Flash Frontier

Kōrero: Vaughan Rapatahana and Mere Taito

Interviews and Features

Vaughan Rapatahana:  Can you please tell us about your background, i.e., where you are from and so on… of course including your current studies.

Mere Taito: My ancestral home is the island of Rotuma which is a political dependency of Fiji, located approximately 600 kms north of Fiji. If you know the lay of the Pacific Ocean, then you will know that Rotuma is closer to Tuvalu then it is to Fiji. Many Rotuman islanders have settled in places like Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, the US and Europe largely because of Rotuma’s size, remoteness, and the many educational and occupational opportunities that exist in these transnational hubs.

Rotuman lineage is matrilineal, so I am first a daughter of Malha’a (my mother’s district) and then Noa’tau. I was born in Fiji, and like many Rotumans, grew up, and was educated there throughout my primary to tertiary years. At the University of the South Pacific (USP) in Suva, I was taught by renowned literary and Pacific Studies scholars such as Pio Manoa, Arlene Griffen, Epeli Hau’ofa, Tarcisius Tara Kabutaulaka, Vilisoni Hereniko and Subramani. All Epeli Hau’ofa’s students in the 90s will remember him fondly walking onto the U8 lecture theatre stage dressed in ankle-length Tongan printed lavalava with a smoking pipe either in his hand or mouth. Without question, my interests in Pacific issues, particularly in history, languages and literature, were sown here at USP, but it is here in Aotearoa New Zealand where these interests have been nurtured and realised in career, creative and research choices.

I emigrated to New Zealand in 2007 and first lived in New Plymouth when my Permanent Residency was granted in 2008. I worked as a Course Writer at the Practical Education Institute (PEI) then made my way through WINTEC (Waikato Institute of Technology) and the University of Waikato in various course design and language-literacy teaching roles. Today, I am a full-time PhD student at the University of Otago under the supervision of Prof Jacob Edmond and Prof Alice Te Punga Somerville. My research is at the intersections of Rotuman literary history, Rotuman language regeneration, digital and text design, and creative (poetry) writing. To give you a very brief summary of my studies, I read Rotuman multilingual archival texts and observe closely how the reading of these archival texts, including the handling of these archival texts, influences the writing trajectories of Rotuman multilingual poetry. As I have written elsewhere, this doctoral journey has changed my creative writing practice profoundly.

VR: Can you also please tell us something about you writing career and genre(s), including any recent publications/participations, please? For example, Katūīvei!

MT: Like many writers, my first poems and short prose pieces can be found in school publications such as the St Mary’s Primary School annual magazine (1984), All Saints Secondary School (1985-88) and Labasa College (either 1989 or 90) school magazines. Inspired by Jane Griffith’s (Words have a Past 2019) research on newspapers printed in Indigenous Canadian boarding schools during the late nineteenth century, I often dream of an archival research trip to my former schools. I picture myself reading through these 1980s mags to see what we, adolescent writers, were writing about in Fiji. There were no further publications hereafter until 2006 and 2007 when a handful of my poems were published by the Pacific Writers Forum of the School of Language and Literature at USP in the literary magazines and anthologies Saraqa (2006), Dreadlocks (vol 4 2007) and Writing the Pacific (2007). I realised much later that I appeared alongside David Eggleton and Serie Barford in Dreadlocks (vol 4 2007), two writers I would later meet here in Aotearoa and whose work I admire.

There is something to be said about writing in a place like Aotearoa where the infrastructure to develop the literary arts is solid. Writing can flourish in such convivial environments as mine did. Since my arrival in 2007, my writing has grown wheels and sped off on a trajectory of its own. My first publication in Aotearoa was in a fine line (2009). ‘Coffee’ had won the mini coffee competition and I remember receiving a congratulatory note from Lauris Gilbert, and a packet of plunger coffee in the mail. Like the archival nerd that I am, I have carefully kept Lauris Gilbert’s note but the coffee is long gone. Since then, I have tried my hand at an illustrated collection of poetry (self-published, 2017), flash fiction (Bonsai, 2018), ekphrastic responses to artistic work (Unruly Narratives, 2019 and Michel Tuffery’s Poly Vowels (2019) and short story (VĀ: Stories by Women of the Moana, 2021).

