Paul Janman. Tongan Ark.
Elam Lecture Theatre. 3rd May.
Directed and produced by Elam’s own Paul and Echo Janman, the long-awaited Elam screening of Tongan Ark has arrived!
Elam Lecture Theatre
Friday May 3rd, 5:30pm
Tongan Ark is a documentary about the late Tongan scholar Futa Helu a philosopher and a follower of the pre-Socratic thinker Heraclitus, which Helu had learnt about while studying at Sydney in the 1950s. Helu studied philosophy, literature and mathematics and then returned to Tonga after his time overseas.
I had seen flyers about this documentary and I had always wanted to watch this film since it was released in 2012. So when it was announced that this documentary would be screening at Elam in the Lecture theatre, I knew this was my only chance to watch this film. As part of the Tuakana exhibition at Projectspace, titled: “Don’t I know you?” which opened on the 30th of April to the 11th of May, it was great to acknowledge the support for Maori and Pacific students at Elam.
With my note book in one hand and a pen in the other, I was prepared to take notes as I found the story of Tongan Ark interesting.
As a half Tongan and Half Samoan, born and raised in New Zealand, I can say, that I found the right; to question my surroundings and my upbringing as a way of acknowledging the reasons why certain issues presented itself to me and my family. Watching this film, I felt confidant of the path that I had been fighting through in life, wasn’t in vain.
Helu is an interesting person, he was influenced by the great old western philosophers and took what he needed and then adapted this to the Tongan life. The issues of the church, politics, and the economic model of education, government and the monarchy became the topics of enquiry. But what Atenisi was great for; were the Tongan youth (the drop outs) who the Tongan society had turned their backs on. These students were taken under the wing of Helu at his institute of Atenisi and graduated successfully as great thinkers. Helu taught his students to think for them-selves. With this in the minds of the Tongan youths, the life in Tonga became the standing point for the students to then question upon.
Memories of my visit to Tonga came to surface as scenes from the 2006 Nuku’alofa riots were showed in the film. A mixed crowd of democracy advocates took to the streets in protest. This act for change, challenged the picturesque ‘friendly island’ image to the global scale as the Tongan people had woken up to the lack of progression of democracy, in the government of Tonga.
What was inspiring to see, were some recordings of classical opera performances and pre-colonial traditional Tongan dances that were performed and executed in a professional manner, by the students overseas as a way to help fundraise for the Atenisi institute. Throughout watching Tongan Ark I felt inspired as-well as admiration for Helu and for the staff and students at Atenisi. The run down building of the institute and the swamp grounds of the campus and the honest small library did not stop the Tongan students from their passion to learn and to educate oneself at Atenisi. Tongan Ark hit home for me as this documentary is about my culture and the challenges for the Tongan people to change the views of life in Tonga to live life fairly and equally, governed by the Tongan people for the Tongan people.
Futa Helu a beautiful mind who inspired the Tongan people as well as my-self and others,
Mālō ‘aupito Tongan Ark.
Photo Credit: http://www.tonganark.net