A CHAT WITH… LIMA HANSEN

Lima Hansen is an extraordinary person. She is a survivor, a fighter, a believer. She helps others. She gives hope. She encourages. But she is also a very talented writer. Her memoir, ‘Grace Brought Me Here’, is a book everyone should read. Lima was kind enough to answer a few (very important) questions.

LIMA HANSEN

Pasifika Tales: Why did you decide to write ‘Grace Brought Me Here’?

Lima Hansen: Get to the point of writing the book was a bit of a journey. I had taken up a role, pioneering a home for sexually exploited women. In order to partner with an organization that was already working with rescuing girls I had to become transparent and authentic with their mission and plight and doing so meant sharing a part of my story with them. They were not interested in the fact that we were foreigners coming into lend a hand. What they needed to know was, did we understand the heart behind their organization, and I believe my story was able to connect with that. As time went by, more opportunities started opening up where sharing part of my story was found to be adding value to others. My husband then approached me with the idea of writing a book. Which at first I laughed off, like an impossible task. However, after a couple of months thinking about it, I realized that if the only obstacle that was holding me back was the actual task of writing a book, then it wasn’t a good enough excuse. Because by that point I understood the power my story had in adding value to others still navigating through the broken parts of their journey. So my purpose outweighed my fear.

PT: Was it difficult to write such a personal book?

LH: I think the difficult part was reaching so far back into my past and giving certain images and feelings words. Transporting myself back into the different spaces to capture a 360-degree view of those times. Then write it all down and describe it in a way where readers would feel they were in those moments with me, was very difficult. However, I went into each moment with a great sense of knowing that I am far removed from those times, places and emotions now. I’m not that person anymore. I believe very strongly that I can not have been the only one to endure such brokenness. So I kept the shadowed faces of those that may find my past recalls as their present struggles near the front of mind. This helped me to push forward, believing that I am reaching out to many with a story of hope and courage. A story that tells people that ‘you are not alone’.

PT: Has your family had a chance to read your memoir? What was their reaction?

LH: Actually, the book came after an event that I was a guest at, in which I shared parts of my story. They watched the event on a live Facebook feed. After which I received messages of support and tears from them, as they started to open up about different parts of their childhood, including the older generation of my family. So when the book was finally published, it was well received. I had originally used Samoan names to describe their characters but later, with their permission, I made the decision to use their real names. The book has become somewhat of a tool that has unplugged some unspoken parts of many different members of my family’s own journeys, giving them words to a lot of their own forgotten pain. Of course, there are parts of my story that they were not aware of, which brought tears to them and a sense of reconciliation over the lost years. This book has done more healing for us then I could ever have imagined.

PT: I’d say that the book, even though it’s quite grim, gives hope. Do you agree?

LH: I certainly hope so. I made a strong point to be as a real and as transparent as I could. I didn’t want to fluff over, sugarcoat or minimize the dark and broken parts, because those moments give the purpose of hope an even stronger and more determined footing. It sets the precedence that hope belongs here.

PT: Domestic violence is a big problem in the Pacific. In your opinion, why?

LH: I think domestic violence is an epidemic in every part of the globe and no one culture or ethnicity is immune from it, with 1/3 women globally experiencing it throughout their lifetime. Which means there is an overwhelming amount of children that are seeing these behaviors as a way of managing anger and emotions. Like many other cultures, secrecy has allowed a lot of these behaviors to remain hidden. I have witnessed our Pacific culture using pride as a shield to excuse away it’s excessively hard hand in the disciplining of others. Displaying a false sense of perfection to those looking in has given things such as domestic violence a place to thrive. Disguising violence in a cloak of what is labeled as love, whether that is in a religious setting or within the family and wider communities. As I said earlier this is not just a Pacific island epidemic, this is humanity everywhere if we are prepared to look deep enough.

As victims, you are stripped of any worth, broken down to believe the lies that keep you chained to a perpetrator emotionally and physically. When you are stripped of everything, anything becomes better than nothing. Growing up being a Pacific Island women meant being treated as second class, the lesser of the sexes in every setting. Fearing the rejection and further punishment from the curated community placed around us by our perpetrators. This only meant that is was much harder to come out of and that much harder to have a voice, to speak about the violence and be heard.

PT: Would you say that the situation now is better than it was in the past?

