Christchurch writer Sarona Aiono-Iosefa is using her time at the University of Hawai'i as the recipient of the 2007 Fulbright-Creative New Zealand Pacific Writers' Residency to write a novella for young adults called O Se Mea e Tatau.
“I have always had to put everything else before my writing and yet I have somehow managed to get published and continue writing,” she says.
“I’m loving the time this residency is providing – in particular, the ability to access one of the world’s largest Pacific collections at the Hamilton Library. It’s given me a rare window into everyday Samoan life before the arrival of the missionaries in 1830. This has provided a good foundation for my novella, which is set in Samoa’s rich past.”
Aiono-Iosefa’s novella is about a Samoan family in the nineteenth century who practise and are guardians of the tatau (traditional Samoan tattoo). The story is woven around the impact of Christianity on this traditional Samoan family and some of the choices it makes.
“I want this novel to get young people asking questions about their history and to be curious about it,” Aiono-Iosefa says. “That way, you become an informed participant in life rather than accepting everything without question.”
She has written ten books for children over the past decade, many of them published in several Pacific Island languages. Her first English-language book for the commercial market, Two Cans of Corned Beef and a Manulele in a Mango Tree (Reed Publishing) is a Polynesian version of the song The Twelve Days of Christmas. Other work includes The Pipi Swing, a story for children aged eight to 12, and the story Blackcurrant Jam, which is included in the anthology Out of the Deep.
Based at the Centre for Pacific Studies at the University of Hawai’i, the three-month residency is a partnership between Creative New Zealand, Fulbright New Zealand and the university. It includes return airfares, accommodation costs and an artist stipend of NZ$6000 per month.
Previous recipients are filmmaker Sima Urale (2004), performance poet Tusiata Avia (2005) and filmmaker and playwright Victor Rodger (2006).