Honouring Pacific Research and Online Engagement: Talanoa Vā

Angela Fuimaono, Educational Psychology Under-graduate, University of Waikato

A key requirement for my degree in educational psychology at the University of Waikato is a semester-long Work-Integrated Learning paper, for which I was fortunate to secure an internship with the University’s Wilf Malcolm Institute of Educational Research. As part of my placement I was encouraged to read a special edition of the Waikato Journal of Education: Talanoa Vā: Honouring Pacific Research and Online Engagement. This had particular appeal – I was intrigued about what I would learn as an education student, and as a mother of Pacific children. 

I found that all the articles were able to hold deep personal meaning for me as a parent, student and someone with aspirations in the educational area. Each author spoke from their own perspective yet there were overarching themes pertinent to Pacific cultural understandings: Grounding Spirit, Talanoa (to talk or speak), (relational connections) and Educational Frameworks.

Connecting personally and professionally

My children are everything to me. They are the reason I returned to tertiary studies as a mature student, and why I am drawn to research and literature that shines a light on the lived experience of Pacific students within Aotearoa. My husband and I are both immigrants to New Zealand, me from South Africa and him from Samoa. Interestingly, I find that I have connected with and embraced his culture more than my own because of the richness and connection I’ve found there. 

All cultures hold their own uniqueness and beauty so I always try to encourage and support our children to find a connection between their own cultural standing and others. I want them to have a strong sense of self that will guide them through school and life. They will gain that sense of self as they connect with their own culture and the cultures of others. We have taken them home to Samoa many times over the years to embrace that ‘grounding spirit’ so wonderfully captured within the articles in the Special Issue.

I experienced New Zealand schooling as an outsider of the dominant culture even though I looked like many Pākehā; I did not feel I acted like them or had the same beliefs. Through these experiences I saw first-hand the xenophobia some people in this Land of the Long White Cloud hold for those not of the dominant culture or ethnicity. As I read the Special Issue of the Waikato Journal of Education I was excited to see how academics from across the Pacific Islands were sharing unique stories and research within education that enables greater understanding and acknowledgement of the cultural richness available to be valued within our society as a whole. 

Two of the main concepts within the articles that I was drawn to were the importance of interconnectedness and the value of cultural metaphors as learning tools.

Interconnectedness

The articles highlighted that many Pacific cultures treasure face to face connections. There are multiple practices woven into everyday life that encourage and embrace community and praxis, the constant communication between learners and teachers taking place in a way that creates an environment of change. One of these practices was explained in Grounding Pacific practice: Fono at the fale and veiqaraqaravi vakavanua by S. Apo Aporosa and David Taufui Mikato Fa’avae. This tradition – predominantly of Fijian lineage, although also practiced in other Pacific nations – revolves around the act of drinking kava while connecting and talking with others. Fono (as these events are called) are also places where students and professors come together to speak about research, theories and life within a “cultural classroom”, a setting which is culturally responsive to students’ needs. The strengthening of a community of Pacific students within The University of Waikato, as well as at other tertiary institutions was found to be beneficial in connecting with others in safe, welcoming spaces.

Leadership and connection

In the article Pacific relationalities in a critical digital space: The Wellington Southerlies as a leadership experience, Kabini Sanga, Martyn Reynolds, Adreanna Ormond and Pine Southon explore opportunities for more culturally-motivated interactions within academia. The authors highlight the importance of leadership, exploring a Melanesian practice called tok stori, which is formed around dialogical engagement. The authors of this article also wrote about this intriguing concept in an earlier Ipu Kererū blog. Pacific nations have always found ways to connect with each other and now technological bridges are being built to continue to support these historically important connections. Their research showed how the practice of using round table sessions is useful for all involved, with five roles identified for leaders: Leaders as crisis responders; leaders as shapers of focus; leaders as de-colonisers; leaders as creators of safe, welcoming spaces; and leaders as learners. This thought-provoking article brought into focus that there are many ways of cultivating knowledge, and that there needs to be more conversation about integrating other cultures into educational institutions.

Different learning approaches

As a mother of Pacific children, I enjoyed finding out a range of ways that culture is able to be introduced into classroom settings. For example, in Fakalukuluku: Conceptualising a Tongan learning approach in tertiary education, Mefileisenita Naufahu, ‘Elisapesi H. Havea, Sangata’ana A.F. Kaufononga and Siuta Laulaupea’alu describe educational concepts tailored from a traditional Tongan fishing activity. Also included is the village context and how learning occurs through guided experiences. 

As a student and an emerging educational psychologist with an invested interest in Pacific peoples education and achievement, I enjoyed how the authors wrote eloquently about the diversity of Pacific Island communities and the need for interactive relationships between groups in order to challenge the dominance of western philosophy. Many Pacific writers use imagery and concepts that have cultural significance, and these authors use the concept of fakalukuluku: Each component of the activity symbolises and embodies different aspects of the learning journey, utilising already established cultural practices and associations in order to achieve success. I was drawn to this article for the practical way cultural metaphors can be used to shape educational practices. The tangible examples helped me to see how the authors put this concept into practice, with concrete applications and ways of implementing this learning approach in real world situations. 

Conclusion – Talanoa Vā

Talanoa Vā, the connection and space between one person and another, is an enlightening and empowering concept of inclusion, understanding and valuing of others. As I take my next steps into the educational world I hope to be able to connect with students, parents and teachers in a way that honours each one’s unique cultural and personal identity. The chance for change that can be achieved by having a space where all involved feel welcomed and understood is not to be underestimated.


Angela Fuimaono was born in South Africa and moved to New Zealand 25 years ago. She is currently studying to become an educational psychologist. Her aim is to engage in research that looks at ways of learning and teaching that will enable all students to achieve in educational contexts that are critically and culturally responsive. Being a mother of four children has motivated her to pursue studies in Education. Her children represent ways in which this new generation is navigating a future that needs a school system that will help them be resilient amid a fast-changing landscape.

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