Discovering your tribe in South Auckland.
First published in Metro September 2014. Photo by Raymond Sagapolutele.
I remember as a child, fresh off the boat in Napier, watching a clip that my older siblings must have dubbed off Mai Time — the boys of Lost Tribe swaggering through the streets of South Auckland, island shirts over hoodies, Johnny Sagala and those chatter rings around his neck.
In between chanting the chorus of “Summer in the Winter”, they rap about migration and the struggle of navigating a new, urban environment, low-paid factory jobs and trying to adapt to a different culture without losing their own.
I was about nine, and I probably didn’t pick up on the meaning of the song, but their name, Lost Tribe, resonated. Napier was not as urban as Auckland, but it was still alien.
A few years later, South Auckland would become my stomping ground too. It was a place where I would feel instantly comfortable. From being the only Samoan in my year, in a predominantly white school, to being surrounded by Samoans and other ethnicities, I felt finally I had found my people.
I hadn’t really known what it was to call a place home until I settled in the southside of Auckland. Mangere 275, first, where I would catch the 305 or 304 over the bridge to school, where the back of the bus was dominated by loud talking girls, even louder laughter, and where the Jandal, sock and lava lava combo will never go out of style.
And then Mangere Bridge, where anyone who lives there will tell you if you want to eat the best cheese bread in all the world, Hong Kong Bakery is where it’s at — just make sure you get there before the after-church rush on Sunday.
And now Papatoetoe 278, where my earliest memories of South Auckland were spent sitting on the steps of Uncle Lua and Aunty Lagi’s, eating Sunday toonai and watching planes fly over while my cousins did bombs in the pool out back. When I went to university, I took particular pride in telling my classmates, mostly from the North Shore, where I lived. I still take pride in telling people where I live.
Those of us here know the connotations placed on the words “South Auckland”; we know how we are perceived, how others try to define us.
Almost 20 years since “Summer in the Winter”, a video for a new South Auckland anthem, “Southside”, has been released. This time, David Dallas, Sid Diamond and Mareko walk through South Auckland streets, again touching on culture, migration and low-paid work, but it goes beyond that. It’s a song of defying expectations, paying homage to the history and richness of the place, its diversity and its influence.
We are not immune to the labels others place on us, but only South Aucklanders can define South Auckland. It’s “the real melting pot”, according to “Southside” — “immigration central, culture and arts, we’re so instrumental, but still we never acted like we too damn special, don’t ever let nobody say we’re all just criminals, round here it ain’t all that simple”.
We have spent so long listening to other people’s definitions of who we are that it’s refreshing and, at times, emotional to have some of our own eloquently counter this. It is no rose-tinted account of our neighbourhood, but a truer picture of the environment that allowed an Afakasi Samoan like me to find a tribe of her own.