During the infamous Dawn Raids of the 1970s, Manase Lua’s family left Auckland and headed north to avoid detection by immigration officials — finding shelter with a Māori whānau in Awarua, near Kaikohe.
Now he’s one of six Pacific Island candidates running under the Māori Party ticket in next month’s general election.
Here he talks to Dale about why it makes sense for Māori and Pasifika to link arms.
Kia ora, Manase. You call yourself “a son of the Dawn Raids” — an overstayer. Can you tell us a bit about how that came about, and what it led to?
I was born in the Kingdom of Tonga. My mother, Sela Mounu-ki-Uoleva, is from the village of Vainī, on the main Tongan island of Tongatapu. My dad, the late Siosifa Motu’apuaka Ngauamo Lua, came from an island called Ha’afeva, in the Ha’apai group of islands, to the north. In the early 1970s, my dad migrated here, found some work — which was plentiful in those days on the work schemes — and then brought us over.
Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse, and he decided to take a risk and he stayed over. So, by default, we all became overstayers. I was three or four years old at the time.
Then, because of the raids, Dad decided to take us out of Auckland, up to Awarua, off Tokawhero Road, just south of Kaikohe. One of my uncles had married into a Māori family — the Tehaki and Wihongi whānau up there. So we took shelter there for a wee while.
That’s the short version of how we got here. It’s a very similar story across the Pasifika nations where families overseas are trying to find a better life in the land of milk and honey. Some of them have come here and they’re still looking for the milk and honey.
When things had calmed down, we came back to Auckland, then to Ōtara. Did my schooling in South Auckland. Went to university. Got a couple of degrees. Started working in government. Got married — four kids. And here I am now. I think I’ve learned a few things that could be useful for our people in Aotearoa, and so I’m putting my hand up to run for politics.
Tell us about that period up north, and the impact that it had on your whānau?
I was only a small boy at the time, but I can still remember well going up there and the old mātua, Charlie Tehaki, who took us in. He and his family were some of the most kind and caring people you can find. The aroha they showed to my folks.
The great thing, Dale, is that, although it was a time of hardship, I can only remember good things. That’s a testament to my folks. Although it was hard times, they were able to tough it out and make ends meet.
It’s not until much later that you realise: “Oh, geez, there were dogs chasing our people.” There were all sorts of bad things, but we kids were sheltered from all of that. You pile into a Ford Cortina — all eight of us — and take off up north. Those things don’t register until much later on, when you grow up and you learn about the Dawn Raids, and the policies that both major parties put together that created those conditions. You don’t learn until much later.
One thing I learned up north was that the whānau all work together. Whānau is a unit. Although we’d married into the family up there — my uncle married one of the daughters — they treated us like their own.
That value was really instilled in me throughout the time that I grew up in South Auckland, and also the aroha that has drawn me closer to Māori again. I don’t think that’s an accident. I think it was almost predetermined that we would cross paths again. Putting my hand up for politics is a way of paying back some of that.
Most Pasifika people speak two languages, if not more. What’s been your language journey?
I’m one of the lucky ones that never lost our reo when we migrated here. Mum and Dad would always talk to us in Tongan at home. We were encouraged to speak English, but we never lost the ability to understand what Mum and Dad were saying.
I think being the elder sibling had something to do with my stubbornness in not wanting to lose the language. I had a real passion to know my culture. What’s the history of Tonga? What is its connection to the other Pacific Islands?
And in my journey it’s been similar. I’ve met a number of wonderful people, including the late Reverend Tevita Kilifi Heimuli, who many Māori will know. He was a fluent speaker of te reo. He and I shared the same office at the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs. One of the reasons why I can speak Tongan now is because he would speak in Tongan all the time at the office.
The practical aspects of learning a second language are often undervalued in this country. If a hospital needs someone to interpret, they’ll grab a Tongan cleaner. That’s a skill. Those are things that we should be looking at as a country, to value Pacific languages. But especially the actual language of this country, te reo Māori.
