Last weekend I went to watch Waru and Vai with a girlfriend. I absolutely love supporting brown creatives when I can, so it was such a treat to go out and see this despite my busy work schedule and week ahead (and the fact that I had been working that Sunday afternoon).

Waru is a film directed by 8 female directors. It follows 8 stories in sequence around the tangi of a small boy who died as a result of child abuse. It is confronting.

The first sequence is at the Marae. An aunt, Charm (Tanea Heke) of the boy is in charge of food preparation and making sure everything is prepared for the tangi. She sees the mother later in the sequence who is a mess and wants to see her pepi.

The second sequence is of another mother Mihi (Ngapaki Moetara) who has children at the same school as the boy. She is on the benefit and doesn’t have enough

The third is of the boy’s teacher, Anahera (Tanea Heke) at school. She is having difficulty dealing with it and blames herself for not spotting any signs of the abuse. Another colleague urges her to attend the tangi with her.

The fourth is of a female tv presenter Kiritapu (Maria Walker). She is a young Maori woman and heads the sports segment on a news show. She takes over the racist news piece by a Hosking-like character and shares her own views on child abuse in New Zealand.

The fifth is of the paternal grandmother attending the tangi to collect the boy’s body and take him back to his father’s land for burial.

The sixth is of a struggling mother Em (Awhina Rose Ashby) who returns home from a drunk night out to find her baby on the kitchen floor nestled. Alone.

The seventh, which was the most heart wrenching for me, is of a young female teenager Mere (Acacia Hapi) who stands her ground against a dirty uncle who is attending the tangi.

The eighth is of two of the boy’s aunties, Titty and Bash (Amber Curreen and Miriama McDowell) who live nearby. They are aware of the abuse and are on their way to the boy’s whare to collect him and other children there who aren’t being cared for. There is tension between the aunties struggling as to whether or not they should go collect the children. The headstrong aunt wins out in the end. When they arrive, there are drunk men littered around the front of the house telling the women to fuck off. The boy whispers, that at that point in time, he was still alive. He was still here.

Lindah Lepou is the costume designer – which I am an absolute fan of because she came from state house life like myself. And I love seeing state house kids making it, breaking stereotypes that we’re dole bludgers, etc.

My reflection

The story which hit me the hardest was Mere’s; based on my own, but likely correct, interpretation of the sequence. I cried. I hurt. I reflected on why I cried and hurt. I’m not the recipient of the trauma referenced in this sequence but I have or have tried to absorb it because three women close to me have had this trauma. And they have let that trauma shape them into three completely different women. One is strong. Another is angry. The other has imploded.

I think I can see how far this trauma seeps into my loved ones’ behaviours, words and sometimes, intentions. And want to help mitigate its effects. But instead, because I don’t need to put my emotions where they are not needed, I should really just see this understanding for the rebuilding in the wake of said trauma.

I struggle to deal with piecing together what to do next in my own familial story of unbecoming and rebuilding. I struggle because there are layers of unbecoming that happened all at once between late 2017 and early 2018. The physical death of a patriarch that, if he knew, may have provided direction forward with dealing with this. The death of familial trust in several relationships.

My father is not outspoken. He is quiet.

My mother is the complete opposite. She is loud. She is certain. She is tenacious.

I have struggled because, when my grandfather died, he was the centre of our family. But… instead of mourning who will take up this gap in our family and looking for some direction, my grandfather dished out enough tough love and direction during his life for me to figure it out on my own. Instead of trying to find his replacement or become his replacement, he gave me enough discipline and focus to find this within myself. Not to be a centre – but to find direction. On this.


Like Waru, I love how this story revolves around the strength, vulnerability, and essence of Polynesian women. There is so much depth.

Vai is directed by 9 Polynesian film-makers. All women again, all amazing.

The link goes over the different sequences, I only included the ones for Waru because I couldn’t find a link for it. For the sequences in Vai, its hard not to connect most with NZ born Samoan Vai. She works to support her family, has good grades but isn’t getting support from her tutor.

This story in Vai reminds me of a time I cried in my lecturer’s office about struggling with an aspect of the paper. I was 25 at the time.

I like to think I’m quite a composed person but, unlike Vai, I did not hold myself together. I burst into tears when my lecturer asked me what was wrong. With my mother breathing down my throat about Housing New Zealand trying to pressure my parents (and then my mum on me) to find a private rental because we were paying market-rate, working full-time and an unhappy familial and intimate relationship, I just burst. I don’t tend to get fixated and stressed over a single issue, it’s usually a combination that gets me to breaking point.

I got a B+ for that paper – health economics. Not the happiest of results but considering the circumstances, I made peace with it.

I’ve decided against going back to postgraduate studies until I had a bit more balance on the personal, financial and professional front.

No doubt I’ll probably have more reflections on these films as time goes by but, for a breather on a Sunday, it was well loved and enjoyed.