"For all of us, becoming indigenous to a place means living as if your children's future mattered, to take care of the land as if our lives, both material and spiritual, depended on it." - Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass
"When you realize what people call paradise...you call home."
My father, Ominae Luluali'i Aiono, was born in Fasito'outa, a village on the northwest coast of the island of Upolu in Samoa and was one of the village chief's (Mata'i) fourteen children. 2010 was the last time I visited my family's village a few months before his death.
Life in the village is simple yet full of life and surrounded by beauty. In every village there seems to be an area where the boys play rugby, people get up early to take the buses to town for work, and Sunday mornings are filled with the smell of umus (underground ovens) filled with food for after church. But Fasito'outa is special to me because it is the village of MY aiga (family). It's where my father stared out across the ocean and dreamed of a life bigger than this tiny village, but returned at the end of life to the place he always considered home.
“Having had the opportunity to travel abroad with our original concept, we have definitely experienced first hand the uniqueness and beauty of our Maori culture on the world stage. We enjoy having a business that promotes and celebrates our culture.”
-Soldier Rd Portraits
In 2014, my husband Greg, discovered this company called
Soldiers Rd Portraits on Instagram. He liked, how they took culturally inspired vintage looking portraits of different Maori people, but what really caught our eye was how they infused Maori culture and blended it other cultures to show a mixed-identity modern portrayal of what it means to be Maori today. Being Half-Maori and Half-Samoan, this blended cultural portrait that would pay homage to my Maori roots in a vintage portrait really appealed to me and when Greg discovered that Soldier Rd would be in L.A. over the Thanksgiving holiday he quickly went to work to contact them.
We had the pleasure of hosting them in our home and making some eternal friendships. We invited as much of our family as could come for Thanksgiving and in a very appropriate way reconnected with our indigenous roots and ancestors on that special day.
Since then, Taaniko and Vienna Nordstrom have continued to grow Soldiers Rd and do amazing things to promote Maori culture both in New Zealand and internationally. We love them and champion the work they do and will always feel a connection to them. The art they produce appeals to the eye, but more importantly connects to the soul.
“The portraits we take are a beautiful and positive portrayal of people, specifically Maori, and we’ve seen, heard and felt people’s reactions. They feel a sense of pride in themselves and in some ways, they feel closer to their tupuna.”
-Soldier Rd Portraits
This sculpture of a baby in a coconut shell is titled "Niu Born". The word "Niu" is a Polynesian word for coconut. A play on words for New Born. Coconuts float in water and travel thousands of miles. When they land on ground, they take root and flourish across the land. This sculpture represents how Polynesians have flourished throughout the world bringing their deeply rooted traditions, family values, and culture.
-Lilo Tauvao (Artist)
My husband and I saw this sculpture years ago, before we were married, attending an event promoting Polynesian Artists at Cal State Long Beach. It was a night filled with film, music, poetry, spoken word, and various art mediums, but this sculpture was so striking that it made a powerful impact on both Greg and I. Last year, around my son's first birthday, the artist (Lilo Tauvao) made the sculpture available for purchase and after reading his beautiful description the piece spoke to me so much that I knew we needed this piece in our home.
It makes me think of my father, leaving his small island home in Samoa, with a dream to one day be able to build a home for his parents. His dream took him first to New Zealand where he met a beautiful Maori Maiden, and sprouted roots by started his own family. New Zealand afforded him the opportunity to accomplish his dream and build his parents a home back in his village of Fasito'outa, Upolu, Samoa.
But my father continued to dream and like the coconut travelled thousands of miles to The United States, which he called "The Land of Milk and Honey" to afford his children greater opportunities. I'm so grateful for my immigrant parents for having the courage to sprout new roots in a country far from their island homes while having the strength to stay rooted in their traditions, family values, and culture.
I can see this piece becoming an heirloom to our children. A piece that sparks conversation and brings to our remembrance that no matter how far we travel from the islands,
the islands will always be a part of us.