Moana Creatives Talanoa


This talanoa series features mana wāhine from the Moana Nui a Kiwa creative sector, who have cut their own paths as entrepreneurs and culturally accountable practitioners; Ema Tavola from Vunilagi Vou; Kolokesa Uafā Māhina-Tuai, Hikule‘o Fe‘aomoeako Melaia Māhina and Toluma’anave Barbara Makuati-Afitu from Lagi-Maama; and Hina Kneubuhl from Kealopiko.

Each post is an outcome of a talanoa between them and the Moana Fresh Team (Ahilapalapa Rands, Vaimaila Urale and Claudia Jowitt) about their experiences developing a sustainable creative enterprise grounded in Pacific kauapapa.

We also want to acknowledge Jessica Palalagi’s guidance and Taualofa Totua’s writing as contributors to this project.

Kolokesa & Barbara from Lagi-Maama

“The concept and practice of what is known in Samoan as ‘soa’ and in Tongan as ‘hoa’ refers to the inseparable but indispensable pairs of equal and opposite binaries that are imbedded in the realities of our Moana Oceania ways of knowing, seeing, and doing.”

– ‘Talking Critically Yet Harmoniously’ by Lagi-Maama Academy and Consultancy, 2021.

Toluma‘anave Barbara Makuati-Afitu of Samoan heritage and Kolokesa Uafā Māhina-Tuai, of Tongan heritage are the founders of Lagi-Maama Academy and Consultancy; championing Indigenous cultural knowledge. Based in Aotearoa, the pair formally launched Lagi-Maama in 2018 soon after meeting through Tāmaki Paenga Hira’s ‘Pacific Collection Access Project’ which ran from 2016 - 2019.

Makuati-Afitu has an extensive background in community engagement, management and stakeholder management. She worked in local and central government for 20 years before moving into the philanthropic space and then into the GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums) space. In 2016 she joined Tāmaki Paenga Hira as Community Navigator for the Pacific Collection Access Project (PCAP).

Māhina-Tuai is a curator and writer, with a background in Social Anthropology, Art History along with Museum and Heritage Studies. She has worked at Te Papa Tongarewa and Tāmaki Paenga Hira and contributed to books such as ‘Tangata o le Moana: New Zealand and the People of the Pacific’ and ‘Crafting Aotearoa: A Cultural History of Making in New Zealand and the Wider Moana Oceania’. Earlier in 2022, Māhina-Tuai was appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to cultures and the arts.

The third member of the Lagi-Maama team is their Digital and Contents Navigator Hikule‘o Fe‘aomoeako Melaia Māhina. Of Tongan heritage, Hikule‘o has a background in Anthropology, Pacific Studies and Museums and Cultural Heritage Studies.

Kolokesa Uafā Māhina-Tuai, Toluma‘anave Barbara Makuati-Afitu and Hikule‘o Fe‘aomoeako Melaia Māhina.

About the Business:

“Where there’s a knowledge gap, we are there.”

Lagi-Maama Academy & Consultancy (Lagi-Maama) is a cultural organization that act as mediators between instituions and our Moana Oceania communities. In talanoa with Moana Fresh, the pair described the nature of the work they do: “we create, morph and make things fit into spaces they traditionally don’t.”

For the duo, this can look like:

• connecting and building bridges between institutions and communities through research and writing
• community connection and engagement
• curatorial advice and critique
• capacity and capability building
• cultural intelligence and cross-cultural approaches

Central to their work is privileging Indigenous ways of being and ways of knowing, seeing, and doing – and, essentially filling in the knowledge gaps that exist within institutions, because of their colonial foundations and system biases. Lagi-Maama truly recognises the value of our people, by amplifying the voices, knowledges and practices of Moana Oceania communities, from the homelands to the wider diaspora. Māhina-Tuai says that “Cultural institutions have major knowledge gaps in their fale around our diverse Moana Oceania worldviews.” Lagi-Maama shared that their business is catering to critically addressing this problem.

The name of the business was gifted by Hūfanga-He-Ako-Moe-Lotu Professor ‘Ōkusitino Māhina. It honours their service towards Moana Oceania peoples, mirroring the foundation of Indigeneity and business approach, while symbolically acknowledging ancestral lineages and connections in an authentic way.

Lagi = symbolically means Sāmoa and literally means sky. It is linked to the realm of heavenly, godly or divine beings. It also references the future and is associated with taboo and chiefliness.

Maama = symbolically means Tonga and literally means lights. It is linked to earth and the domain of earthly, humanly or secular beings. It also references the present and associated with enlightenment.

Pulotu = symbolically means Fiji. It references the past and is regarded as the ancestral homeland and after-world of the peoples of Maama (Tonga) and Lagi (Sāmoa).

From their website,

Image Sources: Lagi-Maama Website

Image Source: Lagi-Maama Website: Lagi-Maama, Alt Group and Black Grace research visit to view Samoan measina at Tāmaki Paenga Hira. Photo by Jinki Cambronero, 2020.

What Makes Lagi Maama a Kaupapa Led Enterprise?

“Are we there yet? Hell no!”

