When two hearts become one

The bride and groom. Picture: Kama Catch Me/www.kamacatchme.com

IT was a wedding that celebrated the beautiful cultures of Fiji and Samoa for Joseph and Janina Moaga-Vuicakau. Close to 300 guests including 200 family and friends flew to Janina’s homeland Samoa to attend their wedding. We sit with the couple to talk about their special day at the beautiful Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Samoa.

Tell us a little bit about yourselves?

JANINA: I am the eldest grandchild to my both sets of grandparents as well as the eldest of three daughters to my parents Siaosi and Peti Moaga. I am a proud Samoan tama’ita’i from the villages of Falealupo in Savaii and Sataoa and Siusega in Upolu. I am public servant working for the Parliament of NSW. Aside from working, you can find me advocating for climate justice as a ‘Pacific Climate Warrior’ in Sydney. I used to run private Siva Samoa lessons for girls and women of all ages, and it was through my passion for cultural and performing arts that I met Joseph. I am a mother to an adventurous and outgoing toddler, Jeriah, who my father describes as ‘fast like a Fijian and stong like a Samoan’.

JOSEPH : I am an Australian born Fijian from the Village of Koroivonu, Tunuloa province of Vanua Levu and my ‘vasu’ (maternal side) Vaturova, Vanua Levu in the Village of Korotasere. I am communications and field officer for the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, Vocations Office. I am also a musician and am a member of ‘Manutabu’ a Fijian band here in Sydney. I am also the co-founder and leader of Duavata Fiji Meke Group, a performance group proactive in maintaining a connection with our Fijian heritage through practising customs, language, learning history and performing meke.

How did you two meet and do you remember the first thing you said to one another when you two met?

JOSEPH: I cannot remember the first thing Janina said to me, but I do remember her asking to try kava as she had never drunk it before. It was our first social encounter aside from professional duties as tutors.

JANINA: We met as professional tutors at a cultural arts centre where Joseph taught Fijian meke and culture, and I taught Samoan Siva and culture. I was initially friends with his cousin, Mereani who was the female Fijian meke tutor with Joseph. I cannot recall the first thing I said to Joseph (because we had worked professionally alongside each other for so long) but I remember the first time I got butterflies when I looked at him. One evening during our annual performance show case that he was hosting, I looked at him and it was as if God just opened my eyes and I saw him in a different light. I have always had immense respect and admiration for Joseph professionally, so you can imagine how ‘weird’ it was for me to just suddenly find him attractive haha.

What was your first impression of each other?

JANINA: ‘That’s a huge afro!’, is one thing I do remember. You rarely see Fijian men with buiniga here in Sydney. Upon our first few interactions, I observed Joseph to be very well spoken, wise, humble, wonderful with children and a genuinely great person.

JOSEPH: My first impression of Janina was that she was a diligent, cautious, disciplined, beautiful and always smiling. I found her beautiful not only because of the red hibiscus she wore in her hair every day, but I also found her beautiful because of how graceful she danced, how passionate she was about culture and her conviction whenever it comes to the serious issues of our society. I also thought she was boring because she would always be the one to go home when we would all have after work drinks (laughs).

Your favourite memory about each other?

JOSEPH: My favourite memory of Janina was when I first saw her perform a ‘Siva Samoa’ at an Oceania Festival in in Sydney when all the traditional vaka canoes from across the Pacific sailed into Sydney Harbour. Her performance that day was so memorable for me because of the way she danced so gracefully with so much joy, beauty and poise. I was let’s say ‘mesmerised’ – I shared this story to her whilst we were dating and we both had a good laugh about it.

JANINA: I’ll never forget the moment Joseph proposed to me. He said some sweet things, but the most original thing he said was – ‘will you be the kava to my tanoa, forever?’, only something a Fijian would say (laughs).

Describe the wedding?

JANINE: We had a full Catholic Mass which was cocelebrated by Joseph’s uncles, Fr Asaeli and Fr Epeli who are both Fijian priests in Australia. We were lucky enough to have had the organ pipes played during our mass, which was played for the first time this year. The organ is rarely played in Samoa and requires written permission from the Archbishop of Samoa and there is only one person in the country who knows how to play it. It was everything we wanted it to be – a cultural exchange: emphasising our different cultures while uniting them. We kept it simple with our decorations and colours, keeping to a ‘beige’ colour theme, and utilising only nature and local flowers for our decorations.There was an even mix of Fijian and Samoan songs played and I can say it was a celebration that had everyone off their seats and dancing the night away.

