Spotlight: Kokonati Talk - Meli Tuqota - Cultural Reconnection Through Art

July 06, 2022 Nia Tero Season 2
Spotlight: Kokonati Talk - Meli Tuqota - Cultural Reconnection Through Art
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Spotlight: Kokonati Talk - Meli Tuqota - Cultural Reconnection Through Art
Jul 06, 2022 Season 2
Nia Tero

This week we’re excited to share a podcast episode from Neisau Tuidraki, who is also a Nia Tero Pasifika Journalism Fellow. Neisau is the host and producer of Kokonati Talk, a podcast that explores Fijian stories from the homeland and diaspora communities. Season 1 explores Indigenous guardianship and what that means to the lives of creative Fijians. In this episode, Neisau talks with Meli Tuqota, a Fijian filmmaker who made the animated film, Soli Bula ,and reconnected with his own heritage and native language in the process.  

Special thanks to Neisau Tuidraki for sharing this episode and to Meli Tuquota for sharing his inspiring story.  


Seedcast is a production of Nia Tero, a global nonprofit which supports Indigenous land guardianship around the world through policy, partnership, and storytelling initiatives.

Enjoy the Seedcast podcast on the Nia Tero website, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and your other favorite podcast platforms.

Keep up with Seedcast on Instagram and use the hashtag #Seedcast.

Show Notes Transcript

This week we’re excited to share a podcast episode from Neisau Tuidraki, who is also a Nia Tero Pasifika Journalism Fellow. Neisau is the host and producer of Kokonati Talk, a podcast that explores Fijian stories from the homeland and diaspora communities. Season 1 explores Indigenous guardianship and what that means to the lives of creative Fijians. In this episode, Neisau talks with Meli Tuqota, a Fijian filmmaker who made the animated film, Soli Bula ,and reconnected with his own heritage and native language in the process.  

Special thanks to Neisau Tuidraki for sharing this episode and to Meli Tuquota for sharing his inspiring story.  


Seedcast is a production of Nia Tero, a global nonprofit which supports Indigenous land guardianship around the world through policy, partnership, and storytelling initiatives.

Enjoy the Seedcast podcast on the Nia Tero website, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and your other favorite podcast platforms.

Keep up with Seedcast on Instagram and use the hashtag #Seedcast.

Seedcast Season 2 Spotlight 5
Kokonati Talk
July 6, 2022

[00:00:00] Jessica Ramirez: Hey, this is Jessica Ramirez, your host of Seedcast. 

[music plays in the background]

Seedcast shares stories of Indigenous peoples whose cultures are the key to a sustainable future for us all. Today, we have a spotlight for you of an Indigenous-led podcast: Kokonati Talk.

Theme song by Mia Kami: Once pristine, once untouched, once pure all of that's no longer there anymore; stripped down torn apart chipped away piece of our hearts yet still we breathe…

[00:00:39] Jessica: Kokonati Talk is created by Neisau Tuidraki. She's a current Nia Tero Journalism Fellow. In Kokonati Talk, Neisau shares everyday experiences of Fijian people living in their communities, and in the diaspora. And this first season is about Indigenous guardianship, and what that means to creative Fijians. Neisau speaks with Meli Tuqota Jr, an iTaukei filmmaker from Fiji. In this episode, it was really interesting to hear about the films that have been filmed in Fiji, and how many Fijians were not a part of that process. Hearing Meli talk about his work as a filmmaker made me hopeful that the filmmaking culture is changing when it comes to who is telling the story.

This episode was released in March, 2022, and Neisau is producing more episodes of Kokonati Talk. So be sure to save this podcast on your platforms, thanks to Neisau Tuidraki, and enjoy the show.

Kokonati Talk Episode 1: Meli Toquta - Cultural Reconnection Through Art
Released March 18, 2022

[intro music plays]

[00:02:02] Neisau: Bula! My name is Neisau Tuidraki, and this is Kokonati Talk, a podcast exploring Fijian stories from around the globe. This season, I'm exploring Indigenous guardianship. What does this mean to all Fijian creatives, and how are they practicing this in their relative fields? How does this relate to our vanua and [Fijian]—the land and sea? And insights into our culture and heritage through the creative lens. I'll be speaking to Fijian handicraft artisans, filmmakers, artists, musicians, and fashion designers; and unpacking practicing Indigenous guardianship through their creative arts in a digital and contemporary setting. Let's get started!

