'Is there anything more powerful than a true story? Yes. It is an untold story'

December 25, 2018

The stage work Talune was written and directed by Sani Muliaumaseali'i in commemoration of the influenza pandemic of 1918. It premiered at the New Zealand High Commission, London,  on November 12th 2018.

Dr Karlo Mila was in the audience. 

Alan Mosley, as the Colonel

 

Talune: Set in Apia during the armistice, a young girls dream portends the devastation brought to Samoa aboard the New Zealand ship the SS Talune. 

 

Talune brought to life a chapter of Samoa and New Zealand’s history that is breath-stopping as it comes to life. The main character (Teine, played by Jasmine Leota) holds the beauty, tragedy and pain of an almost unthinkable avoidable tragedy. Being familiar with the transcripts of the New Zealand administrator of Samoa and his callous regard for Samoan life, it was still a shock to see the words spoken back into the world. It felt like hyperbole, an exaggeration, impossible to think that white supremacy, empire and racism could have such disregard for any humans, let alone our ancestors. All of them. Ancestors of Samoa and Zealander. My Samoan great-grandmother, Florence, survived the epidemic. She writes about it in her childish scrawl. A letter saying that Mama and Papa got very sick. Everyone in the family survived. My British ancestor was also in Samoa. He writes of greed and injustice. James Baxter Fleck writes of an investigation and a cover up. Burning with social justice and anger, but a part of the New Zealand army presence. He is on the wrong side of history and he knows it. He witnesses it. Many years later they meet in New Zealand and marry. I am one of their great grandchildren. We carry these stories in our DNA. They say history is written by the victors. But good art, great art, important art, is rarely made by the privileged. It is made by those with brilliant stories to tell. It is made by people who hold tragedy in their burning hands. It is made by people who have something to say. It is made by people who have beauty to share, justice to bring. This to me is the best kind of art. It is does not decorate walls. It moves people. It educates people. It reaches into their hearts and minds and wrenches something from them. The powerful characters, the music, the movement, the unravelling of a horrific story with dignity and courage. This is what I remember about Talune.

 

Lori Isley Lynn, Sara Taukolonga

 

 An audience leaning in, holding their breath, witnessing the unbearable. Is there anything more powerful than a true story? Yes. It is an untold story. It is the story of us. I salute Sani Muliaumaseali'i for investing in making this artwork. So obviously for the love of it. I salute the cast. There were haunting performances, particularly from the two lead characters Jasmine Leota as Teine,  and Alan Mosley, the actor bringing back to life the ‘bordering on insane’ Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Logan was pure brilliance. I say his name. It is New Zealand’s shame. It is his. It is our history. Thank you Sani for breathing life into the evil that enabled a quarter of the population to die. Our people. I am also of Tongan heritage. It was not until watching this that I knew that the ship went on to dock in Tonga and spread the disease there. So many untold stories. So many brave artists breathing life into our dead. We are hungry for these stories. They tell us who we are. They tell us what we have endured. They tell us what we have lived through and died from. They tell us about white supremacy. They tell us about colonisation. They tell us about who we are. And they tell us about who we are now. Vital, passionate, resilient, engaged, gifted, committed... all of these things are evident from witnessing this artwork. It is testament to the wide world of us! It is a little unfathomable to me that this work has been made in the UK before it was made in New Zealand. It is testament to a talented diaspora.

 

 Kian Oconnell, Jamal Renaldo (above) Lena Tutuvanu, Jasmine Leota, Bronwen Stephens, Sara Taukolonga

'This to me is the best kind of art. It is does not decorate walls. It moves people. It educates people. It reaches into their hearts and minds and wrenches something from them.'

 

 

Telling our stories with verve, opera, movement, skill and a wide cast of purposeful, passionate volunteers. One of the stand out things to me as part of the New Zealand diaspora was the recruitment beyond the Pacific community. All kinds of artists from a wide range of heritages participated in this dramatic rendering of a Samoan / New Zealand story. Because ultimately it is a human story. The love and care of these cast members from beyond our communities is something that will stick. They carried our history in their hearts. They took great care of it. They gave it, and us, love. After a trauma there is nothing more you can ask for.

Thank you. 

Karlo Mila is a New Zealand poet. She is of Tongan, Palangi and Samoan heritage, and educated at Massey University in Palmerston North. Her first award was the NZSA Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry at the 2006 Montana New Zealand Book Awards, for Dream Fish Floating.

images:   Crystal Te Moananui-Squares 

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