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Niue Language Week: My journey as a ‘fruit salad’ Pacific Island woman

Grace Tinetali-Fiavaai

'I questioned whether it was acceptable to identify as Niuean'

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

As Niue Language Week wraps up, Te Rito journalism cadet Grace Tinetali-Fiavaai reflects on her unique Pasefika heritage and connection to Niue.

As Aotearoa observes the second-to-last Pacific Language week, I contemplate my personal odyssey as a “fruit salad” Pacific Islander and the challenges I encounter due to my mixed heritage.

I am most closely connected to my Samoan roots. On my father’s side, we come from the villages of Salelologa, Lalomalava, Iva, Fagaloa and Manono. Dad’s side also has German and Tongan roots - from the village of Pea.

On my mother’s side, I am from the Samoan villages of Fasito’o Uta, Manono, Safotu and Foailuga. Mum also has Chinese heritage, hailing from Guangzhou.

She is also proudly Niuean and calls the villages of Alofi, Makefu, Hakupu and Liku home.

In Niue, my family consists of individuals with the surnames Mitimeti, Fakalaga and Niufalani.

It was not easy to grow up with multiple ethnic backgrounds. There were times when I questioned whether it was acceptable to identify as Tongan, Chinese or Niuean, especially since I did not know the language.

Despite lacking proficiency in specific languages with which I identified, I was raised immersed in their culture, language and family.

On my Niuean side, I grew up a lot seeing my elder aunty Mokaheone (Moka) Mitimeti and it was because of her that we were able to connect with our Niuean side.

Fakahula Funaki is aunty Moka’s younger sister and helped to develop the first Niuean dictionary. Both women were teachers and well-respected in the education sector in Niue.

Aunty Funaki lives in the motherland and I feel like it was the elders who kept us together.

My Niuean culture has always been around me

My mother has been to Niue once. Her sister, my aunty Tausā Brenda Iseli, has been there a few times more and my uncle Paul Fakalaga has been there many times.

My great-grandmother, Seira Lalomilo, is Samoan and was married to Sione Fakalaga, my full Niuean-blooded great-grandfather.

Grace Tinetali-Fiavaai wearing Niuean finery as a contestant for the Miss Samoa NZ pageant in 2010. She is pictured with her aunty Tausā Brenda Iseli. Photo / Supplied

Coincidentally, my father and his family lived in a place in Samoa called A’ai o Niue - a village that was established more than 150 years ago for Niueans who had settled in Samoa.

According to old village tales, a village Sa’o (head chief) had Niuean lineage.

In my own life, a number of significant events have seen my Niuean family share a piece of our culture, traditions and customs with me personally.

In 2010, I participated in the Miss Samoa New Zealand pageant. In support of my endeavours, my Niuean aiga paid me a visit and presented me with a special garment to wear. It had previously been worn by one of my cousins who had won Miss Aotearoa Niue.

Grace Tinetali-Fiavaai's Niuean family carry out a traditional Niuean custom on her wedding day. Photo / Supplied

A few years later, at my wedding, members of my Niuean family carried out a traditional Niuean wedding custom for my husband and me.

At our reception, they presented us with a large ie (material). They held it up as people put money into it as a way of blessing us, as well as blessing our marriage and new journey together.

Although I was raised primarily on my Samoan heritage, as a Pacific Island woman, I feel I was still exposed to all of my cultures.

In spite of my inability to speak the language, my familial background and cultural abundance have taught me that I am Niuean, notwithstanding my lack of proficiency in the language.

My Niuean culture has definitely been around me.

Monuina e Faahi Tapu he Vagahau Niue - Happy Niue Language Week.

Hero image: Mr and Mrs Fiavaai are presented with a traditional Niuean wedding custom, carried out to bless the newly-weds. Photo / Supplied

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