[recording plays of voices shouting directions on a filmmaking set]

[00:02:52] Neisau: Fiji has a thriving film industry. Our tropical environment makes it ideal for filming movies set in the tropics or on the seas. And it helps that the film tax rebate available to fully funded offshore productions is 75% [cash register bell dings], which is why Hollywood and Bollywood have come to film their stories on our shores, from Tom Hanks in Cast Away [audio clip from Cast Away plays], which was filmed on the island of Monuriki in the Mamanuca [Islands]; to Adrift, starring Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin filmed in Suva and Rakiraki; to TV series Survivor; to the Bollywood hit movie, Party; just to name a few. The list goes on dating all the way back to the sixties. 

So, I sat down to make a list of movies written by Fijians, directed by Fijians, starring Fijians, filmed in Fiji—a bonafide made-in-Fiji-by-Fijians movie. First one that sprang to mind was Dreamland Of The Moonless Nights made in 1990. This was an interracial love story, starring high school students Alex Soqosoqo and Ashiwini [last name]. It was filmed in Suva, Pacific Habour, Nadi, and the island of Kadavu. and it was written and directed by Austrian native, the late Ellen Umlauf. So Fijian actors, check; filmed in Fiji, check; written and directed by an Austrian….mmmm. You know what, that's okay. I'm glad she did because it captured a snapshot of Fiji at that particular time. So not exactly a made-in-Fiji-by-Fijians movie.

Next is the movie title No. 2, directed by Toa Fraser. This gets special mention because I watched the play in Fiji, starring Madeleine Sami, in the early 2000s. Both Frazier and Sammy have Fijian ancestry. The play was then adapted into a movie, starring Hollywood legend, Ruby Dee, and shot in New Zealand. It's a story of a matriarch of the family calling everyone together, and that resonated with me. It reminded me of home, your [Fijian word], telling everybody to get together for [speaks in Fijian]. That's Fiji! FYI Tao Fraser is also the producing director of Netflix hit Sweet Tooth. Does it tick all the boxes? Nope, but we're claiming it for team Fiji. 

The next one is The Land Has Eyes, written and directed by Vilsoni Hereniko, and shot on the island of Rotuma in 2004. The story is of a young Rotuman woman played by Sapeta Taito, who is shamed as the daughter of a man wrongly accused of being a thief. The film was presented at the Sundance Film Festival and it was Fiji's official submission into the 2006 Academy Awards. Fijian actors, check; written and directed by Fijian, check; shot in Fiji, check. So that's one for the list, which brings me to animated short films. If I'd started a list of Fijian animated films five years ago, the answer would be zero! But not today. It gives me so much joy to say that we've had the start of a fledgling community of animators. Thanks to Meli Tuqota, brains and visionary behind Fijian Indigenous animated short film, Soli Bula. Meli and I are talking about his creative journey, and how it can reconnect you with your culture. 

[00:06:28] Neisau: I thought we’d begin by you telling me a little bit about yourself, your Fijian roots and where you're based.

[00:06:28] Meli Tuqota: Yeah I'm going to do the very, ah, Fijian thing and say, [not transcribed] [laughs] 

Yeah, and thanks for that question. It's funny, this question always kind of throws me out on a loop because like, how much do you talk about yourself? So I try and keep it as pertinent as I can, but I want, I like talking about some of my links from both my region side and my tongue side, because it sort of influenced me on my creative journey going thus far. 

I'm here in Suva, Fiji; born and bred city boy. And my dad is from all the way up in the tip top of Vanua Levu, Undu Point. In Cakaudrove my village is Gasauva. My mom is from Ha’apai, Tonga. Yes. Ha’apai is right next door to the big work, you know, that just happened two weeks ago. That's my root and my ties, both ends of these two countries. From out of those links, I’ve been working on my creative part of me. So I will say, to journey that I actually just started recently in, something that I wanna continue going towards in the following years.

[00:07:40] Neisau: It's a familiar story. You get a nine to five job, and you clock in and out. Meli knew he had a love for art, right from a young age, but it took him a while to find the start of his part in graphic arts. Then that moment of clarity when he realized, “I need to start making art for myself.” And that was the beginning of You The Choice Of My Parents, his first animated short film, based on the poem by Konai Helu Thaman about the musings of a Tongan woman on her arranged marriage. 

