Kolokesa Uafā Māhina-Tuai

Kaliloa: Fa‘ē ‘Ofa, Loving Mothers

The key ideas behind Kaliloa: Fa‘ē ‘Ofa, Loving Mothers is directly linked to the Tongan proverb: “Fielau he na‘e ‘olunga he funga kaliloa”, which is roughly translated as “No wonder for he /she rested on the kaliloa or wise counsel of a mother.”

In this work, the Tongan kaliloa is used in both physical and metaphorical ways. It references its physical use as an elongated wooden headrest or pillow for sleeping on, through the 4D printed kaliloa. And it is used metaphorically for the long, loving and caring child-rearing arms of a mother, where children lay their head in a practice known as faka‘olunga he kaliloa, literally meaning ‘resting the head on the kaliloa.’ In doing so, a mother imparts here fanafana ‘a e fa‘ē (mothers whispersings), fale‘i mo e akonaki (informal teachings) and talatalaifale (mothers tellings in the house). These may come in the form and practice of fananga or storytelling, such as the telling of myths and legends of both funny and sad stories, as well as stories with moral values of social significance to life.

The compelling, untiring and unselfish performance of a mothers tasks are considered to be done out of ‘ofa or love, and as a form of sacrifice, hence the collective term fa‘ē ‘ofa, loving mothers. The emotional ongo or feeling of ‘ofa or love is based around the mafu/ fatu or heart.

This specific focus on the symbolic and metaphorical knowledge and understanding of the kaliloa, also needs to be seen within a holistic context of the gender division within Tongan society. And this will be explored a little bit more in the letter of acknowledgment that will be recorded and played as an audio element of the work.

The division of tasks between men and women in Tonga plays a central role in Tongan society as a necessary part of Tongan life that is based on difference rather than status.

The division of tasks is beautifully reflected in the Tongan proverbial saying, “‘Oku tōkanga ‘a tangata pea ‘oku manga, kae falehanga ‘a fafine pea ‘oku hanga,” meaning “Men belong in the land, measured by the feet, and women belong in the house, measured by the hands.” And women’s tasks such as the fine arts of bark-cloth-making and weaving, as well as child bearing and child rearing, are done in the house.

The gender division of tasks is also closely related to another Tongan proverbial saying, “‘Oku fakahokohoko toto ‘a fafine, kae fakahokohoko hingoa ‘a tangata,” translated as “Blood passes through women and title passes through the men”, where the former is genetically-led and the latter is socially driven.

Grounding the focus of the work, Kaliloa: Fa‘ē ‘Ofa, Loving Mothers, within the wider context of the gender division of tasks in Tongan society, via two proverbial sayings, provides a more holistic overview and appreciation of the significant role of women and mothers in Tonga.

I would like to acknowledge the following co-collaborating artists:

  • Dr Nooroa Tapuni for research and production of kaliloa design.
  • Auckland University of Technology (AUT) for supporting Dr Tapuni’s time and work on the kaliloa design and the 4D printing of the kaliloa.
  • Pati Solomona Tyrell for photography and portraits.
  • Melaia Kefu, Kolokesa Kulīkefu and Tu’utanga Māhina, my three mothers and living kaliloa.
  • Hūfanga Professor ‘Ōkusitino Māhina for his cultural knowledge and expertise on the content, and for his critical talanoa and feedback.
  • Creative New Zealand – financial support.
  • Family – Kenneth Tuai, Meleseini and Akesiumeimoana Tuai.

Kolokesa Uafā Māhina-Tuai is an independent curator, arts advocate and writer. She is of Tongan heritage, from the villages of Tatakamotonga in Tongatapu and Tefisi in Vava’u, and has ancestral links to Sāmoa and Fiji.

Kolokesa’s background is in Art History, Social Anthropology and Museums and Heritage Studies. She champions a holistic and cyclical perspective of Moana Oceania arts that is rooted in indigenous knowledges and practices. Kolokesa enjoys working at all levels of her Moana arts communities from museums and galleries to grassroots community organisations.

At the heart of her practice is a strong foundation of Tongan indigenous knowledge and practice. This informs Kolokesa’s understanding and appreciation of Moana arts and her relationships and collaborations with artists from different island nations. She is an advocate of Moana artists that are key agents in maintaining, preserving and evolving arts of their homeland in Aotearoa New Zealand. This has been through exhibitions, events, commissioned works, conferences and publications. Kolokesa has worked as a curator at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (Te Papa) and more recently at Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland War Memorial Museum. She is currently a Research Associate at Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland focusing on researching and writing a major new history of craft in Aotearoa and the wider Moana with Dr Damian Skinner and Karl Chitham. Kolokesa is also working independently with Hūfanga Professor ‘Ōkusitino Māhina on writing the first book of Tongan arts from a Tongan perspective.