Comic collection inspires 'O le aiga Samoa'
Born into a family of educators, New Zealand Ministry for Pacific Peoples’ Languages Unit Manager Nafanuatele Lafitaga Mafaufau, has always had a passion for teaching and sharing knowledge as well as the desire to keep extending her own learning.
According to a statement released by the Ministry, this drive has led to her creating a comic series titled 'O le aiga Samoa', which aims to show a successful, modern family in New Zealand, who also live by and uphold the values and traditions of fa’asamoa (the Samoan way).
“The intention has always been to highlight what makes our lives unique and special even if from a child’s perspective, it may not seem so,” Nafanuatele says.
“This book is also a simplified way of helping to unpack and understand the complexities of fa’asamoa that many young people may question through their experiences.”
A Samoan descent, her grandfather was a Principal at Nuuausala College and her father was a teacher in various schools in Samoa.
Nafanuatele’s older brother is a Deputy Principal at Favona Primary School and so, she too became a teacher, along with several cousins, she explains.
In 1995, she started teaching as a contract English teacher at Maluafou College and the Congregational Senior College, in Samoa.
“In 1998, I returned to New Zealand and moved to Auckland in 2003 where I taught English and Samoan at Auckland Girls’ Grammar School and in 2019, I started working at NZQA as a Senior Advisor Pasifika.”
It was time for a change, however, and in October 2020, Nafanuatele joined the Ministry's Languages Unit.
Although she had left teaching, her passion for teaching the Samoan language and culture remained and so in 2019, Nafanuatele created the Nafanua Communication and Culture Classes for the community.
“These were initially for Auckland-based adults who wanted to develop their language knowledge and confidence to participate in cultural customs,” she said in a statement.
“From there online classes were created to offer the same language learning opportunities to people outside of Auckland, and in 2020, we were able to run online classes for not only people in Aotearoa, but also in Australia, United States, Korea and the United Kingdom.”
Nafanuatele says as the reach of the classes and social media platform grew, she began to receive requests for children’s classes.
“Unfortunately, being the sole tutor, I didn’t have the capacity to run them, but it prompted me to find a way to respond to the need for young people (and their parents) to engage with the language.”
Growing up, Nafanuatele loved reading her brothers’ comic books and says she has always wanted to create a Samoan comic.
“So, I approached one of my students, Michel Mulipola, who just happened to be a comic artist.
“We discussed my ideas and the comic series 'O le aiga Samoa' was created.”
'O le aiga Samoa' is made up of a series of seven comic stories, with each story based on Samoan cultural values, mainly told through the perspective of the children in the family.
The Samoa family are made up of the parents Penina and Ioane, the grandparents (Penina’s parents) and the children, Sarona and Mataio.
As a bilingual book, one difficulty Nafanuatele has faced while writing the comic is ensuring the authenticity and meaning is accurately presented in both Samoan and English.
Other challenges include ensuring the child’s voice is maintained throughout the stories and finding the time to write.
Throughout the creative process, Nafanuatele has received enormous support, and since the comic series has been published, she has had positive feedback from various people, who relate to the stories.
Of all the responses, she says the best has been from her mother, who gave the comic series a nod of approval, following her raised eyebrow of critical quality control as she read it.
While uncertain of what else is in the pipeline just yet, the author/teacher/Languages Unit Manager says she is looking forward to continuing a service of supporting Pacific people to retain and develop their language and identity.