Quite recently I co-edited a collection of contemporary Pasifika poetry with acclaimed and prolific poets David Eggleton and Vaughan Rapatahana titled Katūīvei. Pasifika poetry in this country is in good hands. Our waves of poets are never-ending. We are constantly experimenting with form, mediums of delivery and thematic matter – so shut-up, anyone who mouths off a ‘Pacific writing lacks sophistication’ spiel. Sit-the-frack-down if you have not done a deep-dive of Pacific literature.

VR: I know that you do sometimes write in Rotuman. How important is it for you to write in your own language, please?

MT: In another soon-to-be published article by Poetry Atlas, with Māori writers and Indigenerd mates Marama Salsano (Ngāti Tūhoe, Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki, Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Wairere) and Ammon Hāwea Apiata (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Toarangatira, Ngāti Koata), we discussed similar issues, namely our relationship with our first languages and the role they play in our writing. As I have explained in this kōrero, I have no set rules. I write where my language heart takes me. On some days, I emerge firing like a crazy Rotuman language champion with a machine gun loaded with Rotuman language bullets with no offer of compensatory translations on the page. On these days, writing in Rotuman is highly important. As a language returnee, I write to teach myself Rotuman and hopefully help others along in their Rotuman language-learning journeys. On other days, I weave both English and Rotuman as if they were mutually intelligible languages and, hopefully, piss off all the language purists in the whole wide world. On these ‘translingual days’, I am playful and experimentative. I am more concerned about watching and observing the placement and power shifts of Rotuman and English on the page than adhering to language and collocation rules. Creativity makes language rules redundant. I live for this too.

VR: Relatedly, how important/vital do you think it is for other writers to write in their Indigenous languages, please? Or at least attempt to?  For example, i roto i te reo Māori?

MT: If you are on a language (re)learning or maintenance journey like me, then absolutely, using your Indigenous languages in your writing helps tremendously and I highly recommend this self-paced type of learning. You are in control of the process of language discovery but do surround yourself with good language-teaching texts and community members who are more advanced learners in your Indigenous languages. Text and advanced learners are your loyal allies. We all need them when we begin exploring the territory of multilingual creative writing. However, do find opportunities to play and experiment with multilingual writing. Break the rules. Break all the rules. But put them back again when you have finished playing for another day of dismantling. There is pedagogical value too in ‘error’ and rule violation so go for it. Don’t worry about the purists. This is your journey, not theirs. Most importantly, have fun while you are at it.

VR: It would be great if you could also provide a sample of your flash (short) fiction, please. Perhaps with a kaupapa, te mārire (silence/quiet). If it is ‘creative non-fiction’ kāore he raruraru.

MT: This is titled ‘Workshop’.



the facilitator splits the class into groups.

*we don’t always learn in groups miss. i want to be there. next to the heater.

places fluorescent post-it notes and pens on the table.

*here we go. more post-it notes and pens. wait for it … any time now …

why is learning your mother tongue important?

*bingo. there we go. do we not know why yet?! jeezuz.

stick your responses on the white board when you are ready.

*aah nah. because getting up from your seat and moving around is workshop definition of ‘interactive’ right?


i can verbally abuse the neighbour’s cat for shitting on my lawn, ‘Ā ‘ou finaka!’.

i can change the names of our Russel and Terrier, ‘Susie’ and ‘Penelope’ to Susu and Penirope.

i can greet land-grabbing government officials with, ‘Gagaj finak parparäs atakoa!’.

i can shout, ‘igke! ‘igke! fakapu! to another invitation to a workshop like this.

the facilitator evaluates the workshop as successful.

adds four reflective points:

  • read the room.
  • do not distribute pens.
  • burn the post-it notes.
  • isolate the silent brooding participant.



Mere TaitoMere Taito is currently a PhD student at the University of Otago. Her study looks at the reading of archival and contemporary Rotuman language text and its impact on the writing of multilingual Rotuman-English poetry. Her multilingual writing has been published by NZ Poetry Shelf, Kotahitanga Gallery and Creative Waikato, and International Education Journal: Comparative Perspectives. Her work is forthcoming this year in Te Moana Reo The Language Ocean. She lives in Kirikiriroa Hamilton.

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