Bring the fire, bring the energy: The Nu Tribe

Story and slideshow by MCKENZIE YCMAT

At the edge of Salt Lake City in a small quiet neighborhood, a grocery store is closing for the night as the rest of the town gets ready for bed. It’s 10:00, the streets are dark and the parking lot is empty, except for a glowing light at the far end of the building. Music is blasting, laughs can be heard from the street, it sounds like a party. This is where the Nu Tribe gets together every Thursday night.

The energy in the Just Dance studio at 8087 W. 3500 South in Magna is contagious. The air is hot, the energy is high, everyone laughs but focuses on the teacher for the day when it’s time to dance. On that late night in early March, the teacher was a sassy but passionate man named Nate with a confident 9-year-old sidekick named Susie. The song of choice was “Oh” by Ciara.

Susie is the DJ and quickly runs back and forth between the plugged in iPhone and the front of the dance floor. The students yell and laugh when the music starts and follow the dance moves Nate taught them earlier in the night, with a mix of their own style.

“It’s the only time and place that we can practice for cheap,” Ofa Vahe said. “But we don’t mind. We’re just happy we get to teach dance.”

Vahe is one of the original founders of the Nu Tribe, alongside other dancers Moana Aiono and Teresa Kuma. The Nu Tribe is a Utah-based dance crew consisting of only Polynesian dancers who travel all over the state to teach others about their heritage. They also provide the younger generation of Polynesians a safe place to dance.

Each week a member of the Nu Tribe teaches a class of about 20 students, usually members of the Polynesian community, for an hour. The dance styles change every week so that the students learn different traditional dance routines.

“Our rule is that no matter what style the teacher brings that week, you have to fully submerge yourself in that style,” Vahe said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s hip hop, ballet, contemporary, or anything else the teacher wants to do that day, you have to do it.”

The Nu Tribe teachers mix up their styles of dance to teach the students about different forms of expressing themselves and getting that sense of love and family that the Polynesian community teaches.

Polynesian dancing started as a way of communication for most of the islands in the Pacific, including Tahiti, Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and Hawaii. Traditional Polynesian dancing was used to tell a story and to convey a literal meaning that they carry with them after they leave.

After the first hour, the second teacher steps up to teach her choice of dance for the day. She’s a quiet, petite woman who quietly steps up to the front of the class. But once the music starts she becomes a confident and sexy hip-hop dancer.

“That’s Hannah Gagon,” Vahe said. “Growing up, she was always extremely shy and reserved but once she was introduced to the Nu Tribe, we realized she was this insanely talented dancer. Now she teaches her own classes throughout the week.”

The Nu Tribe brings together those in the Polynesian community and gets them to step outside of their comfort zones and enjoy the art of dance expression. Just like traditional Polynesian dances, they aim to tell a story.

Once everyone has learned the two different dances for the night, the teacher splits the class up by groups and has the students dance together. After that, they separate everyone one by one and eventually, a student will find themselves dancing alone.

This technique allows a student who stepped into the class for the first time, shy and hidden in the back of the room, to suddenly show confidence on their own as other members of the class cheer them on, chant their name, and even record them on their phones to share on social media so they can share the love with others not there.

“After I broke up with my fiancé, I was depressed and needed friends,” said Dook Kelsall, a member of the Nu Tribe. “I found the Nu Tribe through my friend Ofa and now we’re like family. He gave me a safe place to express myself and helped me through that tough time.”

By now, it’s midnight and it’s the end of the second hour. Everyone gathers around in a circle to share positivity and any news they have involving the class or news within the Polynesian community. They hold hands, introduce new people to the class, and say a prayer.

“Thank you for the gift of dance, amen,” says a member of the Nu Tribe giving the prayer after they all bow their heads and close their eyes.

Once the prayer is over, they gather closer together in a type of group hug and share more positive words and love with each other. Vahe proclaims, “Bring the fire, bring the energy!” and the entire group yells “Nu Tribe!” They give hugs and high fives and gather their things. Some even still dance around and laugh. It’s late at night and many of the students have to wake up early the next day for school, but they don’t care. They’re with family and they’re just there to have fun, learn and feel loved.

