Sharing is a huge part of Tongan-born, Brisbane based Ofa Fanaika’s creative practice, which she says stems directly from her connection to Island Culture.
From making ceramic plates, bowls and platters big enough to share meals on, to her sense of musical freedom borne from her time in Tonga sharing in harmonies, singing with others and being generally surrounded by music as a child.
Ofa took some time out from her busy schedule juggling her work in Arts and Outdoor Education, running events and her own pottery practice, to introduce herself and share some insight!
“Oku ou hingoa ko 'Ofa kihe'ana Latupea'tau Fanaika, oku ou lele mei Kolofo'ou 'i Tonga, ho mau fa'e oku ha'u mei Lapaha, mo tamai, mei Niutoua.
“My name is 'Ofa Kihe'ana Latupea'tau Fanaika, I was born in Kolofo'ou in Tonga, my mother is from Lapaha in Tonga, and my father from Niutoua in Tonga.
“I identify as a Queer Tongan Woman.”
What's your connection to Island Culture?
“My connection to Island culture is everything that is me, my name, my birthplace, my ancestors, my way in the world, the lens I look through, the lens in which I’m (often) judged by, my spirituality and connection to the sea.”
How does it show up in your daily life?
“My interests and career pursuits have been shaped immensely through my culture. Working with young pasifika mob, the music I make, the ceramic designs I do, the curiosity I have for Oceania and all that was prior to colonisation and written history.”
What's it been like growing up in a Tongan home in regional Queensland?
“It’s been difficult at times, but also amazing at times - so many opportunities for education, and opportunities for growth in this ever changing world.
“Living in Tonga, although paradisical, is hard. The technology is poor and there aren’t many opportunities for advancement.
“I grew up in suburban Toowong, an incredibly euro-centric area in the 80’s. My parents didn’t want their kids growing up in a low socio-economic area exposed to prejudice, and stigmas - we were the only brown people I knew of in Toowong, so that came with its own set of challenges.”
Do you have a favourite Tongan saying?
“Tala hu’i - it’s the term used when you speak back to your elders.
“We don’t do it, and if we do, we are quickly called out for it. Everyone has their place in Tongan culture.
“It can be stifling, but also I found a feeling of security in it when it matters.”
Is there an aspect of Island culture that you love the most?
“Cooking, the music and tapa making.
“Tongans are relentless when it comes to food. Every event surrounds food. We show our gratitude through food and our wealth, sometimes at the cost of our health. Big is beautiful for Tongans.
“The music in Tonga is epic. Every song is sung in 4 Or 5 part harmonies. Many of the songs are known by the vast majority of Tongans off by heart and there is a hymn book developed by the Siasi Uesliana Tau’ata’ina ‘o Tonga - that is used frequently throughout all churches, many sacred songs still sung today, dance is accompanied by songs, Men’s groups dedicated to drinking kava and singing love songs. It’s a delight to grow up around that.
“Tapa making is done solely by the women in Tonga. The beating of the tapa is the sound of the islands. The repeated motifs on the tapa has always drawn me in to its meanings, which I’m still learning more about through my family.”
How do you think your connection to Island Culture informs your creativity?
“With pottery - The work is imagined in its use; food plays a central part in my family events and we always gather around food.
“My work in pottery is concerned with sharing. I enjoy making big plates and bowls, and other tableware for these reasons.
“Musical creativity too would not exist for me without my Tongan culture. That’s where I learnt everything about harmony, singing with others, pitch, melody, emotion, playing the guitar. It was a rich experience having so much music and singing around me all the time as a kid. There was no shame associated with singing or performing - it was an honour to do those things - which is something I struggle with when people say they ‘can’t sing’.”
Any famous creatives from the islands who the world should know more about?
“Me! Nah just jokes. But seriously buy some of my work please. Tongans got to eat. ;P
“I think what’s happening in Australia at the moment from our young Pasifika peoples is inspiring. Young artists like Jesswar, an amazing young rapper from Brisbane, fiercely reimagining the landscape of queer positive representations.
“House of Alexander with Ella Ganza, another great creative visionary coming out of Brisbane, a crew of the first young vogue house in Queensland, who are making huge splashes in Queer Ballroom events around Australia (pre-COVID) taking awards and inspiring others.
“I caught them at a show at Jagera Hall in Brisbane, called Radical Love, and they tore the house down. Look both these people up!
A lot of old ways that we can do without are changing and mindsets are shifting - mindsets based in colonised ideals like homophobia, racism and domestic violence. More support for these cultures and communities means more culture + community based healing for the generations to come.”
What does it mean to you to live a big, beautiful life?
“To live a big beautiful life to me, is to live in my truth, in my identity, in my purpose, in my short comings and learnings, in my relationship with myself and with others, in my duty to my family and my culture, to love and to respect deeply.” – Ofa Fanaika
Ofa wears (top photo) one of our 100% cotton men's short sleeve shirts in the 'Bird of Paradise' print ~ BUY NOW!