Election 2017: Pacific inspiration, economic realities

Election 2017: Pacific inspiration, economic realities

This is a series on five major election issues seen through the eyes of the national museum.

In the lead-up to the 2017 General Election, we have linked each of these issues to objects from the collection, or education programmes, run by Te Papa. In this post, Curator Pacific Cultures, Rachel Yates looks at the three Pacific collection items that identify the varied ways Pacific people have positively contributed to the larger New Zealand economy.

The idea of New Zealand as a place of opportunity is clearly apparent in the well-known description: ‘The land of milk and honey’.

For Pacific people, the diverse opportunities and lifestyle on offer in mid-twentieth century New Zealand, was a central motivation for the large wave of migrants who arrived in the country (Mahina-Tuai, 2012).

‘Jonah Lomu Rugby’

Play Station game 'Jonah Lomu'
Jonah Lomu Rugby PlayStation game, 1997, Austria, by The Codemasters Software Company Limited. Purchased 2011. Te Papa (FE012636)

This is a video game featuring Auckland born Tongan, Jonah Lomu (1975 – 2015) who made his debut as a rugby player for the New Zealand All Blacks in June 1994 at age 19.

He went on to become one of the most marketable faces in world sport. Jonah had commercial ties to multinational sportswear companies such as Adidas. This PlayStation game ‘Jonah Lomu Rugby’ was a successful piece of merchandising based around his image and his spectacular style of play.

Lomu’s story is a milestone in the history of Pacific Islanders in sport but also speaks to a narrative for how some global businesses like the sport of Rugby Union were able to market themselves and benefit economically from the contributions and presence of Pacific peoples.

The Royal Family Dance Crew

Black t-shirt with a crown symbol in blue with the words 'royal family;
Royal Family Crown Tee, by The Palace Dance Studio. Purchased 2015. Te Papa (FE012949)

The Royal Family is a collective of hip-hop dancers based at The Palace Dance Studio in Penrose, Auckland. The crew has won multiple World Hip Hop Titles in various divisions at the annual Hip Hop International Competition held in Las Vegas. The studio is owned by successful hip-hop choreographer and dancer, Parris Goebel aka Parri$ who is of Samoan descent.

As a collective, the Royal Family dancers have thrived in a very competitive profession, many feature in popular music videos and award shows globally. Goebel has created a professional pathway for young dancers, profiting as a business woman and contributing creatively to the global hip-hop phenomena.

‘Ulafala and Pacific people in parliament

Red necklace
`ulafala (pandanus key necklace), 20th Century, Samoa Islands, maker unknown. Gift of Government House, 1997. Te Papa (FE010595)

This type of necklace is called an ‘ulafala. It is most often worn by Samoan tulafale (orator chiefs). In the context of oratory performances, ‘ulafala are important markers of social status. In other social and ceremonial situations they can help identify a special guest or simply act as an attractive adornment. For these reasons the ‘ulafala has heavily featured in New Zealand Parliament, worn by Samoan politicians Anae Arthur Anae, Vui Mark Gosche, and Su’a Sio while addressing parliament.

The percentage for parliament representatives of Pacific descent is increasing. These politicians are evidence of the ways in which Pacific people have become prominent in public life.  They play a crucial role in advocating for Pacific peoples and shaping the future for all New Zealanders.

The objects shared in this blog draw attention to some of the high-profile Pacific personalities who have had a strong influence in New Zealand and its wider economy. In today’s economic climate we need to hold on to these examples as inspiration.

A recent report prepared for the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment assessed the economic wellbeing of Pacific people. The findings concluded that while there has been substantial improvement over the last 15 years in the areas of Pacific education, employment and business; there is a still much work required to close the gaps between Pacific and the total population.

For many Pacific communities, the land of milk and honey remains elusive. New Zealand is a land of opportunity but also one of hardship and struggle.


Mahina-Tuai, K. (2012). A land of milk and honey? Education and employment migration schemes in the postwar era. In Mallon, S., Māhina-Tuai, K. U., & Salesa, D. I. (Eds.), Tangata o le Moana: New Zealand and the people of the Pacific (161-178). Te Papa Press.

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