LH: Things are changing, times are changing. Pacific Island women everywhere are discovering how strong, courageous and resilient we are, how vital our voices are in shaping the world around us, for us and for those following our echoes. We are being more intentional with taking the lead in creating the communities around us, we are learning to embrace each other’s vulnerabilities rather than fearing its impacts. We are no longer afraid of our own strength and how others would respond to it. So in this sense, our self-awareness as individuals is getting better. However, domestic violence on a larger scale is still on the rise and unless the wider communities and our government start to talk about it openly with transparency and authenticity to empower the victim, not the perpetrator, to create systems to prevent a breed of new perpetrators then I believe our movement forward will always be out of reaction rather than prevention.

PT: What advice would you give to Pasifika women who are victims of domestic violence and abuse?

LH: Find a safe person to talk to. Get an escape plan in place. Then when it is safe, leave. As a survivor of abuse, we need to understand we are not the problem, there is nothing wrong with us and we CANNOT save or change them. The longer a person stays in a violent and abusive relationship the more at risk they are of losing their lives. As overwhelming as leaving maybe or even the thought of creating a new future is, the benefits of leaving far outweighs the dangerous nightmare and prison that you currently living in. Trust me when I say you are not alone in this journey. There is someone out there that has walked out of the exact same situation that your fear is holding you to. Your life is too valuable to be spent living in a relationship where the fear of what is to come next, is consuming your mind, body, and soul. You can do this. Don’t underestimate the person you were created to be. Strong and courageous.

In all honesty, I could go on here, it’s a place where building blocks are essential because you don’t just wake up one day and you’re all of a sudden brave. It takes time to sew the seed and then believe it for yourself. For many of us women who have left abusive situations it takes a great deal of time to get our minds and hearts to that brave place. For a large majority of us, it takes several tries at leaving before we reach the no return zone. When we hit that zone, there’s no turning back. It’s the love zone when we learn to love ourselves and believe that we deserve better.

PT: How can other people help if they know their relative, friend, neighbour, colleague is a victim of domestic violence. What can or maybe rather should we do?

LH: Creating a nonjudgmental safe place to talk is a great start. Learning to empathize with the individual is a great skill to learn. Brene Brown has a great video on YouTube that teaches about the difference between empathy and sympathy – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw

For a lot of people that I talk with I try to focus on them, not the perpetrator as such. What I mean by that is, usually a victim views the perpetrator with a sense of love and adoration and can often block out the negative side, so going into a conversation with them by attacking the perpetrator can further isolate the victim and create a block in the victim speaking out. As a listener, it’s extremely hard not to get emotional over someone being hurt, but we must refrain in attacking where possible. We need to make those moments of courage for the victim all about them.

So I often guide conversations to where the victim can talk about how they are feeling about what has been said or done to them. Then suggest various individuals and organizations that could help according to what they have shared. It’s important to remember we are not to take on the role of a qualified counselor but provide a safe and nonjudgmental place for them to speak. As a listener, we should try to encourage them to seek further help. So we are not left feeling completely burdened with the responsibility to save them.

PT: For many people faith is a way of dealing with tragedies. What has faith taught you?

LH: For me, I had to take full ownership of my faith much like my healing journey. It wasn’t enough to float on other people’s belief systems. I needed to be intentional about what faith looked like for me. I needed to be brave enough to step out and question things and do the research needed along the way. We can’t use our faith as a hiding place for too long for what lays hidden beneath. Our faith needs to grow to the point that gives us the courage to be at our weakest part of the healing journey and know that we cannot remain there but that we need to find the strength and wisdom to work through things and move forward.

We must get beyond treating our faith as a passive hobby or limited to a building or a day of the week. My faith gives me a strong foundation, that allows me to fail on the best of days and get back up. It’s like a bungy safety cord. If I venture too far from it in regards to entertaining old mindsets and behaviors. it bounces right back to where my hope comes from, where my faith is anchored which is in God. On the other side of that. If there are things I need to deal with that benefit my movement forward, then I do so knowing I am attached and anchored to God. So taking that scary leap into the unknown, so the fear no longer holds my heart hostage.

PT: Do you have any regrets in life? Is there anything you would have done differently?

LH: Yeah definitely. I have a handful of regrets, some of which weigh heavy on my heart but have informed how I deal with things now. Which I think is the best way to deal with regrets, using them to our advantage.

I believe if we focus too much on the what if’s there is the danger of living on the negative side of regrets and failures. My past is riddled with things I should’ve done differently; however, I would not be the woman I am today if I had not walked through some of those very tough life lessons.

PT: Could you name three places/things/activities worth visiting/seeing/doing in Samoa.

