Tusitala by Selina Tusitala Marsh

screenshot of Selina reading poetry with butterfly painted on face

a nutshell: representing Tuvalu in the Poetry Olympics in London 2012, Selina Tusitala Marsh performed a stunningly rhythmic poem revolving around (I think!) an online search of the word ‘tusitala’ – sometimes translated as ‘teller of tales’

a line: “truth out of a tusitala spoke dot dot dot”

an image: a reference to 1883 Scotland alludes to how Robert Louis Stevenson was called ‘Tusitala’ by Samoans when he lived there in the late 19th century

a thought: born in NZ, Marsh’s heritage is incredibly rich – according to her Wikipedia she has Tuvaluan, Samoan, English, Scottish & French ancestry; she was the first person of Pacific descent to earn a PhD in English from the University of Auckland and her scholarly work focuses on Maori & Pacific literature and culture

a fact: Marsh held the position of New Zealand Poet Laureate from 2017 to 2019

want to hear more? visit here

Teaote and the Wall by Marita Davies, illustrated by Stacey Bennett

a nutshell: set in Kiribati, this beautiful children’s book follows a young girl’s resilient attempts to protect her home from the rising sea

a line: “Kairo, if you help me build my wall, I can help you build your wall”

an image: I particularly loved the page (below) where Teaote happily dreams of rippling rainbow fish, coconut trees stretching up to the clouds, and the mango-coloured sun

a thought: to me this was a moving insight into what it’s like for children on the frontlines of the climate crisis, all the more so given that the book is based on the true story of Marita’s mother Teaote

a fact: Davies closes the book with a note about Kiribati – home to 100,000 indigenous i-Kiribati people and sitting halfway between Australia & Hawaii, this small Pacific nation is predicted to disappear underwater in 50 years

want to read Teaote and the Wall? visit here

This Is My Story of Resilience by Uinise Tulikihakau

I came across this story on WCCC Stories of Resilience: Women of Tonga.

a nutshell: as part of a project to amplify rural women’s voices, Tulikihakau poignantly shares her experiences and feelings in the wake of Cyclone Gita

a line: “it really doesn’t matter if you are a woman or a man, what matters is the determination, commitment and belief that you can do whatever you set your heart on to do”

an image: despite the devastation of her home, Tulikihakau writes that she and her son were just happy to be back even if it meant sleeping among ruins

a thought: I couldn’t help but think Tulikihakau’s son is so fortunate to have her as his mother – her love for him come across powerfully, as well as her strength in ensuring he’s provided for, particularly since her husband’s death

a fact: among Tulikihakau’s side-work is the creation of leis (necklaces) for the Hawaiian market

want to read Tulikihakau’s Story of Resilience? visit here

Where We Once Belonged by Sia Figiel

a nutshell: through the traditional Samoan storytelling form of su’ifefiloi, Figiel tells the fascinating story of a teenage girl, Alofa, trying to make sense of the violence & sex she encounters in society

a line: “‘I’ is always ‘we,’ is a part of the ‘aiga [family]… a part of Samoa’ [also, read the book to discover just how extraordinary the first line is]

an image: I loved the moment when the narrator shared how she imagined a daffodil was a dancer that lives in the sky during their school recitals of Wordsworth’s poetry

a thought: among the book’s vignettes is a scene in which an incomer mocks Shirley Girl, who is fa’afafine (someone who dressed as a girl), following which the locals ignore her and her Samoan rugby player partner breaks up with her – I learned more about fa’afafine in Samoan culture here

a fact: this was the first ever novel by a Samoan woman to be published in the United States – it is striking that Figiel considers herself first & foremost a performance poet

want to read Where We Once Belonged? visit here

A Beautiful Prayer by Joanne Ekamdeiya Gobure

a nutshell: across eight stanzas, Nauruan poet Joanne Ekamdeiya Gobure shares what she believes her religion is all about – compassion for others

a line: “I asked God to grant me patience. God said, No. Patience is a byproduct of tribulations; it isn’t granted, it is learned”

an image: at one point the poet is told she must grow on her own but God would prune her to make her fruitful, which struck me as a curious image

a thought: as I finished this poem and started to read more on Nauru, I discovered today marks the 7th anniversary of Australia’s decision to resume transferring asylum seekers offshore, including to Nauru – today, still, almost 400 people have to choose between enduring horrific conditions in Nauru/PNG or being forced back to conflict/persecution where they came from (read about Nauru’s history here)

a fact: formerly known as Pleasant Island, this is the world’s smallest island nation with around 10,800 residents; according to this report, just under two-thirds of the population is Protestant and one-third is Catholic

