Light on Pacific:
John Pulu and Marama T-Pole (above) are co-hosts on Tagata Pasifika, a local series devoted to issues relevant to New Zealand’s Pacific Island community. They tell Sarah Nealon what inspired them to become journalists and why they push against stereotype
TVNZ’s long-running show that often flies under the radar.
If you were asked to name one of New Zealand’s longest-running TV shows, chances are you would say Country Calendar or perhaps Fair Go.
But how many people would say Tagata Pasifika?
While it might not be as familiar as programmes about rural life or consumer issues, this series about matters relevant to the Pacific Island community has been around since 1987.
Largely a blend of current affairs and entertainment, the weekly Saturday morning show celebrates success stories such as Tongan-born scientist Dr Palatasa Havea, London-based Kiwi-Samoan chef Monica Galetti and actor Fasitua Amosa (Dirty Laundry, Auckland Daze) who is of Samoan-Tuvaluan descent.
Tagata Pasifika also touches on serious issues such as mental health, homelessness and diabetes.
Past presenters of the show include actor Robbie Magasiva (Wentworth, Shortland Street) and Commonwealth Games gold medallist Beatrice Faumuina.
Currently, the show is fronted by John Pulu, 31, and Marama T-Pole, who is in her early 40s, and has lately been presenting 1 News Tonight.
T-Pole became involved with Tagata Pasifika when she began freelancing for the show in 2004.
Before that she worked in radio and attended broadcasting school in Christchurch.
Born in Dunedin, she says she’s what’s known as a ‘South Island Islander’. Her mother is P keh and her father, a mechanic turned church minister, is Tuvaluan.
“My dad’s first parish was in St Andrew’s which is halfway between Christchurch and Dunedin, just 15 minutes south of Timaru,” says T-Pole.
“I caught the same school bus as Josh (Thomson) from The Project. He’d pull the same gag every day where every time he got off the bus he would pretend to fall over inside the bus.”
T-Pole was inspired to work in media after becoming concerned about the lack of positive Pacific Island role models on television when she was growing up.
“We’re represented in crime stories but that’s not a true representation of our community,” says T-Pole, who is a mother to three children – aged five, three and 11 months.
“Not only for ourselves but for the rest of New Zealand, only seeing that picture of who we are is quite disturbing and absolutely false. It is not who we are as a community.”
However, there was someone in television who stood out.
That was Stephanie Tauevihi, who appeared in a youth-focused TV show before later playing Shortland Street’s Donna Heka.
“I saw this Polynesian young woman presenting and reporting and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. There’s me’,” says T-Pole. “It meant so much to see Stephanie Tauevihi on air. I’d never seen anyone ... Later on April Ieremia became a sports news reader for TVNZ and that was quite a big thing for us as well.”
On Tagata Pasifika, T-Pole and Pulu not only present the show but are also reporters and directors.
Several years ago the show covered T-Pole’s traditional Tuvaluan wedding in Auckland.
T-Pole’s Tagata Pasifika co-host Pulu joined the show eight years ago after finishing his tertiary studies.
But it wasn’t his first taste of Tagata Pasifika. As a teenager he did work experience there during his final year of high school.
“As a kid from Tonga who grew up in South Auckland going to TVNZ, it was an awesome feeling,” recalls Pulu.
“I told myself I wanted to work there only because I wanted to burst the bubble from growing up in South Auckland thinking, ‘This is it’.”
Pulu was born in Tonga and moved to New Zealand with his family at age nine. His father worked as a carpenter while his mother stayed at home raising Pulu and his siblings.
“I grew up in a time when shows like Police Ten 7, they were pushing stereotypes of brown people always doing naughty things and being arrested and we were getting teased a lot at school,” he says.
“So, you know, being mocked for being Pacific. I fell in love with Tagata Pasifika because they were celebrating being Pacific and telling awesome stories by Pacific people. That’s how it all began for me.”
Pulu is passionate about his work and it’s clear he finds the job satisfying, particularly on a personal level.
“I use my role as a journalist to be an advocate for our people,” he says.
“One of the stories that I worked on that made me really value our job was helping a family move out of a garage and into a proper house. That’s one that always sticks with me. That’s why I do what I do.”
“We’re represented in crime stories but that’s not a true representation of our community.” – Marama T-Pole