My experience during the MAA collections internship

5 minute read

I’m Takenivula, and like Adi Lewa, I was an intern on the Urban Pathways project. A few weeks before I heard about the internship, I vividly remember discussing with my friend how amazing an opportunity it would be to study historical and cultural Fijian pieces. We agreed that in another life, we would have pursued anthropology to study pieces relevant to our history. I couldn’t imagine that a week later, an internship would open up that would allow us to do exactly what we had been dreaming about.

Even before I applied, I knew that for my final project, I would be choreographing and performing a meke (a traditional dance involving song and storytelling). I’ve been a meke artist for around 10 years, and it felt like this internship would be a culmination of all that I had learned so far in my professional career. I had a perfect vision in my mind of how I wanted the performance to be and how I wanted to present it. To be honest, it was frustrating at times trying to reach that vision because I knew instantly when I did something if it was what I wanted or not.

A young Fijian woman wearing traditional dress, is in the midst of performing a traditional dance, and poses for the camera.

Figure 1. Takenivula Rakei performing the meke. Source: Takenivula Rakei.

The first Zoom session had me eager to begin my research and bring my vision to life. Being able to do this internship while being supported and guided by esteemed professionals such as Katrina Igglesden and Karen Jacobs was a blessing. Their breadth of knowledge, patience, and encouraging nature assured all of us interns that we were in good hands and that they would do whatever they could to help us bring our final project to life.

However, with any big project, it can be overwhelming at first to begin. I spent an hour after the first Zoom session wondering if I even had the time or resources to pull this project off. What would my meke look like? Which song would I be using? How was I going to get my  costume delivered to my house? Would I even have enough time to properly go through all the relevant pieces in the collection? All these questions buzzed around my mind until I took a deep breath and reminded myself of a quote that has gotten me through seemingly impossible tasks: ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time’.

I bought a planner the next day and organised my schedule for the next few weeks with regards to the internship. I took it day by day, bit by bit. For the first week, I spent every day going through all the MAA database’s search results for ‘Fiji’ and ‘Woman’. After curating an entire folder of the aforementioned subjects, I started selecting photographs of specifically Fijian women and meke.

At times, it felt like I researched so much that I started seeing in black and white, like the images I had been studying and analysing. I scoured the internet for Fijian songs that would fit my vision. One song was too fast, another too slow, another too electronic, and the other too traditional. I searched and searched for a song that was the perfect balance and eventually came back to one of my favourite Fijian bands, Black Rose. Their song ‘Rogoci Viti’ perfectly captured everything I was feeling because of this internship. Rogoci Viti means ‘Listen to Fiji’. That sense of listening to your culture and your roots and being confident in your identity and purpose.

This idea of listening to Fiji was further highlighted when we had our group call with the Fiji-based interns. Hearing about their experiences of both living in Fiji and being surrounded by the culture and their internships was highly fascinating and informative. I was nervous for the group call because having the confidence to voice my opinion in a group discussion setting is something that I’ve always struggled with. I even included in my internship application that I hoped this internship would allow me to develop this skill. Even though it was daunting at first to speak, I was so grateful that Katrina nudged me to share my thoughts. After speaking up once, I felt reassured that I was in a safe space, which made me eager to properly discuss the different perspectives we all had with regards to Fijian urban youth and culture. Pushing myself to contribute to the group discussion and participate has made me so much more confident in voicing my thoughts and opinions.

A collage of four images. In each a young Fijian woman in traditional dress strikes four different poses of a dance.

Figure 2. A collage of images showing Takenivula in her meke costume comprised of masi (barkcloth), magimagi (coconut fibre) and vesavesa. Source: Takenivula Rakei.

A week and a half before the final deadline, my family drove for an hour to deliver my meke costume to me. My mum had spent the previous night ironing out the pleats on the masi (barkcloth). So much went into my performance, and so many people gave me their time and resources so that I could create the final project I envisioned. I am so grateful for each and every one of them. After receiving the costume, I dedicated a whole day to filming my meke. My little cousin, Kula, was a star. She helped me put the masi pieces on, tied my magimagi (a rope made of coconut fibre) and vesavesa. We first recorded the meke video inside, and after several tries, I looked outside to the garden where it was unbelievably windy and wet from the night before. Kula looked at me and started shaking her head because she knew exactly what I was thinking. Long story short, you’ll see in my meke video that I’m performing in the garden. It took several takes because the wind was too loud for me to hear the music, even with our speaker, but we were able to capture the meke well.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hvWd3NccD-s

 

The final presentation day arrived surprisingly quickly. To prepare for it, I created my PowerPoint presentation and wrote a script to accompany it. At first, my script was a jumble of ideas, but my friend, who’s gifted with the ability to write eloquently and beautifully, helped me organise my thoughts. I ran through my presentation multiple times with her, making sure to practise speaking clearly and confidently. I also made sure to have my meke video on my laptop and on YouTube. Alas, you cannot prepare for everything, but you can choose how you react to it. I wasn’t able to properly stream my meke video via Zoom’s screen share feature, but we were still able to play it during the Zoom call. I thoroughly enjoyed the final session along with the Q&A we had after sharing our projects. The difference in my confidence between that first group discussion with the Fiji-based interns and this discussion was clear. I feel that I’ve grown so much through this internship. I entered it not knowing what to expect and came out as a Fijian woman who’s not only confident in herself but also in her identity and culture.

This is an edited version of a post that first appeared on Urban Pathways: Fiji. Youth. Arts. Culture.

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