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Tribal tattoos are more than just a fad

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Fred Frost, owner of Frost City Tattoo. Photo by Diego Romo

Story and photos by DIEGO ROMO

The first thing you notice when walking into Frost City Tattoo is an overwhelming sense of community and inclusiveness. It’s as if the shop were a working and living metaphor for the values that most, if not all, Pacific Islanders stand for: community and tradition.

A warm “hello” greets you as you push open the door, quickly followed by a “make yourself at home” and inviting conversation.

But as you walk around and begin to explore the shop, the work of the artists grabs your attention. The walls are filled with pictures of the beautiful motifs that have ornamented the bodies of generations and generations of Pacific Islanders, which entices your focus and sustains it. The tradition is deep and diverse. The art is unique and beautiful.

Anthropologists agree that the tradition of tattooing has existed in Pacific Islander society for over two millennia. Almost all of the island societies scattered across the Pacific have some form of tattoo culture that permeates their community and helps indicate their place in it.

Although experts disagree on the geographical origin of tattooing — there is evidence of tattoos on the preserved skin of Egyptian mummies and countless other ancient cultures — historians can agree that the linguistic history of the word derives from the Samoan word tatau, which means “to strike.”

Called “kakau” in Hawaiian culture and “moko,” the traditional name for the face tattoos of the Maori in New Zealand, the art has always played an integral role in Pacific Islander society.

“Tattooing is as fundamental to Pacific Islander culture as anything else,” said Fred Frost, owner of Frost City Tattoo, which is located at 7045 State St. in Midvale.

Frost, who has been tattooing for 20 years, never saw the craft as a potential career choice. He got into the art by giving tattoos to friends as party favors when he was a young man living in California.

By the time he was 16, Frost gained an apprenticeship with a shop in California and had begun to discover his passion, which in turn helped him to learn more about himself.

“I actually learned how to speak Samoan through tattooing,” Frost said.

Frost jumped into research and began practicing the ancient motifs that are prevalent in Pacific Island tattooing, becoming a master in the process.

The traditional style of tribal tattoo varies from island to island, but the most common themes seen in the tattoos are strength and the representation of the environment in which they lived.

Many agree that the repeated use of triangles, which are representative of shark teeth, generally symbolizes strength and protection. Another very common pattern seen is the spiral-esque design meant to represent waves.

Because the early societies of the Pacific Islands had no written language, they used tattoos as a means of communication between members of the society.

According to Kealalokahi Losch, an expert in Pacific Islander culture, agrees that tattoos were a way of preserving history and culture, as well as a means of broadcasting one’s individuality.

“For Polynesian people it’s kind of our identity. It’s our thing,” said Lala Ellsworth, a tattoo artist working at Frost City Tatau.

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Lala Ellsworth, a tattoo artist at Frost City Tattoo. Photo by Diego Romo

Historically, tattoos contained symbolism that related to the matriarchal and patriarchal lines of the family. They displayed successful hunts and the spoils of war. They also denoted what standing in the society one had, be it king or warrior, and even the origins of their ancestor.

Frost credits these characteristics for his passion and interest in the style. He really liked the fact that he was “able to tell a story using our language.”

Tattoos also played a very personal role in the sense that they shared the story of the bearer to the world. But they were never about the individual, as is the case with most Pacific Islander culture and practices.

“There’s no individual. That doesn’t exist in our style,” Frost said. “You’re all about the family, the clan, and community in a way that makes you whole.”

Historians state that as European cultures began to make contact with the Pacific Island communities, the practices and techniques of Polynesian tattooing began to spread and influence styles all over the world.

“All islanders have always gifted tattoos to foreigners,” Frost added.

And despite many efforts by zealous religious missionaries to curb the practice, it’s still thriving two thousand years later

Frost said that there is a large and growing market of Pacific Islanders who wish to continue the tradition of receiving the tattoos as part of their cultural identity — those who truly understand the deep meaning of the symbolism and the history of the art.

But you do not have to be of Pacific Island descent to appreciate and understand their style of tattooing.

“There’s a lot of non-Polynesians getting Polynesian stuff,” Frost said.