You are one of perhaps only a handful of Tongan men to wear the sacred Samoan tattoo markings. Can you tell us how that came to be and why?
In Tonga we used to do the full-body tatau, until the missionaries banned it 200-odd years ago. But the best artists were in Samoa, so, we’d go and get our tatau done there. There was also a rule that some of our chiefs, particularly of a line called the Tu’i Kanokupolu, had to be tattooed, otherwise they were not given the right to hold the supreme title.
So I thought, rather than just talk about it, I have to go through it myself. That’s what you call real action research! There’s 60 hours of torture and pain to go through. I’m telling you, it’s a real ordeal. I can understand why only a few people actually do it.
But afterwards you feel the pride. And so I’m honoured to wear the sacred markings that my ancestors wore. And my cousins, the Samoans, wear it with pride as well.
Regarding your schooling, I’m curious to know if there was an expectation that you’d carry on to tertiary education and, if so, whether that came through the church or the whānau. Or was it something you had inside you?
Education was one of the key reasons why my dad wanted to bring us over from Tonga. He was pretty well-educated. Although he worked in factory jobs here in New Zealand, he was trained as an accountant. In fact, an award-winning one in Fiji. He basically sacrificed his own career to bring us here. So education was the number one thing, apart from church and family. Dad would always push us to try our best at school, regardless of what we were doing.
In terms of barriers or issues, all of us probably can tell those stories. I’ll share one. I was particularly good at English, for some reason. I was terrible at maths. And there was an incident in an English class, where the teacher told us to go home and write a poem.
To cut a long story short, she gave me an F for it, and, at the bottom of the page, she wrote that “the exercise was for you to write your own, not to copy one from a book.” She couldn’t believe I’d written the thing. So, I took it as: “Well, I must be pretty good at this.” So, rather than seeing it as a negative, I used it as a way to reinforce the fact that I was good at something.
So, I focused on that area. Went to uni and got a master’s degree in literature. You can use things to drive you, or they can drive you under. I used it to drive me forward.
I was intrigued to see that so much focus in your studies has been on the language of the colonisers, if I can use that term. Why such a strong attraction to English for you, Manase?
Two of my favourite books are Albert Wendt’s Leaves of the Banyan Tree and Sons for the Return Home. Even though I’m not Samoan, to know as you’re growing up that you’ve got a Pacific Islander who’s written books and you see them on the library shelves — you can’t underestimate the impact that has. It inspires you.
Same thing with Witi Ihimaera. We read Witi’s books in school — short stories and all sorts of stuff. Another Polynesian male. Again, you gravitate to the fact that you’ve got these brown people writing amazing stories, and they’re our stories. So, that’s what really got to me, and I followed that journey along.
Epeli Hau’ofa is another one, another master of the English language. It just reinforces the fact that language is a powerful medium and a powerful pull. If you can use it, and use it wisely, it can change lives.
Were you politically active when you were at varsity?
Unfortunately, I didn’t really get involved in the student political arena. I was one of only two people from my school — Auckland Seventh Day Adventist High School in Mangere — that went to Auckland university in my class.
And, initially, it was hard to just connect and find people that you can get on with. But I was befriended by a lot of really good people. Mainly Samoans. I managed to pretend I was Samoan for my whole university career.
But, regarding the political arena, I noticed that Māori, particularly Māori women, were really vocal at university. The English department was near the marae, so I’d go down and listen to some of the kōrero. Mainly around the Treaty.
That’s where I first learned about the true history of New Zealand as well. I didn’t do any of the formal courses. It was just through listening at lunchtime lectures or to speakers such as Ranginui Walker. I really value the things I learned at university around the challenges that Māori had, and still have, in Aotearoa.
Our peoples — Māori and Pasifika — were somewhat divided in the ‘70s and when your father arrived, too. Now there’s a better appreciation of our shared journeys through colonisation. What have you made of the change in attitude between Pasifika peoples and Māori over that time?