• Lagi-Maama’s approach is informed by an Indigenous Moana Oceania sense of the past, present, and future. A foundation that is grounded by the Indigenous Tā-Vā Time-Space Philosophy of Reality movement. This has allowed the company to be time-space travellers, “enriched not only by the knowledge and practice of our ancestors, but also by what we learn from each project that we work on.”

• Lagi-Maama draws on knowledges and skills from our ancestors, passed down through generations. “It is the collective inheritance of our own bodies.”

• One of the core values for Lagi-Maama is to embrace and be empowered by our Indigenous knowledges and practices of talanoa or “talking critically yet harmoniously.” A decision-making philosophy and practice that helps to refine creative and innovative thinking throughout our wider Moana Oceania region.

Image Source: Lagi-Maama Website: Hūfanga-He-Ako-Moe-Lotu, Toluma‘anave & Kolokesa during Lagi-Maama, Alt Group and Black Grace research visit to view Samoan measina at Tāmaki Paenga Hira. Photo by Jinki Cambronero, 2020.

Key Advice to Moana Fresh

Balancing act

“Being able to go to sleep at night, just knowing that you've done as much as you can, but also being okay with the fact that you can't do everything.”

Lagi-Maama shared with us the struggle with balancing their many hats – from being present for family, to writing funding applications, to scheduling, to the various community collaboration projects they have on and must be present for (all at once too!) The trio is so used to handling everything without thinking of “all of the other things” and find that as the years pass for their business, they are still learning as they go. “With our many projects, we get to experience so much joy with the most incredible things happening,” Makuati-Afitu says. “But it's you know… always trying to find the balance.”

Lessons from the Accountant

“I think that was one of the biggest lessons that he's kind of given us is to value us.”

Makuati-Afitu’s baby brother, Liam (of Johnston Associates), stepped in as Lagi-Maama’s accountant, mentor and business advisor, who continues to offer reminders of worth, words of encouragement and advice. He’s encouraged Lagi-Maama to put a real monetary value to what they do – especially as both are proud Moana Oceania women who always give so much ‘more’.

“He gave us this ‘master’ project template and told us to map our process, list each task, and against each task put ‘real time’ - and like magic it spits out ‘real’ costs! He reminded us that we are always advocating for our communities and that we must do the same for ourselves.”

Lagi-Maama encouraged Moana Fresh to do the same practice of using a template to break down real time-space and costs. However, they also shared on a number of applications they have submitted and received feedback around justifying and explaining our costs - so ensuring you can find a balance in the compromise, is key.

Image Source: Lagi-Maama Website: L-R - Lagi-Maama’s extended aiga / kāinga – Sula‘isea Makuati-Afitu, Liam Makuati-Afitu, Lesina Afitu, Toluma‘anave and Ethane Afitu.

Image Source: Lagi-Maama. Moana Fresh and Lagi-Maama teams talanoa gathering, July 2022.

Broader Advice to the Public

Upholding Responsibility to your Communities

“We live and are part of our communities, the same communities that we serve because they are not separate. Valuing what our knowledge holders bring to each project by preparing the different spaces they are going into is important in what we do as mediators. We take this responsibility on board to challenge where and when needed on what ‘better’ Indigenous knowledges and practices needs to be.”

Through seeking to remunerate cultural knowledge holders for their work, Lagi-Maama want Indigenous knowledge holders and makers to be valued equitably in the ways that other consultants are. “From the first time that we connected in 2016 at Tāmaki Paenga Hira to the work that we are doing now with Lagi-Maama in 2023, there has been an incredible shift. The responsibility now is to ensure that our holders of knowledge continue to be remunerated appropriately but also respectfully - from safeguarding their IP and knowledge heard vs unheard, which means knowledge only for ‘their’ own minds and hearts.”

Arming your battles with knowledge

“Stick to the facts and address issues openly and critically because that’s how you can come up with change."

Lagi-Maama has only been around for going on five years, but the work they have achieved has been hugely significant in ‘privileging’ Indigenous cultural knowledge and understanding, and challenging the status quo. The pair informed Moana Fresh and other entrepreneurs with similar values that being willing to challenge Western imposed structures and systems, is a step in the right direction. “Be openminded, transparent and focussed on genuinely walking alongside your communities – it’s not an easy journey, but an empowering one.” Makuati-Afitu says. Lagi-Maama reminded us that when we arm ourselves with our Indigenous knowledges and practices, held within and across our communities, we can navigate confidently in challenging the status quo.

Privileging our Indigenous knowledges and practices

"What is crucial here is knowledge."

“We’ve got our own Indigenous cultural institutions and contexts of learning and our own equivalent of PhD’s and Professors. But holders of our Indigenous ways of being, and our Indigenous ways of knowing, seeing and doing, will never be truly valued if our Indigenous knowledges and practices are not privileged. What is crucial here is knowledge. This is what Lagi-Maama is working towards – equipping our cultural institutions with the necessary multiple baskets of knowledges and practices that they need in order to genuinely represent, advocate and engage meaningfully with our Moana Oceania communities.”

Image Source: Lagi-Maama Website.

‘Arts’ of Moana Oceania is one of Lagi-Maama’s ongoing projects that privileges Indigenous Moana Oceania knowledges and practices on arts.