He added that this is a factor in what’s keeping the art alive. The symbols and their meanings are universal. They tell the story of all humans, just through the lens of the Pacific Islander experience.

“The meaning behind it is relatable to anyone in the world,” Frost added. “It’s just done in our style.”

Zay Dela Pena, who has tattooed at Frost City Tatau for three years, was born in Hawaii and grew up in a very religious family. The traditional, Polynesian style tattoos that were inspired by his culture and his spirituality by interweaving symbolism and meaning between the two identities.

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Zay Dela Pena tattooing a client at Frost City Tattoo. Photo by Diego Romo

“I had to figure out a way to connect the cultural symbols to spiritual symbols,” he said.

Dela Pena, like many others, was able to see the universal qualities in the symbols and add his own experience and identity to the tattoo, deepening its meaning.

Although the art-form has remained highly unchanged over its two thousand year existence, artists are now beginning to blend styles and create pastiches that contain the influence of many different works and cultures.

“What’s happening now is you’re seeing an evolution,” Fred Frost said. “Because artists are becoming diverse.”

Younger artists like Jroo Winquist are influenced by the tattoos of their older relatives and peers, but are continuing the Pacific Islander tattooing legacy through exploring different and newer styles.

“I love the look of tribal,” Winquist said. “It’s aesthetically so pleasing.”

But Winquist stated his favorite style of tattoo to work on is contemporary, modern and even surrealistic. Still the art is influenced in some way by the traditional Pacific Islander style.

Fred Frost said the traditional style of Polynesian tattooing will not be going away any time soon.

“It has stood the test of time until now, so I’m sure it will last,” he said.

As the buzz of the tattoo guns begins to fade, the conversation builds at Frost City Tatau in Midvale. Those who have just finished receiving their new ink don’t just pay and leave — they stay and talk for a while. Because before anything else, community and family come first in the Pacific Islander tradition.

 

Dayna Bae

MY STORIES:

MY BLOG:

Before I take this course, I expected writing about the special topic that I am interested in. I thought I could choose my own subject for beat reporting. Against my expectations, the topic of beat reporting of this course was tied to one specific topic in a community. I never expected that, but I thought working on the same topic with many peers was a tremendous experience since I could witness diverse perspectives on the same subject. Through this, I learned that each person has a different view on perceiving and interpreting the same topic, even if each individual belongs to the same local community.

Processed with MOLDIVAt first, I got many mistakes and errors in formatting and editing. I faced lots of difficulties when I tried to reach people for an interview. Amongst many difficulties, the most difficult part was a language. Since English is not my first language, I was intimidated by lacking English skills and fluency. I was also extremely stressed by the lack of human sources to interview for my article. Contacting and reaching people are still stressful to me like all other journalists think. However, I got used to the stressful pressure. I think practicing language skills and finding resources are the inevitable part of life for journalists.

Since this course is focused on the issues of local community, I was an outsider from the very beginning of the semester. I am a student from the Asia Campus, which is located in South Korea, and this is my first semester in Salt Lake City. Thus, I was not familiar with any local issues or events and geographical information. However, thanks to being an outsider, I could have a more objective point of view on the topic, and I could feel more empathy with the Pacific Islanders in Utah. I cannot say that I was not affected by that since my reporting is related to outsider’s viewpoint. Thanks to the Voices of Utah, I could learn lots of professional skills and utilize every source as a journalist. It was a precious experience of testing my ability and possibility in my field.

ABOUT ME:

I am a senior studying communication and concentrating on journalism at the University of Utah. I studied social work before I changed my major to communication in 2017. Experiences in social work made me have a significant interest in human rights issues as well as humanitarian aid. I am passionate to become a reporter at the United Nations News Center along with my journalism career.

I love arts, music and travel. During my free time, I enjoy taking photographs and capturing everyday lives in still images. I also love to write a novel mostly about love and friendship. I appreciate art and art history, so I am also interested in writing art columns after getting an academic degree in art history in the future. I believe that I am an artistic person. I also believe in the power of writing, regardless of any types of writings. One day, I want to publish my own articles that can make people impressed and think with various perspectives.

