‘Asi: Working with the unseen spirit

Keywords: ‘Asi, belonging, collaborative creative practice, faiva, spirit


In 1993, Wolfgramm referred to the climax in faiva (Tongan artistic performance)1 as ‘asi (the presence of the unseen). This spirit of artistic expression is an agent sometimes identified when Oceanic people work together to bring artistic projects to their apotheosis. Building on the idea of the unseen spirit that energises and gives agency to artistic work, this article discusses occurrences that surface when young Oceanic people collaborate artistically, drawing on values from their cultural heritage to create meaningful faiva. Emanating from my 2022 PhD study ‘Asi - The Presence of the Unseen, the article considers how, in a group of New Zealand secondary school students aged between 10 and 18, ‘asi brought forward a powerful spirit of belonging that resourced their artistic practice. The research proposed that the ‘asi identifiable at the peak of an artistic performance, might also be discernible before and after such an event, and resource the energy of artistic practice as a whole. The research considered a co-created project called Lila. This was developed by a team of students who combined talents and experiences to produce a contemporary faiva for presentation in 2019. In understanding ‘asi the project drew on student reflections, the researchers experience and interviews with contemporary Oceanic youth leaders who discussed the nature and agency of ‘asi as a phenomenon that might resource artistic practice. The significance of the research project lay in its contribution to a distinctive understanding of ‘asi, such that we might identify and consider its potential agency for resourcing creativity and belonging inside the development and performance of contemporary artistic practices among Oceanic youth.

Author Biography

Cecelia Faumuina, Auckland University of Technology

Cecelia Faumuina is a lecturer in Communication Design. Before diving into the academic world she worked in Audio Visual Production, Graphic Design and taught Art, Design and Technology in various Primary, Intermediate and Secondary Schools in Auckland, New Zealand.


Allardice, R. W. (1985). A Simplified Dictionary of Modern Samoan.

Alofesio. M. (2021). Interviews with Oceanic Youth Leaders: Interview 6. In Faumuina, C. (2022). ‘Asi – the Presence of the Unseen. p. 188 - 200. Doctoral thesis Tuwhera. https://openrepository.aut.ac.nz/items/d1fb2d7f-ce47-448f-8562-1617c830800b

Churchward, M. C. (1959). Tongan Dictionary, Tongan–English and English–Tongan; The Government of Tonga Printing Press.

Cook, S., & Carter, M. (2013). Food and nutrition guidelines for healthy older people: A background paper. Ministry of Health.

Deo, N. N. (2014). An in-depth investigation of Pacific young people's eating habits and dietary diversity as related to the pathways of obesity [Master's thesis]. https://mro.massey.ac.nz/bitstream/handle/10179/6769/01_front.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

Ete. I. (2019). Interviews with Oceanic Youth Leaders: Interview 1. In Faumuina, C. (2022). ‘Asi – the Presence of the Unseen. p. 160 - 164. Doctoral thesis Tuwhera. https://openrepository.aut.ac.nz/items/d1fb2d7f-ce47-448f-8562-1617c830800b

Faumuina, C. (2022). ‘Asi — The presence of the unseen. [Doctoral thesis, Auckland University of Technology]. Tuwhera. http://hdl.handle.net/10292/15350

Ferris - Leary, H. E. (2013). An Analytical Perspective on Moana Research and the case of Tongan Faiva (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). The University of Auckland, Auckland.

Geraghty. E. (2021). Interviews with Oceanic Youth: Interview 1. In Faumuina, C. (2022). ‘Asi – the Presence of the Unseen. p. 130 - 139. Doctoral thesis Tuwhera. https://openrepository.aut.ac.nz/items/d1fb2d7f-ce47-448f-8562-1617c830800b

Ka’ili, T. O. (2017). Marking Indigeneity: The Tongan art of Sociospatial relations. University of Arizona Press.

Kapao. F. (2021). Interviews with Oceanic Youth: Interview 2. In Faumuina, C. (2022). ‘Asi – the Presence of the Unseen. p. 140 - 144. Doctoral thesis Tuwhera. https://openrepository.aut.ac.nz/items/d1fb2d7f-ce47-448f-8562-1617c830800b

Kennedy. J. (2019). Interviews with Oceanic Youth Leaders: Interview 4. In Faumuina, C. (2022). ‘Asi – the Presence of the Unseen. p. 174 - 179. Doctoral thesis Tuwhera. https://openrepository.aut.ac.nz/items/d1fb2d7f-ce47-448f-8562-1617c830800b

Lavea. R. (2019). Interviews with Oceanic Youth Leaders: Interview 2. In Faumuina, C. (2022). ‘Asi – the Presence of the Unseen. p. 165 - 168. Doctoral thesis Tuwhera. https://openrepository.aut.ac.nz/items/d1fb2d7f-ce47-448f-8562-1617c830800b

Macdonald. S. (2021). Interviews with Oceanic Youth: Interview 3. In Faumuina, C. (2022). ‘Asi – the Presence of the Unseen. p. 145 - 151. Doctoral thesis Tuwhera. https://openrepository.aut.ac.nz/items/d1fb2d7f-ce47-448f-8562-1617c830800b

Māhina, O. (2005). The poetics of exile: Love and death in Tongan poetry. Retrieved from Literature & Aesthetics website: https://openjournals.library.sydney.edu.au/index. php/LA/article/view/5075.

Māhina-Tuai, K. U., & Māhina, M. O. (2012). Nimamea’a: The fine arts of Tongan embroidery and crochet. Scope (Art & Design), (7), 23, pp. 23-29.

Manu’atu, L. (2000). Kātoanga Faiva: A pedagogical site for Tongan students. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 32(1), 73-80. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-5812.2000.tb00434.x

McRae, A. (2015). Social importance of food hits Maori, Pasifika. RNZ. https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/te-manu-korihi/277726/ social-importance-of-food-hits-maori,-pasifika

Mila-Schaaf, K. & Hudson, M. (2009). The interface between cultural understandings: negotiating new spaces for Pacific mental health. Pacific health dialog: a publication of the Pacific Basin Officers Training Program and the Fiji School of Medicine 15(1): 113-9

Riley. D. (2019). Interviews with Oceanic Youth Leaders: Interview 3. In Faumuina, C. (2022). ‘Asi – the Presence of the Unseen. p. 169 - 173. Doctoral thesis Tuwhera. https://openrepository.aut.ac.nz/items/d1fb2d7f-ce47-448f-8562-1617c830800b

Terry, J. (2020). Apotheosis: Art History Glossary. Retrieved April 25, 2021. https://blog.stephens.edu/ arh101glossary/?glossary=apotheosis

Tu’ua. T. (2019). Interviews with Oceanic Youth Leaders: Interview 5. In Faumuina, C. (2022). ‘Asi – the Presence of the Unseen. p. 180 - 187. Doctoral thesis Tuwhera. https://openrepository.aut.ac.nz/items/d1fb2d7f-ce47-448f-8562-1617c830800b

Wolfgramm, E. (1993). Comments on a traditional Tongan story poem. Mānoa, 5(1), 171-175. http://jstor.org/stable/4228862

Wood, B. (1998). Heka he va’a mei popo: Sitting on a rotten branch of the breadfruit tree: Reading the poetry of Konai Lang Thaman. Women’s Studies Journal, 14, 7-30.