Fijian culture is one that is centred around the art of story-telling. Be it through form of song or a traditional meke (dance), it's one that is so deeply ingrained in us that we tend to naturally gravitate towards articulating our innermost thoughts and ambitions even, through it. One such person who has more or less honed her skills and has provided a platform for not only Fijians but also other Pacific Islanders is our next Fijian Woman of the World feature, founder of Talanoa - The Home of Pacific Storytelling - Arieta Tegeilolo Rika.
Arieta's story is one of a medley of cultures. Born in Australia with a Fijian & Tongan heritage, Arieta is no stranger to being a third culture kid as most of us here in the UK can relate to when it comes to our children. Arieta's parents both worked in the tourism & hospitality industry as sales and marketing professionals and as a result she got the opportunity to travel and live in different Pacific Island nations as and when their respective jobs demanded it. Both her parents worked with Air Pacific (now Fiji Airways) in its very early years. Her father was one of the first Indigenous Fijian on the leadership team with Fiji Visitors Bureau and her mother also had a long career in the Pacific as a Sales & Marketing Manager in her own right, with achievements such as leading the launch of Tattslotto in Fiji, establishing the overseas offices for the Royal Tongan Airlines in both New Zealand & Australia and leading Community Liaison of Pacific Forum Line. Being exposed to the working environments and the people that she got to meet through her parents allowed for a deeper and broader understanding of how relationship marketing or networking you can say, works. Arieta explains that inorder to create rapport with an audience and make a meaningful impact you need to first develop the ability to listen to others.
As the youngest in her family, Arieta recounts a quote by author Terry Real as one that perfectly sums up how she took her life experiences on, the quote goes, “If you really want to know what’s going on in the family, ask the youngest child. They’re sponges. They absorb it all.” Being the youngest myself, I can absolutely attest to this. We have the misfortune of being molly coddled but also the advantage of receiving the cream of the crop when it comes to either resources or the freedom to achieve whatever it is we put our hearts and mind to. Arieta's childhood though filled with the opportunity to travel and live abroad, she recounts that it also meant inconsistency in everyday routine. Arieta reminisces of how this provided a perfect opportunity for her to "fly under the radar" and get away with the usual teenage angst antics when it came to her social life at school. At home she made sure that she ticked all the boxes with regards to her perfect grades and ensuring she kept her parents happy, but in school was where her exuberant and playful nature came out. But as Pacific Islanders, we all know that doesn't last too long, as she soon discovered when her Mom who was none the wiser to her alternate lifestyle, found out and decided that Arieta was to go live with her uncle and his family in Tonga. Arieta recalls it being a hard decision for her mom to make as her parents had just gotten separated but the alternative to being sent to Tonga was to go to Fiji to her father, which she says would have been detrimental for her on a whole as it would have meant being sent to an environment that she was comfortable with and would have allowed her to continue to do what she was doing. Arieta looks back at that decision and wholeheartedly agrees that it paid off. She believes that she is a better person because of it and while it wasn't always easy – spending five of her most formative years in Tonga definitely shaped her as a young woman and laid the stepping stones for her journey to who she is today - a strong, committed and hardworking young woman.
Talanoa was borne out of Arieta's passion for story-telling and showcasing other stories from around the Pacific and 2015 saw it's launch to the world. It began with a dream of creating a digital marketing agency for the Pacific, incorporating her love of writing and storytelling to help raise brand awareness. After sharing the stories of a few Pacific people she knew and realised that Talanoa was empowering people by giving them a safe space to candidly share their experiences and truths without judgement or censorship.This saw the shift in the initial concept and allowed her to focus on writing and sharing Pacific stories, and she hasn't looked back since. Arieta has also seen how Talanoa has become a tool in enabling women to feel empowered to pursue their goals and dreams. Often she feels that these women are inspired and empowered through the stories that they read that somehow resonated with them, other times the empowerment may come through the telling of their own story, in their own words and most importantly on their own terms. She feels that the reason that both are such powerful tools in the empowerment of women is because telling one's story or even one's truth is empowering in itself. She believes that being able to provide a safe space for someone to share the story and also fostering a relationship of mutual respect and trust removes that layer of direct contact with the audience, which cushions how confronting it can be for the story teller to share their story. Whilst Arieta advocates for all types of storytelling, she has chosen writing and digital as she feels it’s the easiest way for most people, especially women, to tell their stories. At the same time, digital has the benefit of reaching a very broad audience in a very short time. Although Arieta feels that she has fulfilled her aspirations with regards to creating a safe space for Pacific people to tell their stories, she still believes that the journey ahead will never end and that her passion for such work is such that it can never be extinguished. She hopes that one day she will be able to commit herself fully to Talanoa without having to work full-time or even part-time to support herself financially.
When asked if she had any advice for those thinking of going into a similar field, Arieta shared that the online resources are readily available. All you need is access to an internet connection to share your stories online. However in saying that, one must remember that it takes time to build the right audience and also time to build on your skill to create content that resonates with them whilst also meaning something to you. She stresses that writers always have to remember to be authentic to themselves, if anything that is first and foremost whom we are accountable to, with regards to the work that we put out there. One of the main barriers that most people face is shame, and this is also something that she has struggled with. The shame of what will people think? What will people say? What if I fail? What if I look stupid? But she's been resilient throughout it all and learnt to take everything on the chin. She also discovered that you need to have the courage to face all these questions head on and be willing to learn from your experiences and take the good with the bad. She also felt that in terms of support, we do have it as Pacific Island women, in the resources and tools made available to us. But in the same notion it can be said that we don't, because those resources and tools are only ever useful if there is accessibility to them. An example that Arieta provided was how any Fijian woman can go to school and university these days but the question to consider is, do they have the financial freedom to do so? Is there structural and emotional support available to be able to do so? Culturally she feels that there is room for more support to be offered in terms of change of attitudes in relation to gender roles. Attitudes which sadly still seems to remain the same even though a lot has changed over the years with regards to traditional roles of men and women. Sadly the thinking and views towards the expectations have not caught up. These attitudes unfortunately often is the root cause of shame that hinders the progress and also acts as a deterrent in allowing Fijian women to move ahead in life.
To find out where Arieta gets her motivation to be a better version of herself each day, one doesn't have to look far, as it's her family. Arieta's inspiration to go above and beyond in all that she does comes in the form of her parents & her siblings. Arieta also had so much love and respect to share about her in-laws, especially her mother-in-law who is always on hand with her practical and loving advice on life in general, to guide her on in this phase of her life. However the biggest supporter in her team and always has been since they were young kids is her husband. Arieta jokingly recalls how at the tender age of 8 he told her matter-of-factly how one day they would be married, fast forward a number of years, and they found each other again as young adults and tied the knot after 8 years of dating. Coming home to him especially when she has had a hard day at work or just in need of a listening ear makes everything seem so much more menial and reiterates her belief that its the simple things in life that make a difference and how important it is to find someone that is able to motivate you; push you; and support you at all times and make each and every dream achievable.
I hope you've enjoyed our latest FJWOW feature on Arieta and I look forward to bringing you more stories about phenomenal Fijian Women of the World
Love & light,