Diego Romo

MY STORIES: 

MY BLOG:

Writing for Voices of Utah this semester has been a really rewarding experience. I have learned so much about the Pacific Islander community in Utah and I’ve met great people along the way.

I had no idea what to expect when I walked in the doors of room 2840, all I knew was that we were covering Pacific Islanders and that I was excited to hit the ground running.

My initial expectation for this beat was that it was going to be a fun subject to cover over the semester because I was going to be learning a lot. Before Voices, I did not have much exposure to Pacific Islander culture other than the stereotypical way in which their culture is presented in America: hula dancers, luaus, and leis. But, because I know all too well the American tendency to gather groups of very diverse cultures and fit them into a box, I knew that there was absolutely more to this story.

And I was definitely right.

I learned about that hardships that Micronesians face when attempting to secure proper healthcare in the United States. I learned about the long history of Pacific Islanders in Utah, a history that is as old as the state itself, and of the values of community and tradition over which Pacific Islanders value over anything else.

I really enjoyed that this class was a “community engaged” learning experience. It gave me the opportunity to meet people in the community and get to know them on a personal level. It also helped me to better understand the beat as a whole because I was able to experience firsthand the values of community, family and tradition that are most definitely alive within this culture.

A topic that I covered that really resonated with me this semester was the topic of culture. Through my research and interview process for my first and second stories I learned a lot about myself and my identity. A lot of the people I interviewed come from Pacific Island heritage, but grew up in a very Anglo community and were raised on American culture. I found that this left a lot of people feeling lost between the two cultural identities, not really fitting in to either of them. I relate to this experience because I am Hispanic, but grew up going to Catholic school and was raised in a predominately Anglo community. This experience definitely affected the way I felt about my cultural identity. I felt like an imposter among my people.

Going forward I’m happy to take the skills that I learned in Voices of Utah with me to better improve my career as a journalist and I know I will look back on this experience with pride.

ABOUT ME:

IMG_8321-2Diego Romo is a multimedia journalist based out of Salt Lake City. Born and raised in the desert heat of Albuquerque, New Mexico, Diego found an interest in storytelling very early in life. From the very beginning he was obsessed with the craft of writing and began to author essays for various state level and regional competitions. Through these essay contests, he discovered his passion for journalism and political science.

At age 16, Diego moved to Layton, Utah, with his family and it is here where he began to further explore storytelling through the lenses of photography and videography.

More recently, Diego has turned an internship with Deerfield Media into a full-time position as co-host of the “Mountain Morning Show” and news anchor for “PCTV Reports” on Park City Television.  He is wrapping up a Bachelor’s Degree in communication with a minor in political science and is set to graduate from the University of Utah in fall of 2018.

Sheherazada Hameed

MY STORIES: 

MY BLOG: Giving voice to groups that need better recognition in the community

There are many ethnic groups along the Wasatch Front that need to be reintroduced by the media in a different light. We live in an era where humans are often narrow-minded and continue to create stereotypes about people who have a different religion or skin color. Part of the reason is the diluted information or increasing negative content distributed by the media.

My personal and professional goal is to share knowledge and educate my audience about the existence of other cultures near us. About their struggles, life stories and what they do here to make our life different. I wish people can reach out to each other and exchange their life experience so they can work together toward a better tomorrow.

When I started reporting this semester my beat was the Pacific Islanders.

It wasn’t difficult to find the Pacific Islanders who do extraordinary things every day and contribute to their families and communities.

I found that Pacific Islanders were excited to speak to a reporter. They all felt like there is not enough good and positive said about them. They were surprised that someone is interested in their life.

I interviewed David Lavulo and members of his family about their restaurant and the mission to serve fresh and nutritious meals every day, practicing healthy cooking and traditional recipes.

My experience with Haviar Hafoka and the Malialole Dance group was spectacular. I wrote a story about education through dance and music and preservation of good life values for the young generation of Pacific Islanders. I attended an event where I could experience the native music, dance and harmony of their relationships with each other.

The last story I worked on was about dedication and mission to preserve Utah’s historical side. I spoke with William AhQuin and his son Job AhQuin about the Iosepa cemetery. They taught me of how little people need to live but faith and family are the foundation of life.

