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Communities united in grief celebrate the life of Fa’anānā Efeso Collins

Merewai Durutalo

Thousands attended the event, where tributes were paid hymns and poems were performed.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Te Moana Nui a Kiwa communities packed the Due Drop Event Centre today to pay their respects to a beloved son of Samoa, Tokelau and South Auckland.

The opening eulogy by Pasifika writer and poet, Karlo Mila wove a colourful quilt of words on the life of a great leader.

“A poem for Fa’anānā Efeso Collins.

Son of the South side, infant of Ōtara

there will be churches heaving with hymns,

despair in the corner dairies,

tears in the eyes of teachers,

disappointed blessings in the mouths of preachers,

schoolchildren singing laments.

I hear the haka of Tangaroa college,

a stampede stamping with anger and pride…

Teenagers looking up from their devices learning your name for the first time.

A whole community reeling, united in a singular feeling, grief.

Tuakana of the Pasifika community.

Every facebook friend has a selfie with you because you were not a selfie,

you were community, collective in the village of the migrant dream…”

‘A really great man’

Fa’anānā Efeso Collins, new Green MP, previous Auckland councillor and education advocate, died suddenly last Wednesday while helping fundraise for clean drinking water for children in the Pacific.

Collins was a strong advocate in starting and supporting initiatives to help the poorest communities in Tāmaki Makarau (Auckland).

Internal Affairs community funding advisor Denise Takinui (Te Waiohua) was moved by the compliments shared from the wider Tāmaki Makarau community on Collins.

“He was a really great man. I hear people talking about him in terms of the work that he has done in the Pasifika community, but it wasn’t just the Pasifika community. He was really passionate about breaking down those barriers. He was quite out there in terms of speaking on racism and those inequities that we as Māori and Pasifika face.”

Takinui says she has a fond memory of Collins attending a hui in South Auckland and the kōrero was on the topic of white privilege.

‘Really huge impact’

“You know it really sunk in for me the conversation that he was having and to me it was about the mana of our people.”

She said he had a really huge impact when he was out in the community.

“He could dress up in a tie and he could also wear track pants. And it didn’t matter what he was wearing or what forum he was in. He made you feel comfortable.”

Takinui said Collins made an impact on everyone, not just Pasifika.

She said his impact was widely felt right through to te iwi Māori too.

She noted Kingi Tuheitia had sent an entourage “and that says a lot”.

‘No one stands alone’

A Niuean, South Auckland community member Lydia Togiahoe shared memories of Collins through her aunt Dr Nuhisifa Seve-Williams who was well acquainted with the Collins aiga (family) through studying with the late Fa’anānā Efeso Collins at the University of Auckland.

“I don’t know Efeso directly but more so indirectly through my aunty. She knows him and Fia very well. They went to the University of Auckland together. I get fond and loving memories from my aunt when she talks about him. And I feel like I know Efeso and his family through her.”

Collins was a strong Pasifika community advocate on many levels, a loving family man to his wife Vasa Fia and daughters Asalemo and Kaperiela.

“What I heard from my aunty is that they always encouraged the community, encouraged Pacific Islanders who attended the University of Auckland. Being advocates of Pacific Islanders, knowing who they are, identifying with who they are, embracing who they are and just being proud of who they are, regardless of being in a predominantly white space,” Togiahoe said.

Collins had delivered his maiden speech to Parliament just a week before he died.

He was praised as a great orator who inspired a generation with his words.

“There is a saying in Samoan - E le tu fa’amauga se tagata. No one stands alone, No one succeeds alone and for me no one suffers alone.”

Hero Image: Internal Affairs community funding advisor Denise Takinui (Te Waiohua) and Māngere-Ōtāhuhu Local Board member Togiatolu Walter Togiamua at the Due Drop Event Centre, Manukau for Fa’anānā Efeso Collins’ public memorial service.

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