[00:08:12] Meli: I didn't do anything creative in a concentrated effort. When I was young., in high school, very, very bad at maths and so I draw on the sheet instead of actually filling out the answers and so teachers are like, “Oh, this guy is going to be a artist!” And I was like, “You know, I'm probably going to be an artist!” Uh, but life was like, “Nah!” And so I went through other different courses until I finally settled on graphic design. 

It was from there that I, you know, okay, I finally figured out that I do have a creative streak. However, in my younger years, I was just doing work and not really doing much creative stuff for myself. For me personally, like doing cool stuff that I wanted to make—I didn't really feel that urge until I think 2014, 2015. I started to get these inklings or like cool ideas like, something that I'd like to see on screen or something that, you know, that I'd like to make. But it was only around 2019 when I decided to bite the bullet, so to speak, and make a concentrated effort to make something creative, and out from that came my first animated short film, which was You The Choice Of My Parents. From then on, I don't want to say, you know, the flood gates opened because it was only like a few years ago and I've only made another—one more—animated short film, but that was sort of the suite that made me make a concentrated effort to make cool stuff, to make artistic stuff, for myself 

[00:09:30] Neisau: As a child, like other kids, Meli was drawn to cartoons. He was no different when one of the first computer generated cartoons came out, and it was love at first sight. He's also practical. He realized quickly it was a convenient art form to tell his stories. 

[00:09:30] Meli: It's because I learned animation, uh, in my workplace and it's something that I gravitated towards. I did a little bit of animation in [?]. Uh, [?]back then, so it's something that I like, but then over the years I sort of got better at it. And I started to do more animation. I sorta looked around and not many people in Fiji were doing it back then. So I decided to try and make that my thing. And that actually stemmed from me liking animation, animated cartoons, and animated movies when I was young. 

 I remember when Toy Story was first coming out and I was “OMG it's a computer generated 3D movie!” I was like, so over the moon. That was what really captivated my attention and I gravitated toward 3D-generated art and animation in general. So it was following that path down to what we have now, today, which is me creating these animated short films.

Having said that, I do love filmmaking in general! I only ever did these animated short films because a] it was my forte, and b] at least for my first film, it was something that I could get done easily without needing to like get equipment, get people, you know, the whole, the whole shebang about film production. It was something that I could do, and I did quickly, on one weekend.

[drum sounds, a feminine voice speaks in Fijian]

[00:12:04] Neisau: “I love as a mere act of duty. My soul is far away. Clinging to that familiar ironwood tree that heralds strangers to the land of my ancestors. I will bear you a son to prolong your family tree, and fill the gap in your genealogy. But when my duties are fulfilled, my spirit will return to the land of my birth, where you will find me no more, except for the weeping willows along the shore.”

 That is the tail end of the poem, You The Choice Of My Parents, by far my favorite part. I have read the poem, heard it being read out loud, but when Meli took it and molded it into his first animated short film, it was pure magic. Seeing a Pacific poem being shared in a new digital art form and getting the nod of approval from the author was important.

[00:12:58] Meli: I actually got to sit down with Konai Helu Thaman herself! She said she was really delighted and really happy that her work is sort of translated into a new form, into a visual form. It gets to live on, it gets sort of like a burst of second legs. So more people get to discover her poem. More people get to discover the Tongan, Nuku’Alofa patterns, the culture behind it. It generates more interest. And so I was really happy that she liked it, because you know, first and foremost, the person who made the original work that you base your work on; if, you know, if they don't like it, then you're pretty much—oh boy, you’re in a pickle. So when she said that she liked it very much, I was so happy and so relieved. I printed out the film poster for the short film and I gave it to her as a sort of like a thank you and all. And so as far as Konai Helu Thaman was concerned, she was very happy and she loved the film. 

 [00:13:52] Neisau: You The Choice Of My Parents made the selection of several film festivals around the world, including the Nuku'Alofa Film Festival. So with his debut film under his belt, where to now? Everyone has a creative process, and for Meli, it starts with a cupboard [sound plays of a creaky cupboard opening]. And in that cupboard, on the several shelves, ideas sit. And the good ones in Meli’s creative cupboard grows. 

