Obituary: when revered Pasifika advocate spoke, everybody listened

Fa’anānā Efeso Collins campaigning unsuccessfully for the Auckland mayoralty. PHOTOS: NEW ZEALAND...
Fa’anānā Efeso Collins campaigning unsuccessfully for the Auckland mayoralty. PHOTOS: NEW ZEALAND HERALD


I was 16 years old when I first met Efeso Collins.

It was 2003 and a group of my classmates were picked to go to a camp about helping to inspire Pasifika high school pupils from around Auckland.

Aptly named the Dream Fono, Efeso (as we called him then) led a group of about 10 student mentors from Auckland University who talked to us about the importance of setting goals, how to study and working hard to achieve our career dreams.

Even then, as a university student, he commanded attention. When he stood up, the room went silent. When he spoke, everyone listened.

He had a special way with words that allowed you, even as a high school pupil, to feel important and heard.

We were given forms to fill out, in which we were asked what we wanted to study or be after school. We were told that people who were in those careers or studying similar degrees would be available for us to talk to.

The next day, Efeso came up to me and smiling, asked if I was the one who wanted to be a journalist — yes, I replied. He had organised for Pacific journalist Vienna Richards to come to the camp to speak to us and give me a very cool opportunity to talk to a real-life reporter.

It would be years later, while interviewing him for an article, when I would get the chance to thank him for that opportunity.

That was 21 years ago. Fa’anānā, as we now call him, continued to be a massive advocate for young people; particularly Pasifika youth and those from South Auckland, his home.

Raised in the 274 in Otara, and later based in Ōtāhuhu, he was always preaching his Southside pride and was staunchly proud of his Samoan and Tokelauan roots.

Fa’anānā Efeso Collins.
Fa’anānā Efeso Collins.
He was unapologetically proud to be brown.

The last time I interviewed him, for a story on becoming a new Green MP, the former Auckland city councillor said: "My intention is to bring the hood. And when I say that, I’m going to continue to be me. I’ll always speak my voice, I’ll always challenge people.

"I also want to bring a level of swagger that means people can look into politics and see themselves. I want to come and do everything I can. But I see my function as opening the door to the next generation — who I’m told are only one or two election cycles away.

"There is major talent here in South Auckland and my job is to facilitate them coming into this space."

He was a family man — a proud husband and a dedicated dad to his two girls. He often spoke of them in his media interviews and referred to when speaking about the future of New Zealand.

He was also a man of faith and was never afraid to talk about what God had done for him and his aiga (family).

Those were all attributes that helped make him a great leader — on the political field and off it. And it is the same reason many are grieving now — not just for the man that was, but the man that he was going to be.

He made up what our ancestors could only have dreamt we could be one day.

And although his full potential would never be known, he was in many ways the migrant’s dream come true — and serves as an inspiration of what our young people have the potential to become.

Malo ola tautua, Fa’anānā. Thank you for your life of service. Ia manuia lau malaga. Safe journey home.

Fa’anānā Efeso Collins, 49, died on February 21 during a charity event in Auckland. — Vaimoana Mase is the Pasifika editor for the New Zealand Herald’s Talanoa section.