One of the many motivations for poetry for Kristina R. Togafau is using it as a vehicle to learn more about their Indigenous identity. The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa PhD student is of Samoan and Western Shoshone descent, a Native tribe Indigneous to Northern Nevada. According to Togafau, channeling words and thoughts about elements of their cultural traditions is helping accomplish a personal quest to better understand both Native lineages.
“I’m getting to learn more about my cultural history and asking myself how do I revitalize or reconnect myself to these parts of my history or my genealogies through poetry,” Togafau said.
This past April, Togafau and three other UH Mānoa students, Kalilinoe Detwiler, Arielle Lowe and Ha'åni San Nicolas were selected to participate in an inaugural Indigenous poetry cohort in Washington D.C. Hosted by national poetry organization, Indigenous Nations Poets, also known as In-Na-Po. The five-day retreat featured an array of writing workshops led by Indigenous authors and U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo at the Library of Congress. The national event is part of an ongoing movement to mentor and nurture the growth of emerging poets of Indigenous descent.
“It emphasized Indigenous storytelling and that just struck a chord with me because of how I grew up with my Dad and my uncles telling me all these outrageous stories about their childhood and I was like, ‘Can I get a PhD in telling tall tales? I want that. I want to do that. I want to be in the Pacific,’” said Togafau.
Kanaka ʻōiwi poet
Detwiler, who was the only kanaka ʻōiwi (Native Hawaiian) participant at the poetry retreat, enjoyed hearing feedback from other Indigenous poets and exploring her ʻŌiwi identity. The Makakilo native working on her PhD in English at UH Mānoa can’t recall when she first put pen to paper because it has always been a means of expression for as long as she can remember.
“Through writing I best understood myself and understood the rest of the world, and then it came to a point where writing was a means to affect people and to get them to feel something or to move them in emotional directions,” Detwiler said.
Detwiler is no stranger to the arts. She earned a BA from the Academy for Creative Media and English at UH Mānoa and has produced several animated Indigenous short films. She is currently working on a children’s book expected to be released in fall 2022.