by Mia Kami
Indigenous peoples and communities have long used stories to understand the world and our place in it. Seedcast is a story-centered podcast by Nia Tero and a special monthly column produced in partnership with the South Seattle Emerald about nurturing and rooting stories of the Indigenous experience.
My name is Amelia Filohivalu Yvaana Kami, but I commonly go by Mia Kami. I am Tongan. Both of my parents are Tongan. My mom comes from the main island, from the villages of Kolomotu’a and Hofoa, and my dad is from Haʻapai, which is an outer island. I’m currently based in Suva, Fiji, where I just completed my studies in law and politics at the University of the South Pacific (USP). I am a singer. A songwriter. A new graduate and job-seeker. A daughter. A sister. A woman of the Pacific.
In 2018, a cousin of mine reached out because she was involved in an anti-logging campaign in the Oro Province of Papua New Guinea, and her group needed an anthem to motivate the team while inspiring awareness about these issues in the world and building momentum for their campaign. It was a smart decision. Art communicates and motivates in a way that data and speeches do not, merging the heart and the head. I was honored to be asked.
When I’m in the early stages with a song, it’s just me and my guitar. I start with a theme and some chords, then let the melodies and the words flow, recording myself so that I don’t lose anything good. With this anthem, I didn’t want to be too obvious, so I stayed away from lyrics like “deforestation is bad.” Luckily, pretty early on, I found the word “rooted,” and it just stuck. “Rooted” became the center and title of the song.
The first version of “Rooted” was acoustic, but I always imagined a more robust version, an anthem not only for the anti-logging campaign but for the whole Pacific, by a Pacific person for Pasifika peoples. Luckily, I received an opportunity to develop the song further as a Nia Tero Storytelling Fellow. Being a part of the program allowed me not only to dedicate time to developing the song but to connect with Indigenous creators from around the globe. With support from Nia Tero, I directed the official music video for “Rooted” during the global pandemic and released it in July 2021.
As a first-time director, I had three goals. First, I wanted my music video to have representation from all three sub-regions of the Pacific: Micronesia, Polynesia, and Melanesia. I’m happy to say that thanks to the hard work of participants in Fiji, Tonga, Marshall Islands, and the Solomon Islands, we achieved that. Second, I wanted to make sure that we included a wide span of ages, and we achieved this, too, honoring elders throughout the region and also bringing in little ones, who danced and sang with glee. The third thing I wanted to show was my connection to my home and my identity, which I did by featuring my sister and my cousins in the video, as well as inviting family members to be part of a wide Zoom-screen shot near the end of the video. I also filmed the final scene on the balcony of my family’s home in Suva, Fiji, where my family has hosted many loved ones, where at least one couple has met and fallen in love, where I had my earliest musical performances, and where my older sister, who passed away in 2008, wrote her own original song. I couldn’t think of a better place to sing the final notes of “Rooted.”
The song has resonated with people far beyond my expectations, to other young people, elders, politicians, and many people outside of Pasifika, way outside of the climate activism community that I was originally intending this video to impact. An elder in her late 70s from my church asked me for the lyrics to “Rooted” so she could sing along. A young man said that it made him want to stand up and fight for the Pacific. The song even plays on the radio here in Fiji. Across generations, the song is giving people of the Pacific something to join, something to believe in. One line in particular seems to stick with people: “We’re here to stay.” It’s a reminder that we have always been here and we will always be here, a reflection of our resilience and adaptability.
While some may consider art and activism separate acts, for me, they are one and the same. Activism isn’t limited to speeches and organizing marches, although those activities are very important. Art is another essential way to get ideas across, entwined with music, colors, or movement that soothes and heals the soul as much as it conveys urgency or a strong message. As such, art and activism are a perfect pairing.
At USP, everything we learned was contextualized to the Pacific. It was the first time I understood how our region works at the political and social levels. Learning the history of our Pacific lands, waters, and peoples from a specifically Pacific perspective reminded me that telling our truth is a radical and necessary act. As peoples of the Pacific, we have always had an oral tradition that was sidelined in the name of written history created largely by white colonizers. But our ways and our voices are finding strength again.
Now is the time to reclaim our own narratives in the Pacific, from the perspectives of people who look like us and share our lived experience, not only in academic and policy realms but also in our art and our storytelling. Telling our stories is a way to honor our elders and teach future generations. The foundation of our future stands on the stories of Pacific people, not the stories others want to tell about us.
As I move into the next phase of my life and career, I want to give back to the region that has raised me. When COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted, I intend to leave Fiji, my home for over half of my life, and return to Tonga, where I’ll use what I learned in school to strengthen the region and uplift the storytelling of people of the Pacific. I will be connecting with my roots, my people, my history. And yes, I will also make more music. Always more music.
This piece was written with the support of Julie Keck, a consulting producer with Nia Tero. Mia Kami’s song “Rooted” is the theme song for Nia Tero’s podcast, Seedcast.
📸 Featured Image: On the “Rooted” set. (Photo: Naturebro Fiji for Nia Tero)
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