That’s a really good question. I think, to be honest, our peoples haven’t walked alongside each other here in Aotearoa, which is really strange. They’ve been like two ships passing. You see each other. You do the old Polynesian “hi” with the wink. And you move on.
As I said, I’ve been lucky to have had a direct connection with Māori, early on in my life. But a lot of migrants from the islands, especially recently, don’t have the direct experience of knowing what Māori have gone through.
And a lot of our people in the islands remain oblivious to the impacts of colonisation. Sure, those impacts happened over there, but even though they’re living right in it, they’re oblivious to it. I’ve been really fortunate that I’ve got a consciousness about these things. You develop that over time.
Being present and being among Māori is an important thing, and I think we should encourage it as a people. In fact, the whole of New Zealand should be encouraged to go to a marae at least once in their lives. Try and pronounce our names correctly, too. These things may be small to Pālangi, but they’re huge to us.
Some Pasifika commentators have said our young people, Māori and Pacific, have been denied the true history of Pasifika settlement. That they’ve been forced to take on board New Zealand history. And that the heroic settlement of this part of the world by our forebears has been reduced to a footnote in our education system. How do we, as Pasifika people — and I include Māori in that — reclaim and celebrate our shared cultural history?
I absolutely agree. We’re forced to learn the history of Europe. Napoleon. Countries that are thousands of miles away. While that history may have been important for the European settlers that colonised New Zealand, it means very little to us. I’m not saying that it’s not interesting or that we shouldn’t learn it.
But our histories are just as important — in fact, more important, for us to learn. Our children and our mokopuna and future generations will lose that history if it’s not taught. And if we don’t value it ourselves.
I’ve researched and studied Samoan, Fijian, and Māori history for the last 20 years. Not because I wanted to get a PhD or wanted to get some acclaim from studying it, but because I was hungry to learn it. So I’ve been doing that as my own personal hobby and development. I’m learning te reo with a very good teacher, Keri Opai, at work, and I’ve studied Samoan language as well.
I want to live and breathe the culture. I think that’s why my chief back in Tonga awarded me earlier this year with a matāpule title, even though I’m relatively young. He understands that I’m hungry for this stuff. And unless you want it, you won’t have it.
It’s incumbent on our own people to go out and seek it. Otherwise, we’ll lose our knowledge, our histories, our cultures, and it won’t be important to our children and future generations.
Māori have felt, with some justification, that Pasifika peoples settling in Aotearoa have not been fighting alongside us politically. Māori have had to protest for the Treaty, protest for te reo, protest for foreshore and seabed. Protest. Protest. Protest. Always challenging the system to get some traction and justice. Do you think that Pasifika were nervous about upsetting the Pākehā or mainstream establishment? And has that situation changed?
If you look at the Polynesian Panther movement, particularly during the Dawn Raids, you’d see that Māori and Polynesians rallied together to support that cause. Although, obviously it only impacted the Samoans, Tongans and Tokelauans — some of the other islands had automatic citizenship. And all of the Pacific rallied around the protests over the Springbok Tour.
But, I agree, there were some instances where Pasifika could have taken more of a role in supporting tangata whenua — particularly at the land marches, the hikoi and that sort of thing.
And I think that’s because there was a lack of a unifying voice. A lack of awareness around these things. But that’s changed now. We’ve got an opportunity now, in the current environment, where Māori and Pacific realise they have to work together or we’ll no longer have a significant voice in Aotearoa.
We have to work with our Asian brothers and sisters, too. Together, we’re going to be the future workforce of this country. Pasifika and Māori people alone are a million people. Combine that with Asian, and then project that out for the next 30 years — we’ll be the backbone of this economy.
If we don’t sort out the issues we have now, the future looks pretty dire. And I think the government needs to see that. The system needs to change to accommodate the demographic shift. And they need to wake up and smell the coffee.
You’ve worked for a long time in the disability service. As Māori and Polynesian peoples, we’re familiar with marginalisation, as our social indicators would point to. But people with disabilities, too, have had to battle for support. What parallels can you see between fighting for their causes and that of Pasifika and Māori interests?
