Protecting Culture to Protect Families
Dahlia Malaeulu is a Wellington-born Samoan author of Milas My Gagana Series and an educator who is publishing eight books this year. The publications are a reflection of her own identity and gagana/language journey, particularly for those not born in Samoa. While it remains an issue for some among the diaspora, she believes its language and culture has a protective essence that can help.
As an author and publisher, Dahlia aims to highlight what’s possible for Pasefika peoples with the power of our stories to heal, develop confidence and provide support and encouragement outside the classroom and within.
Her books combine her love for her tamaiti (children), her gagana Samoa (Samoan language) and culture (aganu’u), which are closely related to her work in the classroom, supporting schools with professional development and culturally responsive practices as well as strengthening practices through literacy.
Becoming a publisher has strengthened her own cultural identity pathway, which strengthens cultural pride by developing positive connections to Samoan traditions and values. The very same shared pacific values supported by Pasefika Proud.
Cultural identity is one of the ‘wellbeing outcomes’ for Pacific families identified in the Pasefika Proud Pathways for Change 2019-2023. Pacific families value, nurture and experience cultural pride, positive connections to cultural traditions and values, aspirations and focus on future generations and a strong sense of belonging.
“I believe our language and culture provides a protective essence of spirit as it develops that confidence of knowing and being proud of who you are,” says Dahlia, a mother herself who wants to help her children develop their identity as New Zealand-born Samoans.
“As a mother of two Samoan boys I saw this gap,” she shares. “I thought, “how am I going to pass on the gagana, the aganu’u?”
The answer is Dahlia feels lucky enough to be raised within a household where she was spoken to in Samoan and was exposed to more of the culture later in life through church. But she admits herself that she is “more of a conversational speaker rather than fluent.”
Despite her achievements, she knows all too well the challenges of her generation who often feel lost, confused, and don’t know their place in the world.
“We struggle within the two worlds,” Dahlia says.
“Living in the palagi (European) world and coming home to deal with the Samoan world can lead to real issues and challenges which happen as a result of that.”
“Research has shown that it can heavily impact on mental wellbeing, our health and the choices, behaviours and decisions we make,” she says.
So, it’s important to teach our tamaiti their gagana, Dahlia adds, which includes providing material such as her books in which children can see themselves, or people who like them, while learning the language and culture at the same time.
“We’re ensuring that our tamaiti, our people, are succeeding as who they are and supporting them to have greater gains in terms of health and improved wellbeing and greater family connections.”
The feedback Dahlia has had from her publications range from the beautiful to the emotional and spiritual.
“We’ve had people saying they’ve seen themselves on the same journey as my characters and that the books have helped them to clarify their ideas and to action talanoa (open discourse) within their families, helping them to reach out for help and support to feel more secure in who they are,” she says.
“Unfortunately, some of our people have turned away from our culture due to feeling there’s a lack of access, which is quite sad to see. We’re trying to bridge the gap by providing these safe and accessible resources for everybody.”
Dahlia wants to give people access, as she emphasises the importance of gagana, aganu’u in our lives.
“At the end of the day, our language and culture have the biggest benefits in terms of protection, security, confidence, developing achievement and succession as protective and supportive factors amongst our people and tamaiti,” she says.
“Our knowledge, our language, our culture and our identity have a place in this world. They are an asset that provides us and our families with a source of strength.”
Shared Pacific values underpin Pasefika Proud
Our vision and approach are underpinned by the following shared Pacific values, which help to nurture and sustain family and community wellbeing. They are protective factors for Pacific peoples: LOVE | FAMILY | COLLECTIVE | RESPECT | SPIRITUALITY | RECIPROCITY.