[00:14:23] Meli: A lot of them come from a single, either a single picture or a conversation. And this is one thing that sits in the cupboard in my head. And then over time, it's sorta the way it works is: cool ideas sit in the cupboard. You know, the ones that aren't, that don't have legs, they disappear after a while. But the ones that stay, and the ones that refuse to go away, they keep coming back now and then. Those are the ideas that I know that, you know, they have merit and they're worth checking out. 

[00:14:55] Neisau: And that idea grew links from a stock image of a traditional Fijian sacrifice, clashing and melding with modern technology.

[00:15:06] Meli: I had this idea of a sacrificial ceremony set in the modern day. All of that sort of stemmed from this one image of this guy walking on his way to be sacrificed, and this bored teenaged girl with a phone recording the whole ceremony. I thought it was interesting, the whole, like this is a traditional Fijian ceremony, but at the same time in a modern setting, and there's this girl who's recording the whole thing and she looks bored. That I guess uh, juxtaposition of tradition, and a sort of somber kind of mood coupled with a bored girl, you know, probably like tweeting or texting or messaging her friends while this important ceremony is going on. That idea really stuck with me. And the more I thought about that set up, the more I slowly started to do some world-building.

[00:15:55] Neisau: And here is where Meli starts to research ancient Fijian rituals and customs, and develop a skeleton of Soli Bula.

[00:16:04] Meli: If the guy's going to be sacrificed, what is it for? And my initial thought was because I read about how Fijian houses for the chiefs and for the people, when they will build the foundations, they'd have human sacrifices would hold the posts and then they'd be buried alive. And so I thought I was thinking of that picture. Then as I went on, I read about when drua, the giant canoes and how, when they were launched in certain parts of Fiji, they had blood sacrifices where the boat would roll over the people. And so that idea I like of the launch of something grand and magnificent calls for a heavy, you know, calls for blood; a big giant ceremony full of extravaganza demands a high price. So I liked that idea of grand coupled with the modern setting of people, recording the launch.

[00:16:53] Neisau: For Indigenous Fijians, there are cultural protocols to follow for specific events tied to various reasons. While it may vary between provinces, the underlying purpose is the same. One such protocol that is observed immediately when a family member passes on, is called [Fijian phrase], referring to the official traditional announcement of the news of bereavement that cascades through to the family. [FIjian word], the land or land owning unit, which makes up the larger tribe, which is referred to as the [Fijian name]. To signify the importance of the [Fijian name], the bearer of the news, usually a close family member presents the sad news through the presentation of a bundle of [Fijian name] or [Fijian name] . Although these days, it varies. This protocol essentially mobilizes the family, [Fijian name], and others. And it initializes the mourning period. The [Fijian name] is a cog in a wheel of traditional protocol in relation to someone's passing. This approach strengthens the solidarity and fosters kin relations of the family; both immediate and extended to the deceased. It envelops the family in a mourning cocoon, sharing sorrow and loss, but also celebrating the life of the deceased. The responsibilities of the final rights of the deceased is distributed amongst the family. [Fijian word]  is a word used to describe anyone, whether a family member or a member of the public, that carelessly disregards this protocol by announcing it, say, on social media, regardless if it was done unintentionally. This particular aspect, [Fijian name], plays a part in Meli’s world-building of his film Soli Bula.

[00:18:41] Meli: You know how, when there’s an important person that passes away in Fiji, usually we have to wait for the people to go through the proper channels to announce the, uh, passing away. But with modern technology and the way we work, where everything happens at lightning speed, some people just go on Facebook and be like, you know, “RIP so-and-so”, and people be like, “You take that down! That's not supposed to happen, and you have to wait for, you know, a family to be informed properly and all!” And then, you know, so that's sort of like stuff about the tension between traditional protocol and westernization and modern technology. It’s something that grew out of that one image and from then by building on it, you know, with the world-building and how would this work and all; that's how Soli Bula came about. 

[00:19:25] Neisau: So Meli has his idea, and it's going to need a bigger team. 

