Siola’a ‘Sun Gazer’ Sione

Wed 30 Nov 2016

Since moving to New Zealand from Tonga in the 1970s with their young family, Sione and Lavinia Tutuila have led a happy and prosperous life. Now in their 70s, the couple are involved in Pacific Homecare Fia Ola group and still active in Mangere’s largest Methodist congregation, Lotofale’ia, where Sione is known as “Siola’a” (Sun Gazer).

Sione was born and raised in Nomuka, an island nestled within the Ha’apai group. Called the ‘Otu Mu’omu’a (first/closest row), they are the closest islands to the main island of Tongatapu.

Joining his uncle and first cousin in Tofua Caldera (also part of Ha’apai) in his youth, together they became the pioneers of growing kava for commercial sale in the area.

The land is fertile in Tofua. According to Sione, there wasn’t a single plant that went into the earth that wilted and died. They tilled the land with their kava plants and other root crops, creating a living on the island. He recalls the area when it became a haven for kava growers.

In 1963 then moved to the main island Tongatapu, living in the village of Havelu and joining a music band called “Fangufangu-mana –‘a- Fusipala”, playing guitar.

Sione comes from a long line of well-known composers – his father Peni Tutuila composed great classic pieces such as “Ha’ele ki Pilitania”

In 1973 Sione found his way to New Zealand, living in Grafton and working at Farmers in Hobson Street. His manager Tasi Kalaha employed a handful of Tongans at the time, and Sione earned $48 for a 40-hour week.

He was able to save to bring his wife Lavinia followed by his four children two years later – Inoke Malupo, Viliami Fangugangumana, Sela ‘Ilafehi, Vika Lasipeli, ‘Ileini Manu Matamaka and Pane Tutuila. The family later welcomed Polyann Tutuila, their fifth and only New Zealand-born child.

Sione worked as a foreman in a sheepskin factory, where many Tongans were employed as the community grew. Working at the factory, he is proud to say that every employee came and left happy during their time with the company.

As one of the founding fathers of Mangere’s largest Methodist congregation, Lotofale’ia, Sione is also dedicated to his faith.

He is proud to have been given great responsibilities within the Church, including being head conductor for the choir, secretary to the Church, Church clergy and Church treasurer. To this day he is a beloved church member, and is known affectionately by his chiefly title of “Siola’a” (Sun Gazer).

Since retiring from work, Sione has experienced some health challenges, particularly with his legs. He is steadily recuperating from surgery on his left knee and is scheduled to have his right leg operated on shortly.

With his declining health, Sione knew it was time to seek help. He had heard about Pacific Homecare via Lotofale’ia and his doctor, who was able to refer him to Pacific Homecare via the NASC.

He now receives assistance with personal care from his Support Worker. While he may have slowed down a bit, Sione still loves to spend his time with family and friends.

When he can, he frequents Tongan group gatherings in the community that focus on physical activity.

He is an active member of the Pacific Homecare Fia Ola drop-in centre’s Tongan group, rarely missing a gathering.

Resource Coordinator Crystal Ake says, “Sione is dedicated to utilising every single hour of his time for community, family and friends.

“He’s always striking up friendships with those attending and his charming presence makes you feel at home.”

Sione says no other Tongan social gathering compares to Fia Ola, and acknowledges Coordinator Taua Malaetele for his ability to keep their group flourishing.

He admires the way the group are respectful towards each other and are able to share about the past, observing cultural protocols.

“True learning begins when one is able to keep quiet and listen when someone is speaking,” he says, adding his belief the Tongan Fia Ola group is the epitome of true learning.

“Mr Tutuila stands out from the crowd with a presence that naturally brings out the good in people,” says Crystal.

“He is a natural-born leader and brings life to any gathering he attends with his jokes and stories.”

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