SPIRIT OF TIVAEVAE
Growing up, I was aware that my blood held a dual heritage, but I didn’t begin to understand how that identity might impact my life until I was 21. As I began to dive into my Cook Islands roots I learned the term “coconut,” slang for a person who is brown on the outside but white on the inside. “Coconut” is mostly used in a derogatory fashion, but it’s the best way to explain how I feel in the presence of other Pacific Islanders who know their culture.
The more young Pacific Islanders I meet, the more I realize that I am not alone in harboring the secret fear that I’ll never quite measure up. I’ve also come to realize this is a ridiculous fear that holds too many of us back from embracing cultures we were born to inherit.
Our heritage is there if we choose to grasp it — there is no shame in being a coconut who is late to the cultural party (hey man, we were just running on Island time!)
With a little help from Google, I found my invitation to the cultural party in the art of tivaevae. When images of the vibrant, meticulously hand sewn quilts popped onto the computer screen my jaw dropped.
This wasn’t the first time I’d seen tivaevae. My family had been keeping three of the queen-sized blankets tucked away in closet for years. We just didn’t know what they were or why they were important.
My dad tells me he can remember being sent outside to play so his mum could use the living room floor to work on her tivaevae. Based on tradition, she should have been the first person I called once I decided to learn tivaevae — however, my nana has dementia now and that avenue of learning has been closed to me. I wish I would have known to ask her about tivaevae 9 years ago, the last time we spent time together.
There are still many living tivaevae artists, mamas with decades of knowledge and wisdom that will enrich the lives of many young women — if that knowledge is preserved.
Creating this documentary is a way to share the wisdom of the women who came before us, to preserve their stories and place in history for future generations.
All contributions are tax deductible through our fiscal sponsor From the Heart Productions.
Spirit of Tivaevae (Te Vaerua o te Tivaevae) is a documentary where cultural tradition and modern life collide.
Growing up in Southern California, Melodie has been separated by an ocean from her dad’s side of the family. Detached from the Cook Islands part of her heritage and making a living in the digital space has left her longing for a tangible, textile connection to her heritage.
In the Cook Islands, Melodie experiences tradition first-hand by learning to make her first tivaevae quilt from the mamas who have been practicing the art for years. Through the stories of the tivaevae and their creators, she begins to understand why tivaevae became an important staple of Cook Islands tradition.
New Zealand is home to the largest population of Cook Islanders outside their native islands. Here, Melodie discovers how migration and a new environment has changed the meaning and methods of tivaevae.
What does it mean to be a modern Cook Islands woman? In an increasingly digital world, how will the traditions of tivaevae change who we become?
“It will be a great loss to our culture if we don’t wake up now and try to save this unique and priceless gift of wisdom from our grandmothers, our mothers, and the Almighty. ‘Take heed of the wisdom of the “old” for thine is the joy and pride of belonging and owning an identity of being a true Cook Islands Woman’.“
– Vereara Maeva