[00:19:31] Meli: So like I knew I needed to get a gang that specialized in this type of thing, so that to bring this version of Soli Bula to life that will do it justice. The good news is all these gangs that are on the project, I've worked with them before! And so it was really comforting to sit there and, you know, when I'm going through like, the logistics of how this would be made on my [inaudible], I'm going to need this guy. Oh, wait a minute. I know Tui!

[00:20:00] Neisau: Tui Ledua, the head illustrator.

[00:20:01] Meli: Okay, I'm going to need, um, music—wait a minute, I know Knox!

[00:20:05] Neisau: Inoke Kalounisiga, soundtrack guy. 

[00:20:07] Meli: Okay, I'm going to need ah, you know, fully the sound effects—wait a minute, I worked with Dave!

[00:20:12] Neisau: Dave Lavaki, audio production.

[00:20:14] Meli: And so it was very easy to just like, okay, I need this, I know that person; I need that, I know that person. 

[00:20:19] Neisau: Michael Jon Light, 3D modeling; background artist, Clarence Dass; colorist, Verdine Lee; and cultural advisor Simione Sevudredre. The Soli Bula team.

[00:20:30] Meli: And from then on, it's very easy to just go around. I show them the storyboards, which is animated storyboards to temporary music. And I showed that to the project with them. I say, “Hey, you know, what do you think of this idea? You want to come on board?” They were all like, “Let's do this. This is amazing. No one's ever done it before, that's exciting! I'm on board!” 

[00:20:49] Neisau: Now, the Soli Bula Fijian creative team is assembled. Meli wants to make sure his team is paid, and makes the decision to crowdfund. But with that comes risks—Kickstarter is all or nothing; meaning you have to reach your target in a month, or forfeit everything raised. It's a huge risk, and Meli had his doubts.

[00:21:41] Meli: But because this is such a big project, I wanted to make sure that they would be, you know, financially compensated. It looked like a lot. I was thinking about doing a Kickstarter, instead. The thing about Kickstarters is that as much as I am familiar with Kickstarters that have succeeded, I'm also acutely aware of the millions, not millions, the thousands of Kickstarters that have failed. For every big Kickstarter that's in the media—”Wow, this Kickstarter for this, uh, product, you know, blew past its funding goal in the first day, the first hour! Amazing! And it's gone on to make 250% past its funding goal!” As much as those ones get the big attention and hype, there's like a hundred more that pop up on Kickstarter, and then they fizzle out. The idea of failing a Kickstarter was something that I was definitely afraid of. It's funny, like me saying it out loud now; like I was afraid of failing publicly, and nobody wants to fail publicly. So you know, with the chance of the Kickstarter not reaching its funding goal, you know, people be like, “Aw, tough luck.” But for me, man, I wonder if you probably might've crushed me [laughs] I’m saying this out loud now with confidence, but man, I tell you it was biting my fingernails all month long with that, with the Kickstarter.

[00:22:31] Neisau: The gamble paid off after a month-long campaign. 68 backers raised nearly $10,000 Australian dollars making it the first ever Fijian animated short film to be crowdfunded. And now it's crunch time, time to bring the vision to life. And because this is a small production, Meli has to wear several hats. He's the producer, the social media guy, and the video editor. It was stressful. With the second wave of COVID looming in Fiji, this worked to Meli’s advantage when work-from-home was mandated. 

[00:23:05] Meli: Generally, normally we have a producer, and the producer will do all of this stuff. They’d create the tables of scheduling. They’d organize the, you know, the folders of which would work; file stuff. They’d organize the pipeline, they’d organize dates of interviews and, and when meetings and stuff. But because it was a small production, in small productions lots of people wear different hats. And in this case, I had to run the Kickstarter. I had to direct the film. I had to animate it. I had to run the production to create the schedules. I also had to run the social media—put all those posts out on social media. Do the videos for the interviews, record them, edit them. I was doing a whole lot of stuff. Having said that, if you know of a producer who would love to work with me, send them my email, because I'm not cheap. I want to do that again. Because it was during COVID and we were working from home, I was okay. Like, I was set. If I had a day job where I had to go—you know, if my day job required me to go to the office, it would have been a lot more trickier. I was glad that I was working from home. So it enabled me to dedicate a lot more time and resources and attention between my work, as well as working on this production during COVID. So even though I had to do a lot of stuff, I was okay.

