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Tokelau Language Week: Last of the Pacific language weeks celebrated this year

Alualumoana Luaitalo

Keeping Tokelauan language and culture alive: 'A collective responsibility'

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Tokelauans around the country are celebrating all things language and culture this week, with activities and events embracing the last of this year’s dedicated Pacific language weeks.

Te Vaiaho o te Gagana Tokelau - Tokelau Language Week - has a theme that highlights the importance of understanding the past in order to move into the future.

This year’s theme is: Ke Olatia ko ia Tokelau i tana Fakavae - Tokelau to Prosper Within its Foundation.

Secretary for Ministry for Pacific Peoples, Gerardine Clifford-Lidstone, says it has been extremely effective in highlighting the role language plays in providing well-being and confidence in identity to New Zealand’s Pacific communities.

“It continues to delve into the premise that understanding the past is crucial for the future of Gagana Tokelau, which is recognised within the community.

“There is a collective responsibility to ensure the Tokelauan Fakavae - the community’s spiritual and cultural values and practices - continue to prosper for generations yet unborn,” she said.

”More and more the mantle of cultural preservation and growth is increasingly passed to the younger generation.”

Acknowledging historical roots is considered essential for future progression, especially in cherishing and upholding the culture and language, Clifford-Lidstone said.

Figures from the 2018 Census show there are 8676 people of Tokelauan heritage living in Aotearoa. Up to 78.5 per cent of Tokelauans are born in New Zealand and 21.6 per cent are born overseas.

An isolated place strong in tradition, language and culture

Of that population about 13 per cent of young people aged 15 years old and under can speak their mother tongue.

Tokelau itself is one of the world’s most isolated places in the world and in the Pacific Island region.

It is a dependent territory of New Zealand and consists of three atolls: Atafu, Nukunonu, and Fakaofo.

Up to 11,900 people live in the isolated Pacific country of Tuvalu. Photo / Peki Lepaio

Tokelau has also one of the world’s smallest economies; with its principal sources of revenue coming from the sale of copra, postage stamps, souvenir coins and traditional handicrafts.

Locals also receive remittances from relatives in New Zealand.

Celebrating both religious and secular holidays with festivals, sports competitions and parades. Faka-Tokelau, the Tokelauan way of life, is centred on family and community.

There is a social and economic order based on the values of community, which sees residents sharing their food, for example. Despite the pressure of external influences and the outside world, such traditional practices remain strong in Tokelau.

Some of this year’s Tokelau Language Week events include learning the language and culture through fatele (traditional dancing), singing, cooking, church services and specific activities aimed at children and youth.

Travel between the three atolls in Tokelau is via a small boat. Photo / Peki Lepaio

Clifford-Lidstone invited members of the community to attend events and be encouraged by joining in celebrations for the last Pacific language week of the year.

“[So people can] ensure the language and culture is not only preserved but continues to thrive and flourish in Aotearoa.”

Tokelau Language Week wraps up this year’s Pacific language weeks series, with various Pasifika languages - Rotuman, Samoan, Kiribati, Cook Islands, Tongan, Tuvaluan, Fijian and Niuean - celebrated throughout the year.

For information about events happening around the country, visit the Ministry for Pacific Peoples website.

Give it a go

Hello: Taloha ni (Tah-law-huh-knee)

Goodbye: Talā ni (Tah-lah-knee)

How are you? E ā mai koe? (Eh-ah-ma-y / ko-eh?)

Hero image: Just over 8600 people who identify as being Tokelauan live in New Zealand, according to the 2018 Census. File Photo / Samantha Olley

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