful story. Thanks for sharing it here! I shall make sure Sia has read it.

richardg said...

Definitely a very powerful poem, very impressive work.
Thank you.

Ben Hur said...

Excellent poem. Thanks for posting, Helen.

Penelope said...

So glad you managed to locate Sia, Helen, and that she gave you such a strong poem to publish.

Helen McKinlay said...

Thank you Richard,Andrew and Penelope.

Michelle Elvy said...

Goodness, I have learned so much from this week's post. What a brave and generous and creative spirit. Wonderful. Thanks, Helen, for such a heartfelt post and poem.

Helen McKinlay said...

Thank you Michelle. Yes I learned a lot too. Sia has the gift, the ability to use humour to enlighten the world.

Helen McKinlay said...
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