[dramatic music plays with drums and vocals]

 [00:25:15] Neisau: So under the second wave of COVID in Fiji, Meli and his team finished the animated film, and had a hybrid film premiere of online, and a small intimate premiere at the Alliance Française in December 2021. And I asked him about his thoughts and seeing the finished piece, and the reaction of his team. 

[00:25:36] Meli: Besides myself and my wife Vivan [?], it was actually the first time for everyone else to have seen the short film. And they were all like, for example, the crew were taken aback because it's one thing to work on pieces of the art, or just pieces of the music. But it's another to see the completed product, like to watch it all together. And they were all super happy. Our Fijian culture is something that we sort of know and talk about, but has rarely been depicted in media—either some old, dead white guy’s diary, or just talked about orally from an elder or in this case, you know, I’m hearing them just describing it. For the longest time, for almost ever, it's only ever lived in our thoughts and in writings, but to see it come alive on screen moving; and, you know, see them drua, you know, with the sail flapping in the wind and, you know, moving around and sailing in the sea. To see that come alive, it really does bring your own culture forward and make it come alive in a way that before, this hasn't been seen before. It hasn't been experienced before. And so I'm pretty grateful for that opportunity. 

[00:26:51] Neisau: For a short period of time, the film was online for audiences to watch before it was taken down for submissions to film festivals. 

[00:26:59] Meli: So when you submit your film to the film festival, one of the categories you have to fill out is a “what's the premiere status of this film”—is this the first time it’s showing at our film festival in this corner of the world, or maybe on this continent? And so on and so forth. For me, that wasn't important. What I wanted was, as soon as the film was made, put it online so that all the Fijian gang can see it. So that's what I did. I put it online, world premier status be damned! I wanted my kin to watch it and experience the, you know, the amazing visuals who initiate discussion and all that stuff. And then I submitted to film festivals.

 [00:27:34] Neisau: To date, it has been accepted into two film festivals, both in New Zealand: the Wairoa Māori Film Festival, and the Māoriland Film Festival. And it's been added to the Pacific Collection at the University of the South Pacific Library. So that's two Indigenous short films Meli has made that is a reflection of his cultural heritage, but his story begins with the old tale of conforming to get ahead at the price of cultural disconnection.

[00:28:05] Meli: Fun fact: although I am Fijian iTaukei; although I am Tongan, I am not as well connected to both sides of my culture as I would like to be. There's a long story in that, but the basic gist is, my parents brought me up in English in the hopes that, you know, English would help with my education. And it has. The flip side is that I sort of suffered, my connection to my—both sides of my culture has been severed. And so my Fijian is kind of average-ish. I like to joke, it's just enough to get me into trouble. And my Tongan is restricted to just greetings and swears. You know, coming into adulthood, I've got a very tenuous connection to both sides of my heritage. My filmmaking journey is sort of an exploration of those two sides, a yearning to reconnect through learning and through creating—recreating—aspects of my culture, visually. That's sort of like what my journey is right now, trying to learn more about aspects of my culture that I didn't really pick up on growing up.

[00:29:11] Neisau: I asked Meli about Indigenous guardianship and filmmaking, and he unpacks that with two key points. One, learning and reconnecting with his culture. Two, making the information accessible for Indigenous Fijians and Tongans who are on the same journey as him to reconnect to their culture. 

[00:29:32] Meli: And so by trying to connect to both sides of my cultural identity by learning more about it, it's made me very determined to make more traditional content. Because by doing so, I'm doing several things. First, I'm learning about it for myself. Second, I'm sort of putting this information on the internet, on the screen for other people who are like me, who, you know, don't quite know much about the Fijian or Tongan side who can look at this and learn something from it. That is like, a big point that I like to think about, that I'm helping other people. Because it's funny when I did the Fiji BC show, which hasn't quite been done before. It's a dive into—a deep dive—in Fijian culture in English. There's countless TV shows in Fijian, but I wanted to do this in English because, a] my Fijian is not so good; and b] there’s other gang like me who want to learn about the Fijian culture, but say the content that's already out there is in Fijian. Sure, there’s subtitles, but you know, there's something to be said about, you know, learning the content in your, in the language that you understand well.

