Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

New book offers new wave of Psychology practice from Pacific-Indigenous frameworks

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Le’ena Dr Siautu-Alefaio Tugia released her book Pacific-Indigenous Psychology – Galuola, A NIU Wave of Psychological Practices earlier this year.
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Gladys Hartson | Senior Journalist

A new book described as the first of its kind in the field of psychology was launched in New Zealand earlier this year.

Pacific-Indigenous Psychology – Galuola, A NIU Wave of Psychological Practices is written by Associate Professor of Psychology from Massey University, Le’ena Dr Siautu-Alefaio Tugia.

Her book was first published in 2022 and in April this year she was in Samoa for one of three launches for the book. Her book was also launched at Parliament house in Wellington and coincided with Samoan language week in June. 

Going back to her homeland where the launch was hosted by Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Matafa alongside the former Head of State Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese, who contributed to her research, Le’ena says launching in Samoa held special meaning.

Le’ena Dr Siautu-Alefaio Tugia in Samoa pictured with Hon Prime Minister Fiame Naomi (in red) and family. Photos: Massey AC.

“The book launch was really more about going back to the place where I was gifted all of this knowledge for psychology and gift it back to them, to really acknowledge their huge contribution.” 

The academic says her book also gives an insight of her journey through the field of psychology, which she has worked in for more than 20 years.

Le’ena explains, “Psychology, it’s such a young science when it was developed and then evolved … it was really trying to discover why people do what they do but from two different perspectives. Either inside the brain, the metaphysical part, or outside, meaning everything we do and why we do is because of our behaviour and our environment.”

Le’ena also highlights in her book that a lot of psychology that is practised in New Zealand has its origins from North America and European contexts. She says this is an important aspect when we look at psychology from a Pacific-Indigenous context. 

Le’ena presenting at the Wellington book launch. Photo: Provided.

“This book is sort of saying, ‘well actually, you know what, when you were developing all that knowledge base, we as a Pacific region or Oceania and even as indigenous cultures in this region we weren’t even part of that knowledge production, we weren’t part of that history.’ So they know nothing about how we think and what matters most to us and so, really, that’s what this book is; a first step in trying to do that.”

The professor’s research into this field has taken her across the globe.

Awarded a PhD in Psychology from Monash University in Australia, she’s also a Global Fellow of the Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian studies at Brown University in America. On top of this, she is one of this year’s recipients of a Fulbright Scholarship.

While she continues her research of Pacific-Indigenous and urban diasporic resilience across disaster and humanitarian contexts at the University of Hawai’i, Le’ena reflects on her book, saying that it also gives space to explore new ways of thinking about psychology. 

Photo: Provided by Massey.

“Language is the key driver of our source… it’s not just languages in Samoa or Tonga, Cook Islands or Tokelau, not just that language but even if you are autistic, deaf, signs and symbols; those are all languages.”

Having worked in education, health, social services, community, family violence and forensic rehabilitation, Le’ena shared one of her experiences working with the prison in Samoa that was instrumental in her redevelopment of  the Saili Matagi programme. 

Saili Matagi is a medium intensity rehabilitation programme offered by New Zealand Corrections to Pasifika prisoners serving a sentence for a serious or violent offence.  

When the Vaka Fa’aola Pacific unit opened at Spring Hill Correctional Facility in Hamilton, it was recommended the programme be delivered in this environment. Between 2007-2008 Le’ena redeveloped the programme. 

Dr Alefaio-Tugia and her father Rev Matavai Alefaio at the launch in Samoa. Photo: massey.ac.nz.

She says her time in Samoa helped her gain a better understanding and gave insight into the deeper meaning of Saili Matagi.  

“At the time I didn’t really understand what it meant, so I went to my Dad and elders in our community and when I heard what it meant it just really cut me deep, it went right to the core. Saili Matagi is a Samoan metaphorical proverb, they use it to describe a time in someone’s life when they are unwell, so it’s a healing metaphor.”

With this cultural and traditional knowledge in hand, Le’ena says it has helped set the precedent for what is outlined in her book. “To me it’s about heart to heart, spirit to spirit engagement.”

However Le’ena says there is still a lot of work to be done in the field, to understand its origins, its impact. 

More photos from the Wellington launch – Dr Alefaio-Tugia (middle). Photo: Provided.

“The tough issue isn’t always about talking about psychology, it’s about explaining the roots of psychology … it’s a profession that carries a lot of weight in courts, for example in mental health institutions and assessments that are carried out can determine one’s outcome.”

And while Le’ena acknowledges that the practices have evolved with more research and study being developed across the country and in the Pacific, she says the people of Oceania have the solutions.

“We just need to go back to our core, we just need to go back to the things that are who we are and what we know.”

She is heartened to see that more Pacific people are training in psychology with 12 postgraduate students completing their Masters and seven completing their Doctorates. 

More photos from the Wellington Book launch. Photo: Provided.

“I think for me that’s how you change the field,” she says.

The Professor is humbled by the support she has received from family and colleagues who have championed her during the process of publishing her book. She says she has great mentors who have helped her to create a new pathway of what psychology means to Pacific people.

On a personal level, she shares that her book was born out of her ‘cave of grief’ having lost her beloved Mother in 2017 and her older brother who passed away when her book was first published in 2022. 

She says, like all things, it puts things into perspective. 

“This book is in memory of my mother and my brother who are two pillars of our family … I feel like this is my expression of my creativity, in a way that I hope I could help others either find their way home or find their way out of situations.”

Pacific-Indigenous Psychology – Galuola, A NIU Wave of Psychological Practices is available for purchase on Springer Link.



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