TONGAN PRODUCES DRAMA ABOUT SAMOAN SHOOTING IN HAWAI‘I

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By Craig DeSilva

HONOLULU, Hawai‘i (March 22, 2001 - PIDP/CPIS)---"Ola’s Son" is not just a story about the police shooting of a Samoan man three years ago in a low-income Honolulu housing project.

The play also deals with racial and social lines that are drawn within society and the stereotypical images people have about certain ethnic groups.

"When you look at someone who you don’t know, or the color of their skin is different from you, we automatically come up with stereotypical images," says Misa Tupou, producer of the new play "Ola’s Son."

"We should try to understand people before we make judgments about them," he says.

"Ola’s Son" is based on a poem written by Hawai‘i writer Lisa Kana‘e about the fatal shooting of a 30-year-old Samoan man at the Palolo Valley Housing project in Honolulu in January 1998. (See poem, "Ola's Son")  The man was shot several times by police after ignoring warnings to put down the two knives he was carrying.

The incident caused a rift between the project’s Polynesian community and police. Witnesses said the shooting was unnecessary because it was not done in self-defense.

The poem takes just a few minutes to read. But Tupou -- through TIPA (Tongan In Performing Arts) Productions -- has turned it into a 1-hour drama. (www.pixi.com/~tipa)

"I’ve taken the poem and created a theatrical performance. There is no script. I’ve taken the text and fused it with Polynesian movement and an island style performance," he says.

"There’s some Samoan dance and dialogue as well," he says.

Sponsored by the architectural firm HYA Incorporated, the drama will run April 12-28 at The Arts at Mark’s Garage in downtown Honolulu.

Tupou first heard the poem being read last year at Kumu Kahua Theatre in downtown Honolulu. The theatre is known for premiering original works by Hawaiian and local writers.

Tupou said he was moved by the poem and could relate to the story.

He said the drama explores issues of Polynesian enculturation within American society.

"I haven’t had anyone killed by the police, but I can relate to a family being shipped from their island to live in another country. And I’ve never lived in a housing project, but I’ve lived in a social welfare upbringing," Tupou said.

Tupou, a native Tongan, moved with his family to New Zealand at the age of 10. The 32-year-old artist has lived in Hawai‘i for the past two years.

He received his theatrical training at the New Zealand Drama School. He teaches theatre courses in Hawai‘i schools through the state Department of Education’s "Artists in Schools" program.

He said he has witnessed the difficulties of Polynesians trying to adapt to another culture.

"In New Zealand, you see kids turning to drugs, leaving home, dropping out of school and raising families at a young age," he said.

"If you don’t appreciate your own culture, that’s the beginning of your problems. It can be a problem if you try to learn someone else’s culture that you don’t understand. If you appreciate your own culture first, everything else will fall into place," he said.

Tickets for "Ola’s Son" can be purchased at the Hawai‘i Theatre Box Office, or calling 528-0506.

A discussion of the play will follow each performance.

(See poem, Ola’s Son)

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