I realized for myself and my readers that there is so much good to be found around us and is my mission to share it.

ABOUT ME: 

My name is Sheherazada Hameed and I am a student-journalist at the University of Utah majoring in communication with an emphasis in journalism. I am currently working on establishing my name and style and wish to start a career as a reporter in a local newspaper or a magazineIMG_9859 V2

I am passionate about learning and reporting different minority groups in the state of Utah. Refugees and immigrants are my focus of interest and I wish to cover their problems and stories in depth.

My interest is inspired by personal life experience.

I was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, in 1983 in the family of a Bulgarian mother and an Iraqi father. My father taught me that journalists are the free-minded and publicly respected professionals. I started my education at Sofia University. Just after completing my third year at the Department of Journalism and Public Relations, I made the bold decision to come to the United States, leaving my education incomplete.

I arrived in Salt Lake City in 2005 and since then I have worked in many hotels and resorts in Utah. I have worked as a server and a bartender. In 2011 I graduated from National Academy of Medical Aesthetics in Salt Lake City and since then I have worked in spas.

Working and living as an immigrant I was introduced to many people with similar stories who came to America to look for opportunities. In 2009 I married my husband Javier who is an immigrant from Mexico. We have one daughter, Margarita, named after my mother who passed away in 2009. We raise Margarita as a unique individual and we remind her every day of the choices her parents had to make.

In 2017 I decided that I need to complete my education. I knew it is important to set an example for my daughter. My mother’s greatest wish before she died was for me to graduate from a university.

My personal experience and relations with people from a multicultural background is an inspiration to write. The stories of refugees and their survival. The stories of people who came here to seek safer and better life for their children. The undocumented immigrants who live among us. Those are all human stories and I want to tell them.

Today I live in Salt Lake City with my husband and daughter and my four cats. In our busy lives, we still find opportunities to do things we love. We enjoy traveling and learning more about the great country we live in. In my free time, I love cooking, gardening and watching Cold War spy movies. I wish I am not so scared and learn how to ski so I can fully enjoy the unique state we live in.

 

Janice Arcalas

MY STORIES: 

MY BLOG:

Honestly, I did not know what to expect when I heard our beat was the Pacific Islander community in Salt Lake City. I was worried at first because I had no idea where to start to look for sources. I had no knowledge about the community in general. As the semester went along, I realized that there are so many sources I could go to about our beat. I learned that Pacific Islanders are not only willing to help their community, but to help everyone they can around them.

Interviewing every one of my sources has been an eye-opening and enlightening experience. I learned a lot about Pacific Islanders in the community, and I realized that their community involvement reflects their family-oriented customs.

I was involved in different community services in high school. Once I entered college and started working, getting involved in the community was difficult for me. After interviewing Havier and Penina from the Talakoula radio show, it reminded me how important it is to help your community. The two are extremely involved in their community, and it was really heartening to speak with them about how Pacific Islanders are involved with their community. It made me want to start getting involved with the community again.

As a result of my reporting this semester, I learned so much about the Pacific Islander community. I knew nothing about this beat at the beginning of the semester. I am glad that I got to do this beat because it was really amazing to see all the different ways  Pacific Islanders are greatly involved with helping others.

ABOUT ME:

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Janice Arcalas is a senior at the University of Utah and expecting to graduate the fall of 2018. She is currently majoring in communication with an emphasis in journalism and minoring in Korean. Janice desires to work in broadcasting in South Korea one day.

Entering college, Janice thought she wanted to pursue a film major. After taking a few film classes, though, she realized that film wasn’t a match for her. She remembered how she enjoyed an in-studio video production communication class and has dedicated her education toward a communication major since then.

Marissa Sittler

MY STORIES:

MY BLOG: 

As a result of my reporting this semester, I realized the disparity between media coverage of the minority groups and the majority population in Utah. While it should not surprise me (why would Utah have greater coverage of minorities than Hollywood or the mass media?), it still was a little disheartening. The silver lining behind this, is that our class and the following Voices classes have the opportunity to highlight and learn more about the minority groups in Utah. As a person of color, I recognize this project’s importance and the great need we have for it not only at the University of Utah, but the Utah community as a whole.

