Uncovering New Zealand's shameful history

By Taroi Black

A short film inspired by the poem 'Blackbird' highlighting cheap labour and "slavery" among Māori and Pasifika is set to be released this week. Director Onehou Strickland from Te Teko says, “a lot of people don’t think that we had our own slave trade.”

“By definition, it is the coercion of people through trickery and kidnapping to work as labourers on plantations. Basically, it’s the Pacifica’s own version of slavery,” says Strickland.

The 8-minute short film features 'Tupou', a character in the film that is a product of New Zealand's shameful history, working in cheap labour in order to survive.

“A lot of people don't think that we had our own slave trade here, but a lot of the sugar canes in Australia and Queensland were built on the slaves of Solomon Islanders and Tongan Islanders and Kiribati.”

The self-narrative poem written by Lastman Sooula reflects on 'blackbirding', which is a term that has commonly been applied to indigenous people who have been coerced by deception or kidnapping to work as unpaid or poorly paid labourers far from their native lands.

“I really want people to watch this film and come away from it wanting to call their parents and wanting to call their aunties, their cousins, their tuākana and their tūpuna - whether that's through phone call or karakia - and acknowledge how those footsteps have influenced your life now.”

Film director Onehou Strickland worked on the story for two years as it has a personal connection for her.

“I think the connection between our Pacifica brothers and sisters and Te Ao Māori are massive. I think we both live in the same world. I think we both are walking very similar in this world, almost the same.”

Strickland's film was given the green light by Someday Stories, a production company that was committed to telling a story that was an ode to the children of the migration.

Film producer Lance Loughlin says, "When Onehou received notification that her film idea got accepted for funding from Someday Stories and brought me on to deliver the film contract, Chris at The Outlook for Someday shared that 'The Sons of Blackbird' was a great idea for a film, the proposal was well presented and showed promise as a developed film script. The poetry aspect really 'stuck out' to them too, as it was unique and touched on some appealing history behind the story of Tupou, the main character."