There are huge correlations between the disability world and the world of Māori and Pasifika here in New Zealand. The United Nations convention on the rights of disabled persons is being rolled out here. We’ve still got a long way to go, but we’ve made a lot of gains in the disability sector.
There was a big pay equity settlement made recently, with billions of dollars going back to equalise the wage for support workers. Some of the most vulnerable people in this country are being cared for by the lowest-paid workers, and that’s not right. And a lot of those workers are female. So things are improving for the disability sector.
As for lessons for Māori and Pasifika, I’ll give you an example. New Zealand only just recently signed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. That was after we’d signed the disability one. Sometimes I think things are back to front. We should’ve addressed tangata whenua issues first and then looked at the other interests. We’re in Aotearoa. This is Māori country. We have a tangata whenua here. We should be sorting out those issues that have mostly been caused by colonisation. Everything else will flow on from there.
You could have chosen any party to stand for, but you chose the Māori Party. What are the policies that resonate most strongly with you, Manase?
Well, speaking as the son of a Dawn Raider, I welcome the idea of an amnesty for overstayers. I have a soft spot for people who come here and work hard. I don’t have a soft spot for those who come here and laze around and don’t do anything. Unfortunately, a lot of our people have the view that New Zealand is somewhere you can just migrate to and have a holiday. Those days are over.
I think we need to support the people who want to contribute. I know first-hand that there are parents and families out there who are living in fear because they’re undocumented, they’re overstayers, and they work hard to make ends meet.
It’s hard enough to do that while you’re a legal entity. Imagine trying to do that with a young family and constantly looking over your shoulder. I want to support those families — Tongans, Samoans, whoever they are.
There are probably Asians that are in the same boat. If they work hard and want to contribute to New Zealand and they’re not criminals, let’s give them an amnesty. Let’s help them contribute to New Zealand’s economy. That’s one of things that I want to support.
Housing. Huge issues. Some parties are making out that it was created yesterday. It’s been around for a long time. Same thing with homelessness. Suicide. These are not new issues. So, for me, if we’re trying to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results, there’s something wrong.
I think the change we need is to give a powerful and strong voice to Māori, who will look after the interests of everybody else that need help, because the only way to equalise inequality is to treat it unequally. You have to pour more resources into it. That’s the only way we’re going to see a difference. We can’t keep using the same political platforms. The system must change.
What has been the reaction from whānau and Pasifika to you and other Pasifika peoples who have put their name forward for the Māori Party?
Some of them have said: “What the hell?” Some aren’t surprised. Others have assumed that I’m a bit centre right, and would’ve gone on the blue bus. But, when you compare the different buses, this is what you see: The red bus — we’re always passengers there. The blue bus — we’re either vacuuming it or washing it. The green bus — you’re pushing it. The other bus is often running us over. So, it’s time to drive our own bus.
But, like you, I’m a bit confounded as to why it’s taken our people so long to see the sense and strength in coming together. Here, finally, is a working unit to make change happen. Personally, I think it’s two decades late. There were opportunities previously to do this. I know there have been attempts, but mostly we haven’t quite got there.
I think the time is right now to make another attempt. And if we don’t do it now, I don’t think it’s ever going to happen. But we’re on the cusp of a real change here. And that’s the key thing. We need change. And we need to do it for ourselves. We can’t trust anybody else to do it. It’s about us. So, we’ve got to do it together.
What message do you think this cultural collaboration sends to our rangatahi, our leaders of tomorrow?
The key to this election are the youth. And youth shouldn’t be distracted by the bright, sparkly promises that others are flashing in their face. I’d ask them to sit down and think with their hearts and their minds about what would really make a positive change in this country. Our young people are smart enough to make their own decisions about that.
And, most importantly, they should vote. That’s been the problem with young people. They haven’t been inspired by any of the buses until now. Now they have a new option that can deliver a meaningful change.
Manase is standing in the Maungakiekie electorate in Auckland, which is currently held by Sam Lotu-Iiga, who's leaving politics.