Another result of my reporting this semester is that I gained more experience in the field of journalism. For previous courses (although some were not strictly journalism courses, more so general writing courses), I was not always required to actually go out and find sources and set up interviews. I would say that I had a pretty firm grasp of the interviewing process prior to this class, but this class really gave me a taste of having to chase after potential sources and following up with them several times, if they did not get back to me. That leads me into some of the disappointments and successes that I experienced this semester.

My first story, which was a profile on Susi Feltch-Malohifo’ou and her journey of self-acceptance as a transracial adoptee, is the story that I am most proud of. As a transracial adoptee, I was able to connect with Susi and the sentiments she expressed, such as sadness, anger and confusion. Susi shared with me that she was grateful “for the opportunity for me to share this part of me that has turned into a strength.” I think this is why I am the most proud of this piece, because I was able to write a story that was close to me and I felt that I did it justice to Susi. While I feel that this story was a huge success, I was also a little disappointed because one of the sources I really wanted to interview, Susi’s longtime friend, did not get back to me until far after the deadline for the story passed. I think that her thoughts and contributions would have made the story even more personal.

Another disappointment was with the lack of depth that my third story on the umbrella organization, Nā HALE, had. Overall, I think that I did the best that I could, since Nā HALE is not a fully formed organization. Several times I was told that this was more “a concept” than a formal organization. I knew of its fairly new beginning when Jake Fitisemanu Jr. came to talk to our class and he said that it did not have a website. Despite this, I still wanted to pursue the story because I thought that it was worthwhile. Because of these factors, this did make for a shorter story than I wanted. Additionally, my photos for this story were not as interesting as my previous ones, which were all portraits.  

On a more personal level, there was a time that I felt like an outsider during my beat reporting this semester. When I met Susi at the Kearns Library, she explained to me that Kearns is one of the poorest cities in Salt Lake County, even below West Valley City. She also said that the library feeds a good amount (I can’t remember the exact number) of kids, which isn’t something that a typical library does. I have felt like an outsider for a lot of my life being an Asian American adoptee, growing up with two white parents and living in predominantly white, upper-middle-class communities. I’ve mainly felt like an outsider in Utah because of my race. There have also been times that I have felt like an insider, which I think is the feeling of belonging and not feeling out of place.

There have been instances where I have felt like I stood out for my socioeconomic status. But when I met with Susi and she explained to me how a lot of the kids at the Kearns library are there alone, without their parents since their parents just dropped them off and/or are there to be fed, I really felt the privilege that I have had throughout my life. Those are things that have never happened to me, that I have never experienced. I thought about my fond memories of going to the library when I was younger with my mom and older sister. And I thought about how my mom would have made food for us before or after the library. What overpowered the feeling of being an outsider was my gratitude for the life that I have, but also guilt for what I have. This did not affect my reporting, mainly because it wasn’t the focus of my story, but I think it affected me more on a larger, more personal scale. And, it might even impact the type of stories that I write in the future.

I am still exploring who I am as a journalist. I still have a lot to learn, a lot of people to listen and talk to. I want to be able to share their stories and mine. The unknown can be really scary. But I am excited to be able to explore the potential that I have and share my voice with the world.

ABOUT ME: 

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Marissa Sittler graduated from the University of Utah in May 2018 with her bachelor’s degree in communication with an emphasis in journalism. During her time at the university, she completed two internships. The summer before her junior year, she interned with the nonprofit organization Mali Rising Foundation as its communication intern. She assisted the executive director in energizing a social media campaign, in addition to writing blog posts for the website. During the spring semester of her junior year, she was the internal communication specialist for the Salt Lake County Health Department. As such, she researched, interviewed and wrote employee spotlights for internal use to increase morale within the department.

Her academic achievements include the Dean’s List for the spring and fall semesters of 2016 and 2017, as well as being a member of Kappa Tau Alpha, the national honor society for journalism and mass communication.

She hopes to earn her master’s degree in journalism in the near future.

Some of her guilty pleasures are breakfast food, including pancakes, waffles and hash browns. She also loves being an aunt to her older sister’s dog, Chloe.