LH: I wish I could speak from experience with this question, but truth be told, I’ve never been back after being born there. My culture was not one I embraced growing up. It was one that was used to heavily abuse us. So when I could finally escape my home life, I made it a point to disconnect from every part of it, including my culture and it’s rooted. However, there are parts of my culture that have been embedded into me such as the traditions, customs, and my language. Things which could not be so easily discarded. Now that I am a mother I understand the importance of giving my children the opportunities to learn and grow into their culture and heritage in ways that encourage their curiosity rather than scare them from it.

In saying that, the place I would like to visit most, would be my birthplace – Faleasiu. I would love to learn more about the history of our family. I have a lot of questions. I would love to visit our family members that I have never met, sleep in the homestead that my mother grew up in. I mean I won’t lie, I think it will be quite an emotional trip. I think doing this trip with my mother and aunties would open up many stories of courage, strength, heartache, and grief. Some of which are starting to be told since the writing of my book. I think being there I would be overcome by emotions because of the beauty that will continue to come from being amongst these brave, strong women who have withstood trials and tribulations to finally be at a point in their grace journeys to give their stories the power of their voice.

‘GRACE BROUGHT ME HERE’ BY LIMA HANSEN

‘Grace Brought Me Here’ is a memoir penned by Lima Hansen. It tells the author’s story of discovering faith and purpose in life.

GRACE BROUGHT ME HERE

Summary

Little Lima’s life is not an easy one. Physically and emotionally abused by her father, she dreams of an escape.

When she cannot take the violence any more, she decides to leave her family home. She falls in love with a man but quickly realizes that he isn’t her saving grace. After years of humiliation and despair, an unexpected turn of events takes place and Lima finally finds what she’s been looking for.

Review

This is an extremely hard book to read. But if you’re thinking right now ‘Ok, so I won’t read it’, let me tell you that if you decide otherwise, as soon as you start the first chapter, you won’t be able to stop until you reach the last page. Consider yourself warned.

The cover of the book doesn’t reveal what’s inside. You see a stunningly beautiful, smiling, self-confident woman, and you are certain that it is going to be a yet another insignificant memoir-cum-guide about discovering your self-worth with hundreds of useless tips you can easily find on the Internet. But then you begin to read the opening sentence – ‘Our days as kids rolled into nights. We did whatever we could to avoid coming home to hear our father’s footsteps stomping around the house, trying to find something that would enforce punishment on us. Hearing my mother begging for him to spare us.’ – and you just know that this is no such book.

The first half of Lima Hansen’s story is covered in darkness. The heart-wrenching memories of the abuse she suffered are told with such honesty and rawness that you can feel the author’s excruciating pain and sadness. The vivid descriptions not only paint the pictures in your mind, but they stay with you far longer than you would want. The pages are filled with brutality, sorrow, grief, hopelessness, and resignation. Especially that Lima Hansen doesn’t hide anything; she is as open as only the bravest person can be. She isn’t afraid to write even about her own bad decisions and wrong choices, like substance abuse, abortion, prostitution. Not everyone would find courage to do that.

The mood changes in the second part of the book. When the author starts experiencing God’s loving grace, she begins to believe that there is light at the end of every tunnel. Suddenly, the pervasive gloominess is replaced by optimism, hopefulness, and – yes – happiness. You can see how Lima’s life slowly transforms; how she learns to cope with her past and accept it. And, just as Lima, you feel that you can do anything, achieve anything, and be exactly the person you want to be. Simply look at yourself through God’s eyes – you may be surprised at what you will see.

‘Grace Brought Me Here’ is a fantastic read that I wholeheartedly recommend. It’s a compelling account of one woman’s journey of self-discovery, which might turn out a real eye opener for you. It is thought-provoking, uplifting, and very personal. If you feel that you could use a friend right now, let Lima be the person.

PACIFIC WRITERS YOU SHOULD KNOW (PART 4)

Kaui Hart Hemmings

Kaui Hart Hemmings is an American author best known for her highly-acclaimed novel ‘The Descendants’, which has been made into a movie starring George Clooney.

Born and raised in Hawaii, she often writes about the Aloha State as seen by the locals. And although her books aren’t always set in the islands (her second novel, for instance, is set in a Colorado ski resort), the local vibe can be felt throughout the pages.

Kiana Davenport

Kiana Davenport is without doubt one of the best-known Hawaiian authors. Of part-Hawaiian ancestry, she likes exploring Hawaiian and Polynesian cultures in her books.

