“Shocked,” was the initial reaction of Maureen Fepuleai, author of an entry in the 2015 Samoa Observer Tusitala Short Story Competition.
This was when she learned that there was going to be a publication compiled from the top 16 stories of the competition, including her own.
As far as the entrants knew, there would just be regional and overall prizes in both languages.
The decision to publish was insisted upon by Editor-in-Chief Savea Sano Malifa, after looking through the stories.
“I want these writers to be (published) authors,” he said at the time.
For Fepuleai, whose entry ‘The Samoan Wife’ was Highly Commended in the New Zealand-Australian section, just getting named in the media was “awesome”.
“I thought, wow! It was surreal; it was not something I thought would happen anytime soon. What an opportunity!”
In her biography from the competition’s publication, ‘Our Heritage, the Ocean’, Maureen revealed that her early writing during a dark period of abuse in her life, helped build her resilience.
She heard about the Observer’s competition she said from a Facebook post and with encouragement from her daughter, she decided to enter.
Her story was based on an experience with her mother when her father died.
“I also wanted to bring in how Samoan women just get on with the job; they get on regardless of what goes on behind closed doors. It’s what women do.”
A synopsis of Fepulea'i's story written by the book's editor Stephanie Wynne, reads:
“Her husband, a prominent and respected N.Z. politician of Samoan descent, has died. Is she going to reveal, at his funeral, the years of physical abuse she has suffered at his hands? Or is she going to continue to be a good Samoan wife and say nothing?”
Born in Samoa, Fepuleai who was later raised in New Zealand, is also an award-winning playwright of ‘E ono tamai pato’ which won the N.Z. Adam Play award for Best Pasefika Play in 2011. In 2015, she heard about the Samoa Victim Support Group and cast around for something she could do to help the organisation.
The answer came in her decision to enlist five friends to volunteer for next to nothing in terms of payments to do play readings of her work with all proceeds going to S.V.S.G.
“I wanted to be able to offer something.”
As well as performing in Auckland at the Mangere Performing Arts Centre to sell out crowds, funding from the Sonja Davies Peace award enabled the group to take the play to Wellington to perform there.
“I was able to give my girls some ‘petrol money’ and the rest of the money went to S.V.S.G.” Fepuleai was recently in Samoa doing research for her Masters in Applied Indigenous Practice.
She said that as a qualified counsellor, she has found identity disconnect and a lot of family violence and sexual abuse.
“This is my final year at Te Wananga Aotearoa as the only Samoan in a group of 45 Maori, Cook Islanders and a Niuean who were accepted for the programme.
“It is so spiritually and culturally uplifting. It is a high level, indigenous group. I belong there; they understand me.”
“Children are our measina so why should they be physically and sexually abused in their own homes by people they should be able to trust?”
Little wonder then that her research looks at family violence, feagaiga and identity and that her interviews conducted in Samoa were with academic, Le Tagaloa Pita and her mother, Epirosa Fepuleai.
“As Le Tagaloa says, ‘E fa’avae Samoa; e fa’avae mea uma i le alofa”
‘ – it’s all about love.”
“I learned so much from him and my mother and realised how little I knew.”
Fepuleai currently works at the Blind Foundation based in Manurewa, as the Pacific Services Coordinator.