"I have always been captivated by Tuiga and just the regality that it brings upon a Taupou. It is literally a crown of glory..." - Tehinamai Mataele Tafiti
My name is Tehinamai Mataele Tafiti. I am a wife and a mother of two boys. I am 31 years old and I currently reside in Laie, Hawaii. I am half Tongan - Maori, Spanish, and Hawaiian. I was born and raised here in Hawai'i.
My family is culturally rich and always has been, but I have always been someone who was in search of more. I've always considered myself an old soul, someone who could feel the old soul inside, but was never sure how to tap into that.
I have always loved creating beautiful things and have always dreamed of reaching a state of self fulfillment as a Polynesian. Being of mixed Polynesian background I have identified with all of my roots at different points in my life, and I feel it is important for Polynesians to do so. We are not just one thing. We are one being made up of so many things. When I was in highschool I became part of the Polynesian Voyaging society which took me to do cultural exchanges in Aotearoa, Australia, Samoa, and Fiji.
My life has never been the same since. I was heavily involved in Polynesian dance throughout my early 20's until just a few years ago. I connected well to my roots through Polynesian dance. I have participated in Tahitian Heiva competition, Te Manahua Maori competition, and also We are Samoa festival.
Tauivi Designs started just last year. It was unexpected but I also feel that it was meant to be. At least for this point in my life. I had my second child and I had retired from dancing. I was approached by one of the mothers in the community who had heard that I could create cultural attire.
She specifically asked for Taupou attire for her daughter. I had recently helped my Mum the previous year with her 6th grade class and we put on a Samoan performance including a Taupou for whom I designed attire for. So I decided to help.
What MOTIVATED me was the young women in my community today. For me, I have always been captivated by Tuiga and just the regality that it brings upon a Taupou. It is literally a crown of glory. And I wanted to show that in my work.
But I found a lot of young women I would talk to would explain to me that the reason they shy away from actually wanting to learn and dress as a Taupou and even carry on the tradition is because a lot of the Tuiga and Ula are very "old", and because they were family heirlooms, a lot of the Tuiga are passed down through generations. But I could understand as a young woman myself, that what I wear affects my confidence as well. So I decided to start creating Tuiga that our generation would be more interested in wearing.
One of the mothers in particular, Nisi Uyehara-Peters is whom I owe all of my respect to. If it weren't for her, I would not have stepped out into the public eye and really pushed my work out. She believed that people needed to see my work. And she also helped me with my first logo and just gave me that shove I needed to share Tauivi with everyone. I also started to put my Tongan designs together. The work for that is slowly but surely coming out.
All of my Tuiga are tied on to the women traditionally. Onto the hair, so I bring a bit of tradition and contemporary all in one experience. I find that the experience many of the women have are irreplacable. For many of my models, this is the only time they may ever have this cultural experience and so I am privileged to give that to them.
Along with Tuiga I specialize in contemporary Ula. I realized that I not only loved creating Tuiga but I feel that the Tuiga and Ula really bring an ensemble together. I am very inspired by Victorian attire. I feel like the prominent, high ranking, and nobility of certain Victorian designs fit so well with how I want my Taupou to be displayed to the world as well.
I use all natural fibers, shells, and materials. My Tuiga that you see on my models are all tied onto the hair traditionally. Called Tuiga Fau. I have not photographed a contemporary Tuiga yet until recent when I had a photo shoot for my mens Tuiga line.
Every piece that I have created directly reflects different experiences, emotions, or thoughts that I've had. And I can tell you exactly why I created each design and what my thoughts were at that time. The reward between the models and myself is very mutual. I get to see my work displayed on them, come to life. And they get to see that this is who they are. Who they really are.
I believe that everything I have experienced in my life has led me up to this time and has prepared me for this point now as a designer and an artist. I believe that my experiences have given me so much to express through my work and I am so grateful for many of these experiences. The good and the bad. They are what has shaped my work today.
My main struggles have been trying to articulate what I cannot put into words. Because there is so much. But I feel that my work is changing and maturing with me and I have been able to see that start to blossom in my designs. My recent ensemble "Lamepa Susulu" just hit it right on the nose. I saw the photo of it, the colors, and design, the Tuiga and Ula all put together and when I saw the final photo I thought to myself "THIS IS ME, THIS IS TAUIVI".
So I am still finding myself in my designs, in my work and how I want it displayed. As a woman who has grown up with Pasifika culture, I feel that we understand our work best. That it stirs something inside of us when we see beautiful Pasifika art work and we completely understand it. We appreciate it.
We feel that mana and where it's rooted from. I feel that my work is easy for me to do because it comes from a place that has been with me since birth. We may not reside where our roots sprung forth from. But our souls are very much still rooted there.
My goals for Tauivi Design is very focused now. We have created a movement of young people who now want to and request to be photographed in their cultural attire. Along with this, I have decided to publish a photography book along with Mapuana Reed Photography.
It is the combination of design and photography that really bring the art to life. Mapuana Reed and Tauivi go hand in hand when it comes to photographing these people in my art. So we decided to publish a book and the decision is concrete. We know that this is our destiny together in this work.
The reason I chose to pursue publishing this book is because we were capturing so many of my designs in studio with photos. But what we were doing that was even MORE important was we were documenting people of today. There are many old photos of Samoans and Tongan in their cultural attire, many portraits of our ancestors. But there is a huge gap between the past and present.
So right now I have been taking my designs, and having their portraits taken. I am not sure when we plan to put the book out but right now that is the direction that Tauivi Designs has taken. I feel that this is my calling. To dress women and men of Pasifika. To let them feel that their identity is still very much alive. I also want to let the world know that we are still documenting who we are culturally.
My goal is to continue to dress my designs on men and women, and have their portraits taken. I want to publish many books of our people. I want the world to see and remember who we are. Along with publishing the photos, I have written many pieces as well and continue to right Polynesian literature. So we will be combining all of these things, design, photography, people, and literature, all into one book. I am looking forward with faith and so much gratitude.
Tauivi Designs have recently launched their website: Click Here