Voyage leads to the stage

Faumuina Felolini Maria Tafuna’i sailing on  waka Fa’afaite from Tahiti to Rarotonga as part of...
Faumuina Felolini Maria Tafuna’i sailing on waka Fa’afaite from Tahiti to Rarotonga as part of Tuia 250. PHOTOS: MARCO GAMBBIANI AND TE TOKI VOYAGING TRUST
Felolini Maria Tafuna’i admits starring in a play of her own writing is a different story, she tells Rebecca Fox.

One of the wayfinding values that guides Faumuina Felolini Maria Tafuna’i is to be brave.

"I turned 50 last year and so I feel I want to be more audacious in what I’m doing now."

So turning her self-published book of poetry My Grandfather is a Canoe into a play complete with singing and dancing seemed to fit the bill.

"There’s lots of challenges in there for me. There is also the creative push to see how far I can go."

Tafuna’i is no stranger to trying new things. A journalist by trade, she was working for Ngai Tahu’s Te Karaka magazine when the iwi was going through a revival in voyaging practices.

"I was always really interested in this part of our history. My art practice centred around navigation and voyaging as well so when the opportunity to sail came up, I said ‘yes, I’m coming’."

So she joined Haunui, a replica of a waka hourua (a traditional double-hulled voyaging canoe) sailing around the Pacific for 10 years.

She was working in aid and development as well, but felt she was not getting the results she wanted so she began to wonder if the concepts of voyaging and navigation could help.

Talking to Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr, the captain of Haunui, the seeds of her wayfinding concept began to develop.

"That’s when the model came to be formed and now all of my work is done with this kind of thinking using that to go across many different things."

Wayfinding uses the principles of voyaging and celestial navigation to form a strategic framework to work through a wide range of projects such as Treaty partnership, suicide prevention and entrepreneurship.

"We help them create a vision and how to get there."

It uses concepts such as the "island of success", where participants look at the strategic decisions that need to be made before they go on a "voyage".

"We reverse-engineer things to think about who goes on our waka, the skills and experience we have there, the aspirations we have and also what we lack and what we have abundance of, so we can make strategic decisions."

It also create a values compass to steer by.

"The difference in wayfinding is you definitely steer by these values consistently. They have to have actions attached to them."

For Flying Geese Pro, the company Christchurch-based Tafuna’i set up to share her wayfinding concepts, one of its values is aroha.

In practice, that means the team only work with people they love, rather than chase the dollar or any other short-term gain.

It also looks at what "anchors" there might be stopping the project progressing, such as compliance, funding and fear.

"We address emotional issues as well as organisational issues."

A novel part of the programme is the "island of doom" — an attempt to take a honest and brutal look at what could go wrong and ask whether it can be mitigated.

"Once you have done all of that, then you have the ‘islands of doing’ and setting priorities. What is the hole in your waka?"

When on a voyage, sailors have to address thing big things first.

"There is a saying, ‘there is no point sanding the deck if there is a hole in the bottom of your waka’."

Continually adjusting to the environment is an important part of the concept, especially in a dynamic changing environment such as the Covid-19 pandemic, she says.

At Dunedin Fringe Festival Tafuna’i will present "Wayfinding for Creatives", which will look at how the thinking framework can be used for projects artists may be working on such as shows, exhibitions and their own practices.

"It’s best applied at the start of a project, although you can reset using it. We’ve been using it for our own play as well."

Any profits from the work Flying Geese does go to support youth resilience programmes in schools.

The concept can be just as easily used by children building a treehouse as it can a business or community group, she says.

The Haunui waka Tafuna’i sailed in Kawhia Harbour.
The Haunui waka Tafuna’i sailed in Kawhia Harbour.
"Children understand — you want to go somewhere, so how do you get there?"

It is through her work with Flying Geese that she came to Dunedin, working with companies such as Taylor Made as well as community organisations such as Dunedin Fringe and Inati Aotearoa.

It was encouragement from Inati leaders Pip Laufiso and Hiliako Iaheto that led Tafuna’i to put her play into the Dunedin Fringe Festival.

"It’s been this magical voyage where creatives from Dunedin have been kidnapped into the programme."

The play is a reworking of her poetry, which was written over the years of her travel.

She joined writing group Fika about 15 years ago after being introduced to the work of Samoan poet Tusiata Avia and hearing her recite her poetry.

"I was blown away. She was writing about Samoa and Pacifica. The poetry had accents and things that were familiar to me — not like the poetry at school where I could not understand the context."

It opened the doorway for Tafuna’i, who also spent a few years as a visual artist, to start writing.

She had a "breakthrough" moment when she discovered she could publish the book herself without going through established channels.

A friend in Papua New Guinea, where there is no publishing industry, shared how creatives self-publish through online networks.

"To take that on your own journey I thought was really powerful. Not [thinking] about markets, it is about sharing your work with the people around you."

She also attended a Commonwealth writers’ workshop and was travelling to aid conferences where she would often write poems as part of her speeches.

"So that flavoured the poems in the book. It’s special as it covers so many of the Pacific Islands — the Marshall Islands to the Cook Islands, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, all the places I was spending time in."

The book was launched last year at a national waka hourua festival Te Hau Komaru in Tauranga.

Now it has been turned into a play with support from Dunedin creatives and also friends and family.

Laufiso is the producer, while Marisiale Tunoka (who appeared in the Netflix movie The Royal Treatment) is the director and Iaheto, the frontman for Reggae band Koile, is the music director.

Friend and fabric artist Ron Te Kawa insisted on doing the costumes and her 19-year-old son Oliver, a musician, is also among those performing.

"The collaboration has been amazing. It’s gone from me reciting poetry with a guitar to three acts of a play with sound and lighting. I feel like this is a really great intersection where people have met and wanted to make something great," Tafuna’i says.

The play, of course, is about a voyage across the Pacific so features music from those island nations as well as a love story reflecting on her relationship with a poet.

"He was always on land and I was on the water. There are different themes running the play."

She is nervous about performing but she says that is not a bad thing.

"To perform, to put yourself out there to get your lines down, I’m singing a solo with people who are actual musicians and there will be dancing, so there are lots of challenges in there for me."

Yet she is still excited about getting on stage, believing her theatre sports experience as a student has stayed with her in part.

"I’ve been walking the dog, practising my lines in the park. I’m excited to see where we can go with it."

Having got this far, Tafuna’i can see the potential to take it further.

"We want to take it to children so we are going to publish it."

Giving Maori and Pacific Island children the opportunity to read and perform in a play that features characters which reflect themselves is important, she says.

They also have an artist working on a colouring in book of the story.

"Instead of colouring in [Disney Movie]Frozen, it will give kids a way to interact with work from their own culture.

"We’re dipping into’ what can a book be?’. It can be a show, a colouring in book, it can be a piece of art hung on a wall."

She is not phased about adding another task to her list.

"This is what you get when you have a writer, a poet, an entrepreneur all in one."


"Fr_edTalks: Wayfinding for Creatives", Fringe HQ, March 17, 11am-4pm; My Grandfather is a Canoe, Macandrew Bay Community Hall, March 25-26.

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