Her famous ‘Shark Dialogues’ – a beautiful and fascinating family saga, in which Hawaii is not just a setting but one of the characters – is merely one example of how exceptionally talented Kiana Davenport is. Her books are more than worthy of your time and attention.

Matthew Kaopio

Matthew Kaopio was not only an extremely talented writer but also an unbelievably gifted painter. He began his artistic adventure after a diving accident had left him paralyzed from the shoulders down.

The books he wrote before his death in December, 2018 transport readers to Hawaii – paradise not but nonetheless a very special, even magical place. The local culture, practices, and traditions are neatly woven into each and every story, so if you’re craving a bit of Aloha Spirit, this is the author you must read.

Marita Davies

Marita Davies is an Australian-Kiribati writer, whose website – The Little Island That Could – is a valuable source of information on Kiribati and the Pacific. But she doesn’t confine herself to only running a blog. Her publications have been featured in various magazines, and her book – ‘Teaote and the Wall’ – is one of the most wonderful children’s stories you’ll be able to find.

Marita is passionate about traditional oral storytelling of Pacific Islanders, which she tries to recreate in written form. That’s definitely one of the reasons why her works are so incredibly compelling to read.

L. Filloon

L. Filloon, an American Samoan writer, is probably best known for her fantasy book series, The Velesi Trilogy. It can be said that she specializes in this particular genre, so those who enjoy folk tales, mythology, and a bit of science fiction will absolutely love her novels.

L. Filloon has a wonderful way with words, which makes her books truly magical. The stories quickly capture the reader’s imagination, and once you start reading them, you simply cannot stop.

‘OCEAN’S KISS: A TELESA WORLD NOVEL’ BY LANI WENDT YOUNG

‘Ocean’s Kiss’ is a standalone novel in Lani Wendt Young’s Telesa World series. It tells the love story of Daniel Tahi’s father, and is set in contemporary Tonga and Samoa.

OCEAN'S KISS

Summary

When Ronan Matiu comes to Daniel’s workshop, Leila instantly knows that this man isn’t just an ordinary customer. He may be a stranger, but she has seen him before. He looks all too familiar. He looks like…her husband Daniel, twenty years from now.

Ronan’s life wasn’t meant to be this way. He wanted a family and a peaceful existence with the woman he fell in love with a long time ago. But Moanasina walked away from him, leaving Ronan heartbroken and confused. Despite the bitter words she said, he simply can’t get her out of his heart and head.

After meeting Ronan, Daniel’s life gets stirred up again. His past is coming back to haunt him. He must decide if he will embrace his Tongan heritage and stand alongside the Vasa Loloa sisterhood of his mother’s people.

Review

‘Ocean’s Kiss’ is Lani Wendt Young’s return to the world of Pacific mythology. Although the book is described as a ‘standalone novel’ in the Telesa World series, I don’t think it can be treated as such, as some parts might be slightly confusing for those who haven’t read the previous volumes. That’s not to say you shouldn’t reach for this title if you are not familiar with the other books in the series, but you will definitely enjoy this novel more if you read the entire collection.

It is never easy for an author to come back to the characters and storyline from the earlier volumes. The readers have certain expectations – quite rightfully so; after all, they have read the preceding books. They want to stay in the ‘place’ they know oh-so well, and yet they anticipate something new. One has to be a very gifted writer to meet this challenge. Or, one has to be Lani Wendt Young.

I won’t lie, ‘Ocean’s Kiss’ is a real treat primarily for the author’s fans. Those who have visited the world of Telesa before will be delighted to ‘meet’ Daniel, Leila, and Simone once again. But even those who have never had any of Lani Wendt Young’s books in their hands will quickly get hooked. Because the story itself is truly captivating.

Despite being heavily anchored in mythology – much more than the other titles in the series – the novel has a very contemporary feel to it. It strikes a perfect balance between the ancient Polynesian lore and the modern times. This combination of the past and the present makes for a unique reading experience and ensures that you will stay glued to the pages until the very end. Especially that the story isn’t purely about love, but covers a wide range of topics and themes. The author writes about loss and heartbreak, about forgiveness and reconciliation, about difficult life choices, and even about environmental issues. That’s surely a lot for one book, but in ‘Ocean’s Kiss’ everything is so smoothly intertwined you don’t feel overwhelmed.

Taking into account that Lani Wendt Young has a wonderful way with words, the novel is a joy to read. It is exceptionally well-written. The descriptions – which quickly transport you to the bewitching islands of the Pacific – are vivid yet not voluminous, and the author’s distinctive sense of humour lessens the seriousness of certain topics, making the book a light-hearted but still thought-provoking read. If only the newly-introduced characters were a little more defined, ‘Ocean’s Kiss’ would be close to perfection.

