Samiu Napa’a

Contemporary Tongan Visual Artist

Maka Tu’u Taha

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Simultaneously living

Two worldviews

Working hard in the sun
Waking up 3am to paint

Ikai ke ifo ae kai (not enjoying food)
Only way to enjoy your food is
to sio kita (selfish)

Pro-democracy Pro-monarchy



Napa’a recalls the prized rock jutting out of the deep waters behind his home in Fua’amotu village. For Napa’a and his childhood friends, this was no ordinary rock. It represented one who could stand and survive the torrents of the sea and more importantly, it signified one who could beat the others by claiming it as his own.

Maka tu’u taha: one rock to stand on

Maka remembers the scavenged container pallets that enclosed his fale in Patangata. The pallet walls were marked with his mother’s scribbles of his daily chores. Fo ae vala. Tanaki fe fie. ‘Ai e haka. These jobs must be finished to ensure the home was maintained and the family’s continued existence.

Maka tu’u taha: survival

As expatriates from the Kingdom of Tonga, Napa’a and Maka’s work is a response to the recent socio-political events. Although they speak from a geographical periphery, they participate in the effects of the events as subjects of the Tongan Diaspora. Napa’a’s painting of an array of milk bottles suggests the necessity of monotonous work to “produce” ‘a e ki’i silini (a bit of money) as remittance to be sent to the family in Tonga who are struggling in the current economic depression. Napa’a and Maka’s work picks at topical issues squabbled over by the Tongan media and governmental officials; for instance, the controversy of monarchy versus (complete) democratic rule. Like Napa’a’s recollections of Maka tu’u taha, the events display political power games about who can beat the rest. Unfortunately these debates often neglect the real and immediate needs of the Tongan people. As social agents through their art, these Tongan men allege not a pro-democratic or pro-monarchy stance, but rather a position of pro-people.

Beyond the Kingdom’s events, Maka tu’u taha represents the intricate lives of two Tongan emigre artists determined to survive (tu’u or stand) the requirements of the two worlds they now live in. Their works express the negotiation between the paradigms of the “new world” (Sissons 2005:16) abd the ‘ulungaanga or anga faka-Tonga. Napa’a and Maka’s work evokes certain nostalgia of their homeland interwoven with assimilated images of their new surroundings in Aotearoa. Agreeably, Napa’a and Maka’s dialogue showcases diversity within Tongan contemporary art practices whilst engaging in the discursive process towards an episteme of the very idea if ‘Tongan art’. Maka’s paintings emerge from studies of the ngatu ‘uli or black tapa, where he becomes an interpreter and accumulator of cultural motifs from our Tongan heritage or ‘ngaahi koloa tuku-fakaholo‘. Napa’a’s paintings display honest experiments of his textured painting technique. They also convey unbounded themes where he fuses deceitfully simplistic images of life enriched with eclectic concepts stirred by his memories.

Taimi 'o Tonga (2007) Oil on Timber

Both artists typify the transnational experience of straddling two worlds. It is in this limbo their work flourishes, as in the view of art historian John Peffer (2003:24), such emigre artists have the added privilege of seeing two worlds. Maka tu’u taha is about surviving these two paradigms: connecting with the homeland and its nuances but also forging new territories that cross traditional boundaries, both in the ethnic and artistic sense. So rather than competing for one rock to stand on, Napa’a and Maka’s works express self-exploration and determination where in such a process, one finds for him or herself a neutralised rock upon which they might coincide with others. A rigorous process, which makes both Napa’a and Maka emissaries of culture through art.

By Charmaine Marie ‘Ilaiu

Opening prayer


Pers. Comm: 2007 August. Napa’a, Samiu.
Pers. Comm: 2007 August. Maka, Kulimoe’anga

Sissons, Jeffrey. 2005. First Peoples: Indigenous Cultures and their future. Reaktion Books Ltd: London

Peffer, John. 2003. The Diaspora as Object, in Looking Both Ways: Art of the Contemporary African Diaspora. (Eds) Laurie Ana Farrel. Snoeck Publishers: Gent and Museum for African Art: New York. Pp 25-35


Charmaine Marie ‘Ilaiu is Tongan and was born in South Auckland, New Zealand. She grew up and continues to live in Otara. She is currently studying to complete a Master of Architecture at the University of Auckland.

Filipe Tohi, Ema Tavola, Charmaine Ilaiu
This essay featured in the limited edition exhibition catalogue for Maka Tu’u Taha the joint exhibition between New Zealand based Tongan painters Kulimoe’anga Maka and Samiu Napa’a at Fresh Gallery Otara, 6-29 September 2007. The exhibition marked one year since the passing of King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV.
Photos from the exhibition
All text  © the contributors.


Written by PIMPI

February 14, 2008 at 10:32 am

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