• Morwenna Petaia

My vision for the world

When I was applying for University in 1996, I did not understand what University was. Seriously! In my head, I was asking myself what a Bachelor is and what is a lecturer. All I knew was that I wanted to learn about Samoa and cultures.


I could not find any Pacific courses in Australia (ok, only Melbourne because I did not even know there were other universities in other states; makes me wonder how I made it into Uni). I did however find a Bachelor of Arts that had a Major in Pacific Island Studies all the way in Hawaii.



Photo credit: Darren Lawrence/Unsplash


So, I applied to university in Hawaii. I was accepted and -bonus- got a scholarship, which meant I got to work at the Polynesian Cultural Centre and be surrounded by Pacific cultures every single day.


Hawaii was the best. I got to take Samoan language and cultural classes. For PE I did Samoan and Pacific Dancing. I learned all about Pacific Politics and History. I even got to take a class about Pacific literature. They did make me run a mile in 10 minutes before I could graduate though, but other than that, I made amazing friends and learned so much.


Now that I am older and *cough* wiser I can look back and see my time a little more different to how I lived it as a 20-year-old. The biggest stand out point was that I had to travel halfway across the world to learn about my own culture. I am thankful that today, over 20 years later, Pacific university courses are available in Australia.


However, why should we have to take a university course when as ordinary people our culture and language should be readily available as programs available to anyone. With so many of our Pacific youth in Australia not taking up tertiary studies, how are they going to learn and connect to their language and culture?


Another stand out point was when I took my Pacific Literature class. It was taught by a palagi and we studied mainly books written by non-Pacific Islanders talking about their experiences in the islands.


I bring up the teacher being palagi because, while they understand the ins and outs of literature, they took up space that should have been held by a Pacific Islander. As a Pacific class, it should have been a Pacific lecturer sharing the stories and histories of our people and the Pacific islands. Why? Because there are qualified lecturers of Pacific descent who can share lived experiences and insights. Pacific lecturers who can be a role model to Pacific students who may want to pursue teaching but never had a Pacific teacher to lead by example.


To be in a Pacific literature class and read only palagi literature shows just how colonised we still are. How much our mindsets move toward praising palagi voices over our brown voices, even when telling our stories and histories.


Let us fast forward to 2021. I develop the educational programs Measina Treasures of Samoa deliver to schools and organisations in Melbourne. As part of my research, I tried to see what was already available so that there was no overlap of services.


I was sad to see again that instead of using our qualified brown people to tell our stories, I saw palagi butchering the pronunciation of our words, mixing, and intertwining our Pacific cultures as if they were all the same, acting as if our cultures were just for fun and a game to be played.


I envision our Pacific people teaching our own cultures to others with pride and authenticity. I envision our Pacific people stepping out from the shadow of stereotypes and labels to show who we are and what we stand for. I envision a world where learning comes from a range of cultures and not eclipsed by colonial mindsets. A world where indigenous knowledge is respected and acknowledged as much as the textbooks in the libraries. I envision a world where indigenous cultures and knowledge are widely accessible.


What do you envision for the world?


Morwenna Petaia is a New Zealand born, Australian raised Samoan. She is an entrepreneur and an educator who shares Samoan culture through her business Measina Treasures of Samoa @measinasamoa, operating respectfully from the lands of the Kulin Nation.

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