You can never go wrong with Lani Wendt Young’s books. They are all phenomenal. This title is no exception. So if you want to immerse yourself in the world of Pacific mythology and stay in the 21st century at the same time, this is the novel for you.

‘GRAVITY’ BY TRACEY POUEU-GUERRERO

‘Gravity’ is the first instalment in Tracey Poueu-Guerrero’s Michaels Family Series. This is a coming of age love story that centres around Eva, a young sporty girl from California, and her journey of growing up and self-discovery.

GRAVITY

Summary

Being the youngest child and an only girl in the family is not easy. Always surrounded by her protective brothers, Eva doesn’t even think about boys. A tomboy with no girlfriends, she keeps busy doing what she does best – playing sports.

Eva’s life changes when she meets him – the boy of her dreams. Colton Banks quickly becomes part of the Michaels family and Eva’s best friend; the only friend she has ever had.

As the years go by, both Eva and Colton discover that what they feel for each other is more than just friendship. And although they fight hard to suppress their attraction, the pull becomes impossible to resist.

Review

‘Gravity’ is a young adult read filled with passion, romance, teenage angst, and – here’s the part that may be surprising to you – wisdom. Yes, Tracey Poueu-Guerrero managed to create a relatable story for young people that’s not only enjoyable, but also inspiring and brilliantly thought-provoking.

Although the novel may seem like your typical boy-meets-girl tale, it is not conventionally or trivially romantic. Of course, you may predict right from the beginning that the two main characters will eventually end up together (no surprises here), but what happens along the way is completely unforeseeable.

The love story, which you would think is the central element of the book, at times constitutes just a background for other plots. There is a lot about Eva’s journey from a self-conscious teenager to a self-confident young woman, a good deal about her relationship with her overprotective brothers, a little about her search for her cultural identity. Every chapter adds another layer to the narrative, making it head in directions that are constantly and wonderfully unexpected.

Especially intriguing is the way the author portrayed the theme of Eva’s ethnicity. Part Polynesian, part white Californian girl, Eva struggles to find her identity. Her looks (tan skin, curly hair, generous bum) may give away her island origin, but she knows nothing about her heritage. Thanks to her friend, she gets introduced to the Samoan culture. She meets people who look like her; she discovers the language; she learns about the country her grandfather came from. And she finally starts feeling ‘at home with herself’.

Eva’s journey of self-discovery gives readers wonderful insights into the Samoan world. We get to know it through Eva’s and Colton’s eyes – and I must say that’s a very interesting perspective.

Speaking of Eva and Colton… Everybody knows that no story can exist without characters. If they are well-crafted, they add an extra spark to a tale. Tracey Poueu-Guerrero developed unbelievably believable, round, and dynamic protagonists whom young people can easily identify with. But the real strength of this novel lies in the minor characters – mainly Eva’s brothers and friends. They not only complement the leading pair but are also stars on their own.

‘Gravity’ is a great read. It is well constructed, compelling, and filled to the brim with all the drama teenagers and young adults often have to deal with. If you have a daughter, son, younger sibling – this book will make a perfect Christmas gift for them. Just bear in mind that it contains some explicit language and sexual situations, so it may not be suitable for ages under 15.

‘PACIFIC TSUNAMI GALU AFI’ BY LANI WENDT YOUNG

‘Pacific Tsunami Galu Afi’ is an account of the 2009 Pacific Tsunami that hit the countries of Samoa, American Samoa, and Tonga on September, 29th. It was penned by a Samoan writer, Lani Wendt Young.

GALU AFI

Summary

The morning of September 29th is like any other day in Samoa. Some people are getting ready for work, others are still asleep. They don’t know yet that their lives are soon going to change forever.

At 6.48 a.m. the earth begins to tremble; violently. Things are falling off the shelves; coconuts are falling off the trees; rocks are falling off the cliffs. A short while later, the sirens can be heard blaring out.

Most people, busy with their morning routines, don’t even notice the ocean receding. But the birds know. They know something is coming, so they take off. They take off before the first black wave starts rushing to the shore.

Review

Imagine you’re watching one of those Hollywood-made disaster drama films. You know, the films with an all-star cast, great special effects, and a story that keeps you on the edge of your seat biting your nails in fear, excitement, or both. The films you’re watching thanking God it’s only a film. Well, ‘Galu Afi’ is such a film; only on paper.

