Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Albert Wendt's Speech at the PM’s Awards in Wellington, November 26th, 2012.

Ou te fa’atulou atu I le Mamalu ma le Paia ua fa’atasi mai:
I Rangatira ma Ariki o Whanganui-a-Tara ma Iwi Eseese o Aotearoa
Le Afioga a le Ali’i Palemia, o John Key, ma le mamalu o le Malo,
I Tupu ma tamaali’i mai atumotu o le Pasefika
I tusitala ma tusiata, uo, aiga, ma e masani.
Malo le soifua! Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa!

I greet and congratulate the other award winners - Peter Simpson, Sam Hunt, and Gregory O’Brien - and thank them for their work which I’ve read and admired and learned from, over the years.  
I thank the Prime Minister, John Key, the Minister for the Arts and Culture, Christopher Finlayson, and Creative NZ and the selection panel for this generous award.

The Award recognizes the years I’ve devoted to this crazy game called writing. So thank you for that recognition. It is soul-healing and good for the ego to be recognized publicly by your country for the work you’ve done. It’s made me feel recklessly good but not mad enough to rush out and cash my cheque and shout my aiga and friends before I get deluged with fa’alavelave again!
Writers are about other writers. For me there is an international ocean of past and present writers who have influenced my work and life, and who, as a writer, I am about. But for tonight I wish to pay a tribute to just a few of the New Zealand and Pacific writers/storytellers who have died, who influenced my life and my writing: Tom Davies and Ron Crocombe of the Cook Islands; James K Baxter, Hone Tuwhare, Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, Maurice Shadbolt, Barry Metcalfe, Janet Frame, and Jacquie Sturm of Aotearoa; Albert Maori Kiki, Vincent Eri and Bernard Narokobi of Papua New Guinea; Grace Molisa of Vanuatu; John Dominis Holt of Hawaii; and Melegalenu’u Tuaopepe and le Afioga a Gatoloai Peseta of Samoa. To them I will always be grateful.

I thank my publishers, Robyn and Brian Bargh and the staff of HUIA Publishers, and Sam Elworthy and Auckland University Press, for their aroha and the loving care they give my work. They’re more than my publishers, they’re my aiga. I thank Geoff Walker and Penguins, Harriet Allan and Random House, and before all of them, Phoebe Mickle of Longman Paul, who published my first three books and was the best editor I’ve ever had.

I thank my beloved Reina and my generous children and their spouses – Sina and Johnny, Mele and Ete, Michael and Cindy, and all our mokopuna. I thank the largest aiga, extended family, any writer can have on this planet! The Samoan Wendt Aiga began in Malie, Samoa, and now extends to Aotearoa, Australia, the USA and other countries. There are hundreds of us. Now that we have facebook and family websites and email we can’t get away from one another!
I thank Samoa and the Samoan and Pasefika communities here and around the world for their alofa and agalelei.
I owe much to all my Tangata Maori and Pakeha relatives and friends. Some of them are here tonight.
I am indebted to all the readers, librarians, book sellers, teachers and people who have read, promoted and taught my work.

I grew up in Samoa in an aiga which was poor in material things but rich in culture. My parents and grandmother also believed that reading and education were our ways into wealth and status. So they drove us to do well in school. I was blessed also from an early age with an addiction: I have to read and read every thing! This addiction brought me a wonderful education, a fulfilling job – teaching, and an absorbing life of writing and painting. And through all that, everyone and everything else that is worthwhile/good in my life.
When we use language to describe an experience, language becomes a substitute for it, a translation of it.   So we are always becoming in translation. For me, using language is most difficult. Translating ways of being is awesomely difficult. On top of that, translating fa’a-Samoa using English, which is not the language of that culture, is almost impossible if you want to do it well and justly. But it’s what I’ve been trying to do all these years.

And in that journey, I have come not only to understand how to use language better but, more importantly, understand more about myself, the locations I belong to, and human beings everywhere. About our differences and similarities, about our inner darknesses and light that seem to govern our behaviour, and about love, courage and self-sacrifice that are common to all humanity.

That journey has also enabled me to appreciate and live with the huge contradictions that we and our lives are. In Samoan mythology, when the Supreme Atua, Tagaloaalagi, created us and our islands, He gifted us agaga (soul), poto (cunning, wit), masalo (doubt), loto (spirit, courage), atamai (intelligence), and finagalo (will). These marvellous gifts make for contradiction: they not only make us capable of enormous aroha, healing and invention, but also of selfish arrogance and violence. That contradiction is at the heart of our lives. I grew up in the latter half of the Twentieth Century, a time of incredible invention in technology, science and the arts yet a time of unbelievable violence, suffering, brutality, and injustice. Everywhere we look today, we see a tragic continuation of that. As writers it is our duty to bear witness to that. And over the stretch of my life, I’ve watched, with pride and admiration, our writers doing that.

I feel proud to have grown out of and to be part of a New Zealand and Pacific literature that is now very dynamic, rich, and varied, and continuing to write us into existence.
Despite my griping in my novels and poetry about the ills of our society, despite my attacks on the middleclass life and the rampant consumerism that is cannibalising our planet, despite my angry analysis of colonialism and racism and what they have done to indigenous peoples, despite the personal tragedies in my expensive squalor of a life, compared to most people, I have enjoyed a very privileged and comfortable existence! Look at what I’m enjoying tonight!
Albert Wendt.
Auckland, November 2012.

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