want to read A Beautiful Prayer? visit here

My Urohs by Emelihter Kihleng

a nutshell: this is the first collection of poetry by a Pohnpeian poet, sharing lyrical insights into what it’s like to be a citizen of the Federated States of Micronesia

a line: “you think you’re so educated but haven’t a clue about what it means to be colonised when was the last time you planted something in the ground and felt like a real man? when was the last time you listened to the silence?” (‘Ngih Kohl’)

an image: mouth-watering descriptions of food & drink recur throughout the collection, for instance in ‘A meal fit for a soupeidi’ Kihleng describes a dish of canned mackerel, calamansi limes, salt, breadfruit cooked with coconut milk & sugar, washed down with a glug of coconut

a thought: I learned a lot from this collection e.g. in ‘Destiny Fulfilled?’, Kihleng is critical of how Micronesian soldiers were killed fighting in the US’s War on Terror (“she is a citizen of the Federated States of Micronesia “freely associated” with the United States of America she could die for America our friendly thug soldier … brown islanders signing away their freedom on islands seized by “liberation” 60 years before); also, in ‘Pohnpei Seringiring’, she writes of how apathy suffocates their lush, tropical island – with no one caring about the landslides killing people or the sediment pouring into oceans choking the reefs

a fact: Kihleng dedicates the titular poem to her mother, who conducted ethnographic research in Saladak, Pohnpeil, and wrote a doctoral dissertation about Pohnpeian women – she continues to inspire Kihleng’s writing (another fact: Pohnpei is matrilineal, in that one’s clan membership is earned through the mother)

want to read My Urohs? visit here

Kaluti by Shazia Usman

kaluti book and plant

a nutshell: this empowering book for children tells the story of a 10-year-old girl, Zia, who is forced to confront colourism when her aunt refers to her as ‘kaluti’ – a derogatory term used by Fijian-Indian people to describe those who have dark skin

a line: “Maybe I am not important to anyone because I am dark”

an image: after hearing herself dubbed ‘kaluti’ for the first time, Zia borrows her father’s phone to look up the word and her response is heart-breaking

a thought: the book also subtly raises the notion of traditional gender norms in childhood – whereas Zia’s aunt forbids her daughter to be in the sun, fearing the idea of darkening skin, she allows her son to do as he wishes

a fact: I was lucky enough to interview Shazia for International Day of the Girl, and learned that her inspiration for the book came from seeing girls go through what she had when she was their age; she describes the book as a love letter to her younger self and other brown girls out there


want to read Kaluti? visit here

My Walk to Equality: Essays, Stories & Poetry by Papua New Guinean Women – ed. Rashmii Amoah Bell

a nutshell: this eclectic anthology gives voice to diverse women from all corners of Papua New Guinean society, gathering their compelling thoughts and moving experiences under four themes: relationships, self-awareness, challenging gender roles, and legacy

a line: “The skies open up and let down a shower. It drowns out the sound giving the drummer more power . . . My sister, my sister did you feel the drum beat?” (an excerpt from Vanessa Gordon’s devastating poem ‘Drumbeat’)

an image: having grown up in a culture of misogyny and colourism, photographer Tania Basiou captures truly beautiful images following her decision that through her lens there’d be body positivity, femininity, empowerment and a celebration not only of being a woman, but also a Papua New Guinean woman

a thought: the intrinsic value of story-telling is highlighted by Theresa Meki, who recounts one of the tumbuna (old legend) stories that her mother, a Kafe woman from the Eastern Highlands, would tell her children to impart an understanding of justice and why one must respect women

a fact: this book’s publication was spurred on by the fact that Bell was the only women on the panel ‘PNG: A State of Writing’ at the 2016 Brisbane Writers Festival


want to read My Walk to Equality? visit here*

*Sorry for the Amazon link – it’s the only place I could access the book; please let me know if you find alternatives!

The Secret River by Kate Grenville [T/W: racism, colonialism, sexual assault]

a nutshell: the efforts of a London convict, William Thornhill, to reinvent himself as a gentlemanly landowner on a hillside outside Sydney become a microcosm for the atrocities committed by the British colony against Aboriginal people

a line: “in the world of these naked savages, it seemed everyone was gentry”

an image: every scene with Smasher Sullivan, another ’emancipated’ settler, is extremely disturbing – but among the most horrific is one in which he flaunts an Aboriginal woman he has chained up as his sex slave

a thought: on finishing this bleak book I was (as often) left deeply ashamed of Britain’s imperial history; Thornhill’s exploitation of his eventual position of power – despite, or due to, an impoverished background – is irredeemably repulsive

a fact: the main protagonist, Thornhill, is based on a family member of Grenville; the author used to ask her mother what had happened to Aboriginal people on their ancestors’ arrival and ended up digging into her family history to discover the hideous truths


want to read The Secret River? visit here