And so by having this content online, people out there like—I’ve had a few Fijian gang messaged me from Australia and they say, “Man thank you for this. This content is in English. We can totally grasp what they're talking about a way better!” And there's not much of it online. That sort of brings me to my third point, which is, I think links to the concept of Indigenous guardianship, which is by putting this content, the short film, the Fiji BC, the You The Choice Of My Parents; by putting this content online and making it available to other Indigenous gang, I'm ensuring that the practices and the knowledge stays alive. And the guardianship bit comes where the Indigenous gang, they learn about this, and so they get to talk about it to maybe the kids, they get to ask more questions from the parents, or they inquire from the uncles and aunties and grandparents. By learning about this, I'm sort of ensuring that the knowledge stays alive and stays current.

I think that's the one aspect of Indigenous guardianship that—it's funny, I didn't really think in that angle until this interview, when you asked me that question! I sort of like, this is a third point that I'm just slowly realizing now in the course of answering the question, that I am practicing Indigenous guardianship by creating Indigenous content for Indigenous people. And so while answering this question, my mind is kind of blown!

[00:32:09] Neisau: Meli also speaks about empowering Indigenous storytellers to tell their stories, because we are more than the commercialized stories being manufactured.

[00:32:21] Meli: By enabling Indigenous people to tell their own stories, it sort of gives them the power to build their own identity on the world stage. You know, we all know like, we're Fijians, you know, set. As soon as you go online, “Hi, I'm, so-and-so from Fiji” people are like, “Oh, Fiji water!” And that's all they know us about, you know, in general. And so the more Fijian people have access to storytelling tools, and are able to tell their own stories, their own cultures, and talk more about themselves, you know, online to the world; the more we'll be able to build an identity for ourselves as Fijian people and not just associated with water. You know, the more people who learn filmmaking, the more people who write stories from Fiji, the more people who do podcasts like this, the more we are able to practice Indigenous guardianship and safeguard our own cultural practices and ensuring that it's staying alive by telling it and retelling it and telling it in the proper way and in proper ways.

[00:33:25] Neisau: For aspiring young, Pacific filmmakers, Meli doesn't mince his words. 

 [00:33:30] Meli: You have all the tools necessary to make whatever you want to make! Literally it's right there in front of you! You have a phone, you have the internet. You have tutorials. If you want to ask something, just ask it online in the forums and on social media, how to do something. There's definitely someone out there who's already answered that question. The flashy YouTube tutorial! The point being the barrier to creating content has never been so low compared to the previous generations. So if you think about a cool concept, about a cool idea; yesterday was the best time to get working on it. The second best time is today/now. That's my message to the young gang!

Take a look at me. I didn't start to get creative, I didn't start creative stuff until I was in my mid-thirties, which is way too late man, way too late. I'm playing catch up now! My advice to young people: You've got all the tools to make all the cool creative stuff, but if you haven't started, start. If you have started, keep going. 

[00:34:31] Neisau: When Fijians is refer to the vanua, it refers to the physical nature, our land, and it also refers to our people and their relationships with each other; as well as the spirits, the resources, and the environment; and positions or roles in Fijian society.

Storytelling has been a part of our vanua for generations. Our stories and culture have been passed down throughout dance, song, and art. And now in this digital era, we are retelling our ancestors' stories in a new art form with new perspectives. All cultures morph with time. Fiji is no different. The Soli Bula animated Indigenous short film strives to connect the stories of our ancestors by taking the threads of our ancestors' culture and weaving it with the dark realities of modern technology. Meli has shown tremendous courage to share his story of cultural disconnection and triumphant reconnection through his filmmaking, because this story is too common as a by-product of colonization in the Pacific. His team of incredible Fijian creatives have achieved a first—the first animated Fijian Indigenous short film, and also the first FIjian crowdfunded film. We need more Indigenous dreamers and storytellers, because no one tells our stories better than us. So. My hope is a young Fijian, a young Pacific Islander is listening and dreaming up new stories to share with us. 

Thank you so much for listening to my debut episode on Kokonati Talk. Vinaka, and [Fijian phrase]

This podcast has been partly recorded in Melbourne, Australia. I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land, the Wurundjeri People of the Kulin Nation and pay respects to their elders past, present, and emerging. This land has, and always will be Aboriginal lands.

A podcast funded by Nia Tero.