Māori and Pacific communities collaborate to build unique fale

Issue: Volume 102, Number 8

Posted: 22 June 2023
Reference #: 1HAaWA

In what is believed to be a first, a fale co-designed by local Pacific and Māori communities has opened at Glen Eden Primary School in West Auckland.

Tamaiti perform a traditional Samoan dance.

Tamaiti perform a traditional Samoan dance.

It’s been an extremely wet week in Tāmaki Makaurau, but the sun comes out at exactly the right time for Glen Eden Primary School’s big event. Ākonga are dressed to perform and kaiako hand out lei woven in school colours to the parents and dignitaries streaming through the gates.

The star of today’s event is a fale in the school grounds, a breathtakingly beautiful structure which has been a two-year labour of love by artists and iwi.

Sāmoan designer Lama Tone designed and built the fale; Cook Islands kai whakairo (master carver) David Maruariki carved the pou; and Tongan artist Filipe Tohi used the traditional art of lalava to create the decorative lashings/bindings. Each lashing is unique and tells a story such as of the fishing nets or the stars.

Partnering with Mana whenua

Before any work began, the designer and school principal met with Mana Whenua Te Kawerau ā Maki to obtain permission.

“I was not going to build this fale without the blessings of mana whenua first,” says Lama.

Principal Donna Soljan treasures memories of the process, right from concept.

Tamaiti wore traditional dress to perform for the 200-strong audience at the fale opening.

Tamaiti wore traditional dress to perform for the 200-strong audience at the fale opening.

“It was a very special experience for me to sit in on meetings with people who have so much knowledge – Lama, David, and Robin Taua-Gordon, Pou Tangata at Te Kawerau ā Maki. It was a privilege to listen to their histories and the fale being planned around that.

“So much thought went into what was appropriate to include in carvings and design. They worked so well together; it was true collaboration in action.”

The visible outcome of partnership with Māori is a red rafter in the roof of the fale and one pou that is painted red. It points in the direction that is specific to mana whenua and references the red of the local soil. Carvings start at the bottom with designs representing tipuna of Te Kawerau ā Maki and continue up to represent journeys from all the Pacific Islands.

“It was a reciprocal relationship of whakawhanaungatanga or vā,” says Lama.

“Mana whenua gave us blessings to build this here and it was only fair we gift them with a pou, a heke and the constellation of Matariki/Matalai’l lashed through stones arranged on the ceiling.”

The fale roof is clad with black slates (rubber shingles) and represents an upside-down hull. Pacific lashings decorate the rafters, and locally sourced kohatu (stones) on the ceiling depict the Matariki constellation. Pou are lashed together with ‘afa, a plaited sennit rope from Samoa which is handmade from dried coconut fibre.

From the heart

Carver David, who has a child at the school, spent many hours working on the fale and says it’s a work that was “done from the heart”.

Samoan designer Lama Tone (left) with Robin Taua-Gordon, from Te Kawerau ā Maki, and Cook Islands kai whakairo (master carver) David Maruariki.

Samoan designer Lama Tone (left) with Robin Taua-Gordon, from Te Kawerau ā Maki, and Cook Islands kai whakairo (master carver) David Maruariki.

“For me, this is an important work. This is something our future generations can learn from.”

Donna says the fale is “an absolute blessing for our school. It tells you that when you come in, you are at a school in Aotearoa and in Tāmaki Makaurau, a city with more than 300,000 Pacific people.

“I have visited schools overseas and there’s a sameness about them the world over. It got me thinking about how you might be able to tell where you were in the world, the moment you walked into a school. And I think this fale shows our visitors where they are.”

More than 40 percent of ākonga on the roll at Glen Eden Primary identify as Pacific, and a further 27 percent as Māori.

“It has taken more than two years because of all the (pandemic) ‘start-stops’, and some people have wondered what was taking so long,” says Donna.

“But along the way I realised that it’s so much more than a building, it’s a work of art and that art is finished when it’s finished. There are no timelines, it’s just done when it’s done.”

The fale was opened with a stunning ceremony. Tamariki performed haka and waiata at the pōwhiri which was followed by a traditional Pacific welcome including an ‘ava ceremony and siva.

A place for community

The fale, big enough for an entire class, is intended for learning and play.

“It’s a place for everybody to come together. It’s a place for all peoples, but it’s also significant in that the lashings tell stories. It’s a place for us to take children to teach them so many things. It’s about voyaging, it’s about the narratives of the Pacific, it’s a place of learning,” says Donna.

“The fale is a storyteller, a custodian between the community and the school. It’s an ancestor from Te Moananui a Kiwa, the Pacific Ocean.”

The fale is also a gathering space for visitors.

“My dream is to drive past on a Saturday and see a family sitting in there having a picnic while children play on the basketball court. Our school is open on weekends, and we really want our community in.”

The fale opening

The fale opening

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 11:43 am, 22 June 2023

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