You may think that this is just a book that recounts the tragic events of September 29th, 2009, but I can already tell you that it is not. This book is so much more. It shows us what’s really important in life. It proves that people can act like brothers, not enemies; that we can count on one another when the bad times come. It is, contrary to appearances, an unbelievably uplifting read; one that will stay in your head long after the book is closed.

Lani Wendt Young was given a tough job of putting together dozens of heartbreaking stories to document the disaster for Samoa and its people. It would be all too easy to create a volume full of sorrowful narratives, but she managed to avoid excessive sentimentality. Yes, the presented accounts are moving, poignant, at times even disturbing – and you might shed a tear or two. But you will also smile, because they are often laced with subtle, appropriate humour only Lani Wendt Young can deliver.

The emotions ‘Galu Afi’ evokes give you a true roller-coaster ride, largely due to the fact that you don’t stay in one story for a very long time. It seems as if the author had wanted all the voices to be heard. You meet one family, then you meet another, and another. There are so many characters, yet somehow you remember them all. You feel for them, admire them, wonder at their strength and resilience. And when you see their faces in the photographs, their tales become even more real. Suddenly you realize that this is not some Hollywood story, and that not everyone has a happy ending.

The book is written in a simple yet elegant style. Lani Wendt Young doesn’t show off her writing skills – she remains in the shadow, but she still gets to shine. The people’s voices are neatly stitched together with her own words, creating an absorbing read full of heart and soul.

Before I started reading ‘Galu Afi’, I had already known that Lani Wendt Young is an extraordinarily talented writer. But now I will say that she is a true literary artisan. This book isn’t good; it’s not even great. It can be described in one word only – a masterpiece. ‘Pacific Tsunami Galu Afi’ is a pure masterpiece.

A CHAT WITH… MADELAIN WESTERMANN

Are you looking for a unique book for your child? If so, ‘Island of the Invisible Being’ should be your choice. Its author is Madelain Westermann, a teacher from Oregon who fell in love with the island cultures after working in the Marshall Islands. I highly recommend reading the interview with this talented and utterly lovely lady!

MADELAIN WESTERMANN

Pasifika Tales: What inspired you to write a book for children?

Madelain Westermann: I have been teaching in one form or another since 1976. The only reason I continue to teach at my age is the children. They are amazing, miraculous, and inspiring. When I come across former students and see what they have done with their lives, I know that I can teach one more year! Our 8th Grade teacher at my current school was one of my former students. She has a beautiful family, and will probably be my boss next year! That’s plenty of reason enough for me to keep suiting up and showing up! So, I chose a children’s book format as they are the future and the book contains a message of ‘being an over-comer’. This is a message that children at this time in history need to internalize the most!

PT: And what inspired you to write this particular story?

MW: I was inspired by a third grade student who was in my class on Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands. He lived on Ebeye and took the boat over daily to attend school. He wrote this as an assignment for class. He told me that his grandmother had told it to him. He graduated from elementary school and was attending middle school when I was told that he had taken his life. I was so upset but powerless to do anything as I had not been in contact with him for several years. When I left the Marshall Islands, I found his story in with my teaching materials. I had no idea how it got there, but decided to rewrite his story because I wanted some part of him to be passed on. After the book was published, Benjua contacted me and asked for a copy of the book! Turns out that his life’s adventure did not end as I was told! He is now a professional salvage diver!

PT: Children’s books with a protagonist who is not white are not necessarily popular. I would say it was a risky endeavour on your part. Do you agree?

MW: This was a story set in a culture that has such a rich and vibrant history that is basically unknown to most of the world. As global warming increases, this entire culture is at risk of being lost or assimilated. I truly believe that the loss of one culture is a grievous offence to all of humanity. The Marshallese culture has a rich history that needs to be shared both in story and in our curriculum in schools. There were no other picture books for children of this culture that I could find. So, Emon needed to be fully Marshallese to bring this culture into children’s minds, hearts, and imagination. The money was never a consideration in publishing this book. The memory was.

PT: Did you create this book for Pacific Island children or did you want to introduce the Marshall Islands culture to wider audiences?

MW: Both really. I have shipped books to students who are teaching on Ebeye and had book presentations here in America. I use it as part of a UBD Unit (Understanding by Design) that I use in my 4th Grade classroom to this day. My kids LOVE learning about the Marshall Islands! I was contacted by an individual who is trying to translate the text into Marshallese. I have tried to do this in the past, but haven’t succeeded yet in creating a bilingual copy. So the book was intended for anyone who would listen and wanted to learn a little bit about a courageous culture of people way out in the Pacific!