Which part of it was special to you?

JOSEPH: The entire wedding Mass was extremely special but seeing Janina walk down the aisle with her father was definitely a teary moment for me – I was trying so hard not to cry, but I just couldn’t help it.

JANINA: I think there was many special moments, but two that stood out for me was walking down the aisle with my dad. I am my father’s eldest daughter, so I am a typical ‘daddys girl’. The second was sharing our first dance with our son, Jeriah. We often listen to our song ‘Only wanna be with you’ by Samm Henshaw when we’re in the car with Jeriah, so it was special that he came running to us, smiling during our first dance. It’s a moment I want to live in, forever. It still brings tears to my eyes.

What did you wear?

JOSEPH: As per Fijian tradition, I wore masi kuvui ‘smoked tapa’ hand crafted by the women of Tunuloa. For the reception, I wore a custom made white printed bula shirt from Kuiviti (Fiji) with a navy sulu vataga and leather Fijian sandals from The Fijian Collection (Sydney based)

JANINE: I have seen so many beautiful white lace on nude wedding dresses on social media, I knew it was what I wanted when we began planning for the wedding. However, my need to have my Pacific heritage shown on my dress was so strong, I wondered if there was such a thing as ‘Pacific styled lace’ and so I began looking for designers and found Janice of ‘Bejanjan” design who had released a collection of Samoan embroidery in 2017. When I asked her whether she could do my dream dress, she loved the idea and the outcome was the first ever Samoan style lace on nude dress, completely custom made and designed to fi t my body. The lace patterns were the motifs found in Samoan Siapo/ tapa and Samoan tatau/tattoo – it was
then embellished with 3000 plus white pearls which she hand sewed on. She also hand made my earrings from left over pearls and lace. It is the first of its kind and I couldn’t be happier with the final product.

Was there a traditional ceremony in the wedding?

JOSEPH: We had a traditional full Catholic Wedding Mass that was spoken in Fijian, Samoan and English with hymns and Bible readings in all three languages. We reserved the Sunday after our wedding for our ‘cultural exchange’. Janina and I are both proud of our cultural heritage and so we didn’t want to compromise this just because we were marrying outside of our culture. We asked our families to proceed with cultural and customary practices as per usual protocals during weddings. The day consisted of the Fijian custom of the ‘Tevutevu’ and ‘Sevusevu’ along with and the Samoan ‘Sua ‘ and ‘To’ona’i.’ This was a very special moment for all who participated because it was the fi rst time we had experienced each other’s cultures, and it was the first time we had seen two Pacific cultures exist simultaneously alongside each other. It was an intimate exchange and experience of each other’s
cultures with the presentation of fine mats, kava ceremony and sharing together over the most amazing and delicious Island buffet feast the land had to offer, prepared by Janinas family in Samoa. You rarely see such an exchange and it was a beautiful representation of our union – a coming together of two countries, two cultures, two families because of two people who love each other very much.

Would you guys like to add anything else?

JOSEPH: Initially, there was hesitation from both our fathers to where this wedding should be held. Both of our fathers strongly stand firm by their culture and are proud of upholding the traditions of Fiji and Samoa. In Fiji, it is traditionally the man who decides where the wedding is to be held and usually we would take the woman to my village/country and church to marry. Whereas in Samoan culture this is the reverse and so, there definitely was a reluctance and disappointment from both sides of the family. But it was our genuine love for each other and our values, beliefs and ability
to compromise – that we both mutually decided we would have the wedding in Samoa (which is where Janina always wanted it) and have a full Catholic mass which was my wish, having been brought up in a strong Catholic family. I guess we could say that was our first test as a couple to compromise and let our families know we both very much value our culture and its traditions but we are also aware that marrying each other requires compromise, respecting each other’s values and to always remember to put each other first. This genuine act of love set the pattern for our wedding planning, which became ‘a cultural exchange’, the coming together of two countries, two cultures, two families because of two people who love
each other very much.


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