Pacifica – Pasefika – Pasifika
Caren Rangi, her daughter Kaiata Kaitao and mother Berry Rangi. Photo: Florence Charvin

[As published in May/June BayBuzz magazine.]

People of the Pacific.

The vibrancy of the Pasifika community in Te Mātau-a-Māui is hard to miss. You might have noticed our flags adding colour to orchards or emblazoned on vehicles. We’re in hi-vis, overalls, corporate, uniforms or church clothes and our youth stand strong on both stage and sports ground. You’ve definitely heard our laughter, song and music. There’s no doubt about it, we are an integral part of the local community, as well as the workforce. 

Pacifica – Pasefika – Pasifika
Nafanua Purcell Kersel Photo Florence Charvin

Regionally, Gisborne/Hawke’s Bay has the second–highest employment rate of Pasifika in the country, especially in the region’s main industries of agriculture and manufacturing. While it’s true that we’ve been here for generations, the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme, now in its 16th year has brought both a dedicated workforce and higher visibility of Pasifika diversity. Hawke’s Bay is now home to a number of different Pasifika ethnic groups, including more Ni-Vanuatu than any other region.

Collective care and service

We celebrate our diversity, but also acknowledge the common values that our Pasifika cultures share. “Collectivity and service are at the heart of Pacific cultures,” says Dr Diane Mara (MNZM) of Hastings, a leading Pasifika educator and consultant.

Throughout her robust and successful career, Dr Mara has ‘walked the talk’, working at ministry and tertiary training levels for education, social wellbeing, healthcare, and disability. Over 30% of Pasifika women are employed in the healthcare, social assistance, education and training industries and the impact of Dr Mara’s contribution in these areas supports Pasifika collectively.

It is no surprise then, that our local Pasifika community united through similar pathways. Co-ordinated by the Hawke’s Bay DHB Pacific Health Manager Tofilau Talalelei Taufale, Pasifika community leaders, churches and professionals across all sectors came together through Covid 19. Health and social support hubs were set up across the community. “You can’t fault us for result – we had ninety-nine percent vaccination here for Pasifika, the highest in the country, because of our networks,” says Dr Mara.

“Our cultures are based on collective support and connection with each other,” echoes Caren Rangi (ONZM). These efforts and shared values saw Pasifika communities come together again through Cyclone Gabrielle.

“There’s so much learning to do from what Pacific communities did so easily and quickly in response to the cyclone, with very little resource … we know how to handle big gatherings and not sweat the small stuff, we know that help will come.”

Family values and valued families

“Our world, our matauranga, the whole thing is family. That’s a good foundation in terms of [community] relationships,” says Dr Mara. In Tamatea, three generations of Cook Islands Māori women, Berry Rangi, her daughter Caren Rangi and granddaughter Kaiata Kaitao, enjoy living with their families close by. “It’s only six hundred steps from my house to their house,” smiles Berry; “thirty-nine seconds on the scooter,” Berry and Kaiata chirp in unison.

“I came to New Zealand on a scholarship to go to Napier Girl’s High in 1962,” says Berry. She was one of the first ever students in the Cook Islands to sit and pass School Certificate. “I had the choice of New Plymouth, Masterton or Napier. I chose Napier because nobody I knew had been there before. I chose Napier because it’s close to the sea and has a warmer climate.”

By 1974, Berry had gained a teaching qualification, married, and started a family. Based in Ōtautahi Christchurch at the time, she and her husband Puna, a cartographer, decided to move their family north to be closer to extended family. She found herself again drawn to Napier, for the same reasons. “Well, when you’re born on a beach, just about, the sea is important to you.”

“When we moved here there was only one other Cook Islands family in Tamatea, hardly any Māori and Sāmoan.” The Rangi family purchased an unfinished home in what was then a new subdivision, “We moved in, finished building and forty-eight years later, we’re still here.” While raising her family, Berry worked in various roles including Pasifika health. Today, she plays an essential daily role in her grandchildren’s lives, is an active community volunteer and a skilled traditional artist. You’ll spot her at community events by the beautiful ei katu (Cook Islands floral garlands) she makes and wears with pride.