PT: Speaking of the Marshall Islands. How much time did you spend there?

MW: In total, I spent 15 years in the Marshall Islands, but at two different times.

PT: What did you – as a person and possibly as a teacher – learn during your stay?

MW: What did I learn?? Honey, it would never fit on these pages!! I wrote an entire unit about the Marshallese Culture that was embedded in the school curriculum there. I am not sure if ‘The Marshallese Culture Experience’ is still a part of the Elementary School program on Kwajalein. But I have to say, now that I am looking back, that the resourcefulness, creativity, and imagination of the Marshallese people is like no other! Put that with their cultural norm of generosity of spirit that could inspire the world, most specifically in today’s mind-set!

PT: I’m sure you know some fascinating Marshallese legends. Have you considered writing more books based on the Marshallese culture?

MW: Oh yes! At one time, I had mapped out a series, but writing and presenting take so much time away from my true passion which is teaching, that I had to put a hold on it until I retire. To teach effectively, I need to be ‘truly present’ with my students for them to really learn during the one short year that they are with me in 4th Grade. I keep trying to retire, but my principal is REALLY GOOD at convincing me that I really need to teach ‘just one more year’. So far, I haven’t found a good enough reason not to! And I do truly love my profession!

PT: Are there any children’s books featuring Pacific Islander characters you would recommend?

MW: Actually, in the picture book format and from the Marshallese culture, I couldn’t find any. There are many based on Hawaiian culture, but I haven’t yet found one that I love for children. I do like ‘Call It Courage’ by Sperry, but it is really old. I haven’t research it lately, though.

‘ISLAND OF THE INVISIBLE BEING: BENJUA’S STORY’ BY MADELAIN WESTERMANN

‘Island of the Invisible Being: Benjua’s Story’ is a legend from the Marshall Islands written by Madelain Westermann and illustrated by Erin Johnson.

ISLAND OF THE INVISIBLE BEING

Summary

Despite being an obedient and hard-working child, Emon can’t please her parents. No matter what she does and how hard she tries, they seem to be never happy with her.

But one day they decide to take her to the Island of the Invisible Being to have a picnic. When Emon goes gather wood for the fire, her mother and father suddenly take off in a canoe, leaving the girl behind in a stranded place. Realizing the betrayal of her parents, Emon knows that no one will help her and that she can count only on herself.

Review

Children’s books need to tick off a lot of boxes in order to be considered worthy of the youngsters’ time. They must capture attention, tell a compelling story, carry a valuable lesson, and be pleasant on the eye. It may appear easy, but it’s a great art. If I tell you that Madelain Westermann’s ‘Island of the Invisible Being’ ticks off all these boxes (and more), I’m certain you will be interested.

It’s quite difficult to find a book Pacific children could relate to. Literature doesn’t like diversity or colour, which is regrettable and sad. A Samoan, Papuan, Chuukese child is more likely to spot a title about a strange creature from another planet than one about his or her fellow Islander. That’s why Emon’s story stands out from the crowd. The island setting, the Marshallese characters, and the local culture make it a fascinating read, I dare say not only for children from the Blue Continent.

As soon as you start reading, you are transported to the beautiful world of the Pacific Islands. Beautiful, enchanting, and a little mysterious. Young Emon introduces you to Marshallese traditions: you discover the art of basket weaving, learn what Islanders’ favourite food is, find out what was used to navigate the great Pacific Ocean. The Marshallese way of living is subtly entwined into the tale, leaving you curious to know more.

That curiosity is further aroused by stunning illustrations, which are a real delight for the eyes. Vibrant colours and an original way of portraying every scene bring the words to life, unfolding before you the magic of the islands. It is impossible not to look at the pages. The azure sky, dark blue waters, lush green vegetation make you literally stare at the pictures in awe.

Now, a good children’s book usually comes with a moral. The moral of this story is a great lesson and reminder for us all, regardless of age. Because how often do we let our fears overpower us? How often do we give up? How often do we take other people for granted? Each of the characters teaches us something different: Emon – that you have to be strong and always endure hardships with fortitude; her family – that selfishness, greed, and unkindness never pay; the Invisible Being – that justice is always served. Those are the truths that every child should know and every adult should remember.

Madelain Westermann and Erin Johnson have created a gem. It’s an utterly beautiful book with a valuable story that deserves its place in every home! Kids will absolutely love it. And so will their parents.

