Dahlia Malaeulu connecting tamaiti to their Samoan culture through Pasifika books
The lack of Pacific books at her local library inspired Wellington-born Dahlia Malaeulu to create her own. John Pulu met up with the Samoan author in her hometown of Wainuiomata to talk about the inspiration behind her work.
Wellington author and educator Dahlia Malaeulu is on a mission to help connect tamaiti or pre-schoolers to their Samoan culture through reading.
“The books really came from learning and wanting to know more, especially in terms of our gagana Sāmoa (Sāmoan language) and our culture,” Dahlia says.
“It kind of came to a head when I became a mother and wanting to ensure that I could share and pass on our Samoan cultural and language knowledge to my own children.”
In May 2019 the proud mother of two saw the need for more Pacific books for young Pasifika people, and so she created the Mila’s My Gagana book series.
“For myself, being an educator, that helped. And then realising that my friends, my own cousins, my own aunties and uncles were saying, ‘Oh, this is great. We would love to have these,’ then that’s when the journey kind of took off,” Dahlia says.
Since then, Dahlia has managed to get a team behind her to help continue the story telling.
“I am wanting to ensure that we have coverage across all levels, not just preschool [but also] primary, intermediate, high school,” she says.
“My boys are growing, and they need to see themselves in stories and in the books that they read and in the world that they live in across all their school life.”
And the books are not just about creating awareness and learning; they’ll also help develop cultural confidence at home and at school.
“Being heard, having their voices, having a safe space to tell our stories to see their families, to hear our language, has enabled us to develop our own confidence and understanding while also ensuring that those outside our culture have a chance of better connecting and understanding us,” Dahlia says.
Last year during the nationwide lockdown, Dahlia wrote a fiction e-book titled Teine Sāmoa, which explored cultural and identity challenges she faced as a New Zealand-born Sāmoan.
“I think within our culture, we actually do know and are aware of issues that we face as part of the Sāmoan diaspora. But to have it out in the open forum and to have it in a safe space, I feel like it just enabled others to share their story and to kind of start that journey of healing for themselves,” she says.
Teine Sāmoa was her first book for young adults, and it’s now available in paperback. The sequel, Tama Sāmoa, is due for release later this year.
“We just find books are just the best vehicle, safe space, safe resource that can help to develop the cultural confidence, the language, the gagana confidence that’s really needed so that we can be fully valued and succeed and live in this world as ourselves, proudly.”