Leadership and dedication

Like her mother before her, Caren was once faced with a choice – only this time it was between Fiji, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and the Cayman Islands, to assist with their financial management reform. “Fiji was in a coup, Kazakhstan was at war and Mongolia was too cold,” so she moved to the shores of the Cayman Islands and also worked for several years in Wellington as an auditor.

Caren has since crafted a 20-year career in facilitation, consultation, leadership and governance with an impressive board portfolio which currently includes Chair of the Arts Council of New Zealand Toi Aotearoa, and board member for Radio New Zealand, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, and the Hawke’s Bay Regional Economic Development Agency.

“Even though I spend a lot of time on the plane, living in Hawke’s Bay is a positive point of difference. To have regional voices in governance is important to me, I really like living here and this city’s been good to us.” Looking back on her early years in governance, Caren muses, “I didn’t know anyone on boards full-time, none of my friends or anyone I knew.” A ground breaker and role model for Pasifika, she encourages others into leadership roles. “I say to Pasifika, you’ve got a lot to celebrate, so start from there. There’s a big gap for you to fill.

”When Dr Mara relocated from Wellington to Hastings to live closer to her son Henry, she connected with Berry and Caren. At the time, Dr Mara was the national president for PACIFICA INC, the allied Pasifika women’s organisation founded in the seventies by Eleitino Paddy Walker in response to a growing population of Pasifika families in Aotearoa. Together, Berry, Caren and Dr Mara started a local chapter of PACIFICA INC called Tiare Ahuriri in 2008.

This coincided with a rise in the regional Pasifika population, due in some part to the launch of the RSE scheme. “We’d been such a small part of the community for a long, long time and then all of a sudden, the numbers started to boost up. Schools, health services, and social services were starting to see more Pacific people,” says Caren. “[Tiare Ahuriri] started a class through the polytech because there was a gap in knowledge locally about Pacific people, even that we come from very different islands.” Today, Tiare Ahuriri has grown to a group of 20 dedicated Pasifika women who support each other to lead their families and communities.

A grounding base for the future

When Caren, her husband McKenzie and their young children moved back to Hawke’s Bay in 2008, “I just assumed that we’d live here [in Tamatea] and the kids would go to the same schools I went to,” she says.

“It’s good to have a grounding base,” says Caren’s daughter, Kaiata. “I’m in a unique position where I have history here, but also strong connections to other places.” She recounts feeling a “protective layer” when she started school and teachers already knew her family. A student at Tamatea High School, aspiring writer, and natural leader, Kaiata conveys an acute self-awareness and confidence. “I’m very outwardly proud of my culture … I never had to be afraid to share who I was. I don’t take that for granted; I know it’s not always been that way for everybody.”

Brought up with the intergenerational support provided by her family, Cook Islands community, Tiare Ahuriri and PACIFICA INC, Kaiata says, “There are aunties everywhere. There’s never been space for me to learn shame because it’s been overpowered by [the] Pacific women in my life. They were living proof … it was not a case of ‘you are going to be successful despite being Pacific’ but, ‘you are going to be successful because you are Pacific’.

”Kaiata represents a generation of Pasifika youth that former Minister for Pacific Peoples, Aupito William Sio dubbed as the ‘6B’ generation – brown, beautiful, brainy, bilingual, bicultural and bold. In 2019, Dr Mara consulted on a local study undertaken by the Hawke’s Bay DHB Pasifika Health Team – Pasifika Youth: Health and Wellbeing. Hawke’s Bay Pasifika youth participants were very much aware of the level of cultural responsiveness they needed from social and health services, and in what ways that level was not reached. For the most part, the youth were well connected in family, school and community life and had positive outlooks on education, Pasifika identity and wellbeing. Dr Mara recalls “going through schools and meeting lovely, articulate young Pacific people [who were] connected and resilient.” She adds that, “For the future, I feel hopeful because our people just get on with the work,” and, “Our cultures are a wealth of guidance.” 


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1 Comment

  1. Beautiful. The voice of the young is so important. Sio’s 6bs, hey should be shared, it’s on point.

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