Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Deputy Prime Minister makes her mark as a leader

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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Neueli Mauafu | Reporter

Deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni received a malu, the traditional Samoan tattoo for women, this week. Reporter Neueli Mauafu was present and here is his account of the event.

As the sun rose on a cold and frisky Tuesday morning, it brought a hint of new light on what had been a weekend of damp and cold rain. Auckland weather is a bag filled with mixed stones really, in which you don’t know what you’ll get dealt with! 

However, on this morning, the rain came to a halt as the warmth of first light soothed the chill morning air. 

I arrived at the West Auckland residence of deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni just before 7am on what was essentially a groundbreaking moment for Pacific peoples in New Zealand. 

The Honourable Sepuloni was set to receive her malu (traditional Samoan tattoo for a female) in the comfort of her home with the support of close family, friends and work colleagues. 

Apart from this event, the only other traditional Samoan tattoo session I had attended was my sister’s, when she received her malu a couple years back. 

The word malu translates into English as “comfort, shelter and protection”. There is a Samoan proverb that goes O le tina/tama’ita’i, e malu ai aiga, nu’u, ekalesia ma le atunu’u. (women provide shelter/comfort for our families, villages, churches and countries).

It is fitting how this phrase captured the essence of the event itself. One of the most powerful women in the nation being bestowed and inked in a beautiful piece of the Aganu’u Samoa (Samoan culture). 

All Black great, and local, Saveatama Eroni Clarke was among the attendees who braved the early start. He opened the session with a devotion seeking blessings from the man above as Carmel was ready to embark on the journey ahead. 

The tune of the classic EFKS hymn “Fa’afetai ile Atua” echoed in the Sepuloni residence, fully embraced with the beautiful harmonies of those present. Afterwards, Saveatama spoke of the importance of “putting on” from the teachings of  the Apostle Paul in the New Testament. 

He drew a comparison from when he used to put on the All Blacks jersey, knowing full well he had to uphold the qualities of honour, loyalty and respect to those who had donned the jersey before him. He reminded Carmel that, as she embarks on being clothed in the malu, she is putting on the markings of Samoa, honouring those who had gone before her and those who are still present. 

The session kicked off right after devotion, with the tapping sounds of the au (tattoo equipment) quickly echoing across the room. The amazing tufuga (tattoo artist) Lia’ifaiva Imo was at the helm of the process, marking and inking out the malu onto Carmel’s body.

The malu has become an integral part of the Samoan culture for many decades. It has become a vessel for many Samoans abroad enabling them to connect or tap into their Aganu’u from whichever part of the world they are in. For many It’s a sign of maturity and a readiness to immerse themselves into the culture, ready to serve Samoa through thick and thin.

However, only a couple of minutes into the session, the power was cut due to road works across the street. But this did not dampen the spirits of those present, as they sat back and supported Carmels journey in strength and unity . 

Present at the session were work colleagues of Carmel who are no strangers to the world of Pasifika and politics. Labour representatives Jenny Salesa, Anahila Kanongata’a Suisuiki, Lemauga Lydia Sosene all came as one to show their support for their fellow sister. As with any important occasion in the Samoan culture the tapua’iga (suppport) is vital to the outcome of the event. 

E le sili le ta’i nai lo le tapua’i (There is nothing greater than the support system)

Also present from the start till the end was Minister of Pacific Peoples Barbara Edmonds. It was a beautiful sight watching these powerful tama’itai supporting Carmel as she braved the pain of the needle tapping her skin throughout the long and tiring process. Old school Samoan tunes echoed around as onlookers sung classics as a way to help soothe the external pain of the malu. 

After six-plus hours, the session concluded. Tears streamed down Carmel’s face, signs of joy, relief and pride all bundled into one. A moment of bravery for a powerful leader having overcome the enduring pain of the tattoo process. 

Pain is temporary but pride is forever, as they say! An emotional roller coaster of a journey, as those gathered quietly sung the Samoan classic, “Ua fa’afetai” (Thank you). 

Alo laia i ou faiva Carmel Sepuloni! Ua le ole lea! Malo le taliau, malo le onosa’i! 

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