Next time you’re strolling along Queen Street, cast your eyes up to Auckland’s Town Hall and take in an extraordinary gift of love presented to our city.
The Pacifica Mamas, an acclaimed collective of Pacific heritage artists, has woven a giant ei (garland) out of upcycled plastic as a gift to Auckland.
Formed in the late 1980s, the Pacifica Mamas are all the first-generation pacific immigrants to New Zealand, originally from island nations including the Cook Islands, Samoa, Tuvalu, Tonga, Tokelau, Kiribati and Niue.
This is the first time the Pacifica Mamas have created an ei this big, designing it in collaboration with children and communities in West Auckland to weave together the stories of Pacific communities’ past, present and future in Tāmaki Makaurau.
Last week, in a sign of honour, the ei was draped around the landmark Town Hall clock tower in Aotea Square – a place chosen for holding much mana for the Pacifica Mamas, where the group first felt welcome in the central city and held their early workshops over three decades ago.
As part of the blessing, the name of the ei was also unveiled - 'Rakei note Moana Nui o Kiva' which poetically translates to ‘Adornment from the moana, adornment from the deep blue sea.’
Jarcinda Stowers-Ama, one of the Pacifica Mamas and director of the Pacifica Arts Centre is passionate about the project.
“Creating an ei isn’t just about the physical weaving itself – it’s the storytelling, the context and passing on our heritage,” she says.
“As a group, the Pacifica Mamas are dedicated to keeping indigenous knowledge alive through art practice and passing on the knowledge to youth; here we’ve used our creative expertise to tell the children’s story. They’re the author, and we’re the publishers. This ei represents relationships across generations in the Pacific community.”
Children from the community chose the colour blue for the ei as a reflection of love and home. Since then, the Pacifica Mamas have discovered the different meanings the colour carries throughout the community: for one child it’s their family watching a Blues game together; for another it speaks to how they are people of the ocean; someone else shared that it’s the ancient colour of love.
“It’s funny because originally we had a completely different idea,” says Jarcinda. “But the children were so sure it was blue and they are the true designers. Now I look back and go yes, yes of course – it was always going to be blue.”
To create this blue effect, the Pacifica Mamas wove the ei out of the bright blue plastic strapping used to bind boxes and rope. All the materials were donated by the community, with the project deliberately taking waste that was tossed into the environment and forging something new and beautiful instead.
Auckland Councillor Penny Hulse, who has a deep affinity for the Pacifica Mamas, spoke at the launch event. “It’s an incredibly inspiring work of art,” she says.
“Auckland is home to some of the world’s best Pacific artists and it’s vital we support and nurture them. We’re touched that the Pacifica Mamas are presenting us with this ei, and we recognise their remarkable work over several decades to bring the art and warmth of the Pacific to our communities.”
The ei will be displayed on the clock tower until Sunday 9 June. A digital story that captures the making of the ei, created by filmmaker Robert George, will be screened on the Auckland Live Digital Stage in Aotea Square from late May.
When the ei is taken down, the Pacifica Mamas will repurpose it to create several different art installations for local libraries that have been involved in the project.