Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

The extraordinariness of an ordinary Tongan life.

PHOTO: Todd Henry
Avatar photo
Alice Lolohea | Reporter/Director/Videographer

At times, social media is a harrowing place to navigate. A digital world filled with an endless array of good news, bad news, prank videos and an abundance of selfies – all the trappings of a bottomless newsfeed.

Scrolling down a vortex of never-ending FaceBook content, I happened to stumble upon Ordinary Tongan Lives. Much like the famed Humans of New York, it’s a page dedicated to the everyday, average Tongan. Created by Haitelenisia Afemui ‘Uhila Angilau (Sia for short) she made the page during a difficult spell in her life.
“I would say specifically it was born out of grief,” she says.
“I always loved serving other people. I tried to help people that I really trusted, they’re family and I loved them a lot. And in turn it kind of back stabbed me and I questioned ‘what did I do wrong?’ I needed to shift focus [and not] sit and mourn over this and drown myself in self-pity.”

A former English teacher and blogger, Sia gave up blogging after the birth of her daughter. But, on her third-year wedding anniversary, she decided to get back to her writing roots by writing and sharing the stories of others.

“My Dad passed on, and he’s my hero. He didn’t do extraordinary things to make him be praised publicly but, for me, he did so much to help us.
“Coming from that background I thought, why don’t I get to learn from other people and help them?”


PHOTO: Alice Lolohea

With the simple premise of interviewing complete strangers, Sia set off through the sun-soaked streets of Tonga, stopping and interviewing anyone who caught her attention.

“I see a person, ‘Hi! Watchu doing?’ And then we just have a conversation. I just talk to them normally.
“We talk and laugh and automatically I can connect to them. In the middle of talking to them I tell them ‘I don’t work for media but I like to write about people. Do you think I can write about this stuff that you’re telling me?’
“For me it’s a gift and something that’s dear to my heart – I value people and relationships.”

The stories themselves are simple narratives of people’s lives; fishermen and town officers, elderly couples and market sellers. Each person has their own parable and Sia hopes her readers gain understanding and knowledge with every word.

“I believe in wholesome education,” Sia says.
“Education is not [just] sitting in a classroom. I always think, particularly with the elderly that, when I talk to them, I’m getting a shortcut to wisdom acquired over the years.”

The interviewees themselves also appreciate their interactions with Sia too.

“I’m always surprised by just how much they want somebody to listen,” Sia says.
“A lot of their children and Grandchildren, they would write and say they never knew about these things. It’s really a privilege, that I’m a total stranger and I get to share what I think are real treasures from wonderful people I meet.”


PHOTO: Ordinary Tongan Lives

Since its founding in October last year, Ordinary Tongan Lives has racked up over 13,000 readers to date – pretty impressive for a page still in its infancy. Readers offer prayers, words of encouragement and even gifts of money to some of the interviewees who’ve fallen on hard times. Sia believes it’s the humanity and relatability in each story that brings readers and her interviewees together, “When I see the statistics online, the majority of the people are overseas and I think it connects them to Tonga and home.
“I’ve had mothers who write and say they make their kids read the stories every day cause’ they feel it does a better job of teaching kids what their life is like in Tonga.”

As her readership continues to climb, Ordinary Tongan Lives has gone beyond the realm of Facebook, featuring in digital and print publications within the Kingdom. Sia has dreams to turn the page into a book and she hopes to raise funds, hire other aspiring writers and send money to interviewees who need help. She also wants to put her teaching skills back to use and mentor once more, “I was a teacher, I used to teach English and writing is something Tongan kids don’t usually like – especially writing in English.
“I want to allow other Tongan kids to work with me, and then I can help them to write their own stories about whoever they want to write about.”

Check out the Ordinary Tongan Lives page here: facebook.com/myordinarytonganlife/

by Alice Lolohea

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