New Zealand’s first Pacific Rainbow+ Health and Wellbeing Project investigating healthcare-specific experiences of Pacific Rainbow+ / MVPFAFF+ communities in Aotearoa.
“My hunch is that, sometimes when you’re brown and queer, you think you’re the only one and too often that becomes shrouded in secrecy.” That hunch, by Pacific Studies postgraduate student and Samoan queer woman, Olive Wilson, is one shared widely among Pasifika queer communities in New Zealand.
The queer Pacific experience in New Zealand is scarcely acknowledged. While recently there seems to be plenty of eyes on the history of Pasifika peoples in New Zealand, particularly with last year’s Dawn Raids apology, queer Pacific communities are rarely represented or included in these narratives. As a result, being Pasifika and queer, or a member of our MVPFAFF+ communities can feel isolating—a behind-closed-doors happening. A queer Pacific identity is not one that policy makers, organisations, or even just the general public seem to want to affirm and fully invest in.
However, the Manalagi Project is willing to put the work in and change that. Having launched in December 2020, the Manalagi Project is a three-year research project, funded by the Health Research Council and is based right here at the University of Auckland. To create a safer research environment for Pacific queer/Rainbow+/MVPFAFF+ communities in Aotearoa, the Manalagi Project is working to examine why we need to consider the intersectional identity a Pacific queer person holds and the barriers that these individuals and communities face to reaching fullness of wellbeing.
In the year and a half since its launch, the Manalagi Project has achieved a considerable amount, including the launch of the Manalagi Repository, an online, open access archive that centres literature, art and work created by and for Pacific Rainbow+ peoples in Aotearoa and the wider Pacific diaspora. However, the most notable achievement is inarguably the recently launched Manalagi Survey. The online survey is the first of its kind in Aotearoa, its objective is to investigate the general, and healthcare-specific experiences of Pacific Rainbow+ communities in Aotearoa. The survey is open to those over the age of 15 who identify as Pasifika and queer/MVPFAFF+ and/or Rainbow+. The survey is also open to our family, friends, and allies who are willing to share their own experiences and support for our communities.
The survey was community co-designed as the Manalagi research team carried out a series of community consultation talanoa throughout Aotearoa in 2021. The research team travelled across the country, from Whangarei to Dunedin, holding space with members of MVPFAFF+/Pacific Rainbow+ communities and our allies; engaging in these talanoa facilitated a better understanding of their specific needs and experiences. These talanoa were held to ensure that as many of our communities’ voices were heard as possible. They also served to create a survey instrument that acknowledges the multifaceted nature of the various Pacific queer and MVPFAFF+ communities that exist in different regions of the country.
The gravity and importance of this survey are not lost on those following the Manalagi Project. Iatua Taito attended one of these aforementioned talanoa in Auckland and shares that he feels the Manalagi Project and its survey will positively impact many individuals within MVPFAFF+ communities throughout the country. “It is the first of its kind in Aotearoa that centres around the research of Pasifika Rainbow people in New Zealand… This will be groundbreaking, and being a part of this survey can help people like myself be included in data moving forward.”
While the Manalagi Project is important in generating data and resources to support our Pacific queer peoples and communities throughout the country—and hopefully beyond—it has already done so much more than that. Manalagi has had a profound impact on how Pacific queer people see themselves and are seen. As a queer Pacific person myself (who also happens to work as a research assistant on the Manalagi Project), pre-Manalagi, I often found it difficult to see my whole identity reflected back at me in spaces like academia or my wider communities. It often felt as though my queer-ness and Samoan-ness were two separate things, activated at different times in very different spaces.
This feeling is mutual for Wilson, who shares these feelings of invisibility and upset at her position with the queer Pacific community in New Zealand.
“For the longest time, I just thought that queer Pacific women didn’t exist because we aren’t talked, represented, or normalised, and that’s not all good. Despite the creativity, fluidity, and courage that so many queer Pacific people bring to the space, there is a fight to be heard over the dominant palagi voice of being queer.”
However, with the force of Manalagi, it seems as though this perception and common feeling is changing. The Project has offered queer Pacific peoples and communities the chance to come to the fore without having to cast their Pacific heritage aside in order to highlight their queer-ness and vice versa. In doing so, it also offers Pacific Rainbow+ communities the chance to see themselves, while also being seen by others. Taito agrees, sharing, “I can only imagine our young Queer Pasifika rangatahi coming up seeing what Manalagi offers will allow more help and insight for them being in the crux of their intersecting identities.”
Wilson powerfully adds, “The Manalagi Project in a very big way sends a message that queer Pacific people deserve to be heard, seen and celebrated. I can’t stress enough how important it is to be able to bring your full self, your brownness and your queerness—whatever that looks like for you.”
While the Manalagi Survey is open now, until 31 August 2022, the Manalagi Project has already sent a strong and unrelenting message that our communities are here, brown, queer, and not going anywhere. By taking the Manalagi Survey, Pacific queer communities have the chance to continue in this strength and progression of representation and recognition in all facets of New Zealand’s society. You can take the survey at manalagi.org now.
MVPFAFF+: Acronym that acknowledges the diverse gender identities that exist within the Pacific. Mahu (Hawai’i and Tahiti), Vaka sa lewa lewa (Fiji), Palopa (Papua New Guinea), Fa’afafine (Samoa), Akava’ine (Rarotonga), Fakaleiti (Tonga), Fakafifine (Niue), with the + representing the many other gender identities that exist within the Pacific. It is NOT a Pacific equivalent to acronyms like LGBTQIA+.
Rainbow+: Term used to inclusively describe Rainbow, LGBTQIA+ and queer communities’ inclusive of diverse gender and sexual identities; throughout this article, queer and Rainbow+ are used interchangably.
Manalagi: A term coined by Manalagi’s Principal Investigator Seuta’afili Dr. Patrick Thomsen to acknowledge the truly innate, spiritual, and connected nature of Pacific Rainbow+ communities to their cultural and familial genealogies. ‘Manalagi’ roughly translates to mana (spiritual authority and essence) from, and sanctioned by the heavens (lagi/langi/rangi).
Talanoa: Both a cultural concept that exists within various Pacific cultures, and a Pacific Research Methodology, talanoa can be defined as a conversation, in which people share their stories, realities, and aspirations, exchanging ideas and opinions.