Families of tsunami victims share pain and healing through artworks

Arts Lecturer Matatumua Leua Latai infront of some of the artworks on exhibition at the National University of Samoa

By Lagi Keresoma

APIA, SAMOA – MONDAY 02 OCTOBER 2017:  When an anniversary is commemorated, it is usually by way of a church service followed by a feast. But for the families of the villages who lost loved ones in the 29 September 2009 tsunami, it was a time for sharing and healing using art in what has been labelled – “a humble and enriching experience”

The three villages involved in the research project were Lotopu’ē, Lalomanu and Satitioa and the Aleipata Secondary school.

The project, centered around an art exhibition called the “Family Healing Night Exhibition” where the art works created by the children of these villages were showcased on the anniversary of the tsunami 29 September 2017.

The six months research project and art exhibition was led by Arts lecturer Matatumua Leua Latai and staff of the National University of Samoa.

The initiative to take art out to the villages affected, stemmed from one of the art students drawings.

“He was drawing images of people then started sharing about his niece and aunt who were victims of the 2009 tsunami,” said Matatumua. 

A strong believer in the arts as a therapy for healing, Matatumua decided to take art out to the villages seriously affected by the tsunami.

“I took it a research project knowing the importance of creative arts, expressive arts and visual arts as a therapy for healing for young children in Samoa,” she explained.

Six months ago, Matatumua and two of her course students met with the teachers at the Aleipata Secondary School and started building a close relationship with them.

She said she did not ask or tell the students to draw or write about the tsunami, but was asked to draw anything.

“The paintings and drawings presented were about the tsunami, and the colourings of the paintings and drawings were  dark and muddy,  so we took certain steps and started having  casual conversations through our sharing sessions,” said Matatumua. 

It was during these sessions that tears started pouring as each student shared their experiences and reliving the events that took place in the early morning of September 29th 2009. 

She said after those sessions, the students went back to their paintings and drawings and she noticed the difference between the previous paintings and the ones after the session.

“Before the paintings were dark and muddy,” said Matatumua. 

 “After the session, the colourings were lighter, and the focus of the paintings and drawings were more on the environment, pictures of bulldozers and helicopters during the reconstruction of their villages, Red Cross vehicles and fewer pictures of the waves,” said Matatumua. 

She also said the writings and poems were also very expressive.

It was the same with the parents and older people of the village who bonded and shared their feelings with the NUS team.  

“After 8 years, the hurt still lingers,” she said.

After 6 months the villages came together to witness the work of their children at the Family Healing Night Exhibition last Friday.

Matatumua said the most memorable part of the programme was the whole community sitting together supporting each other, which was a “humbling and enriching experience” for her.

At NUS Campus last week, one of the University’s dormitory was used to exhibit all the artworks and writings, with candles supplying the only lights.      

The project started out small, however, word got out and Matatumua was thrilled to get so much support for the project from Dr. Lex of Victoria University, Professor Christine from University San Francisco, Auckland Girls Grammar School, National & Trade Art Shop in Auckland and Sir Michael Jones who paid for all the art supplies from New Zealand.

“When you have something that touches peoples’ hearts, naturally people want to help,” said Matatumua.

She recently published a paper on the evaluation of the project and she hopes to continue it as a therapy and healing for anything.

Early morning 29 September 2009, Samoa was hit by a 7.5 earthquake and followed by a tsunami that that killed 119 people. A memorial service was held at the Apia Park Stadium for some of the victims before their burial at the Tafa’igata cemetery.