‘AFAKASI WOMAN’ BY LANI WENDT YOUNG

‘Afakasi Woman’ is a collection of twenty-four short stories penned by Lani Wendt Young. They are set in Samoa and centre around various women of mixed ethnicity.

AFAKASI WOMAN

Summary

In Samoa, every afakasi woman knows that life isn’t always a bed of roses. When you are too brown to be white and too white to be brown, there are challenges you have to face, hardships you have to endure, and tragedies you have to get through.

But women know how to be strong. They are able to withstand any storm that life throws at them. They can stand up, fight back, and show everyone around that the colour of your skin doesn’t determine who you really are.

Review

This compilation was written by Lani Wendt Young – one of the most gifted contemporary writers from the South Pacific – so you can be certain it is at least good, if not great. And I can already tell you, that if you decide to read it, you won’t be disappointed.

The book is titled ‘Afakasi Woman’. ‘Afakasi’ means ‘half caste’ and is used to describe a person of mixed ethnicity. You might think, therefore, that the themes explored in the volume will appeal only to half-palagi (white), half-Samoan ladies. That only they will be able to relate to the stories. Well, that is the furthest from the truth. Of course, the collection is heavily infused with Samoan culture, but it can be enjoyed by females all over the world. Because the issues tackled in the book are so universal that every single woman will understand the message the author wanted to convey.

If you are familiar with Lani Wendt Young’s works, you know that she is never 100 percent serious or 100 percent light-hearted. ‘Afakasi Woman’ follows this beaten path, so in a matter of minutes you get to experience a vast array of emotions. Prepare yourself for a rollercoaster ride that will take you from laughing out loud at one lady’s curse and admiring  Sina’s strength to overcome her biggest fear, to almost weeping for a family torn apart and feeling sorry for Luana over the loss of her child. Not two stories are alike. Some are heavily-themed with violence, abuse, death; others are loaded with a witty sense of humour. But there is something they all have in common – they were created with a purpose. Lani Wendt Young never writes about trifles. She brings up important, often sensitive topics other people prefer not to notice. Even the light-hearted narratives are thought-provoking – they may be coated in humour, but the message is there.

The stories are excellently crafted. The writing feels fresh, original, and very satisfying. Simple but descriptive language brings the scenes alive, allowing you to fully experience the written word. Vividness is definitely one of Lani Wendt Young’s biggest strengths. She knows how to create pictures that will not only appear in the reader’s imagination, but most importantly stay there long after the last page is turned.

‘Afakasi Woman’ is a beautiful portrait of female nature, movingly painted and laced with Samoan vibe. It’s hard not to think that it came into being to honour, support, and encourage women; to give them hope and show how strong and resilient they can be. It is a truly worthy read that I could not recommend more.

BEST BOOKS ABOUT WOMEN FOR WOMEN

The Materena Mahi Series by Celestine Hitiura Vaite

This trilogy is about being a woman – a partner, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a cousin, a professional, a star. It’s about caring for those you love but not forgetting about yourself. It’s about having a dream and chasing it. It’s about not being scared. It’s about taking the risk and getting what you really want from life.

‘Afakasi Woman’ by Lani Wendt Young

What does it mean to be an afakasi woman? To belong neither here nor there? To be too brown to be white and too white to be brown? It’s not always easy. There are hardships; there are trials, and tribulations. But there are also hopes, triumphs, and joys. Because women – regardless of their colour, race, culture – know how to be strong even in the worst of times.

‘Secret Shopper’ by Tanya Taimanglo

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When Phoenix’s husband tells her he’s leaving, her entire world falls apart. But she knows that she needs to take hold of herself and this new situation she’s found herself in if she wants her little world to get back to normal again. She quickly learns that life is full of surprises and that happiness can wait just around the corner. You just have to believe and never ever give up.

The Scarlet Series by Lani Wendt Young

You can’t choose your family. But you can choose what impact your family will have on you. Even though Scarlet’s past doesn’t let her forget about itself, she finds motivation to let go of it and – for the first time in her life – have a little bit of (steamy) fun. Well, that’s what girls wanna do when they meet a deliciously divine man.

‘Freelove’ by Sia Figiel

Growing up is hard. Growing up in Samoa is even harder. Inosia happens to know an awful lot about it. Restricted by her culture, she’s wondering whether love can ever be free; whether a woman has the right to desire, pleasure, and sexual fulfillment. If so, at what cost?