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Two Tongan media personalities are using their platforms to uplift the language

William Sangster

It is Tongan Language Week (Uike Ktoanga'i 'o e Lea Faka-Tonga), which celebrates the language, song, dance, and culture

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

It is Tongan Language Week (Uike Ktoanga'i 'o e Lea Faka-Tonga), which celebrates the language, song, dance, and culture.

Indira Stewart (Tatakamotonga, Makave, Tu'uku'i), an in-depth multimedia reporter for TVNZ, believes that it is important as it promotes their language and culture.

Indira Stewart. Photo / Supplied

“These language weeks didn’t exist when I was growing up here! And I felt very embarrassed to speak Tongan in front of my friends. Growing up as migrants here, we felt different.

“As a mother now, I notice how much my children feel so proud of their heritage and feel proud to learn Tongan. They are growing up in a world that celebrates who they are, and I love that!”

Stewart immigrated to New Zealand when she was young, butt she travelled back home as often as she could growing up and feels very connected to her Pacific roots.

She wants to see the language used more frequently.

“Speak and celebrate it! Encourage dialogue. One of the things I love about my brother John Pulu, is that when I do see him, he speaks to me in Tongan, which encourages my own dialogue.

“The more we can encourage each other, the richer our language and heritage will be.”

John Pulu, 34 (Kolomotu'ua, Tongatapu, Holopeka, Ha'apai), the director and reporter of Tagata Pasifika, is very honoured to see the next generation of Tongans learning their background.

John Pulu. Photo / Supplied

“I am so proud when young Tongans are keen to learn about their Pacific roots.

“You are Tongan no matter what so keep going. “

He believes that the week is an opportunity for all of New Zealand to learn about its heritage and Pacific values.

“It is important not just for Tongans to mark the annual celebration, but it is a chance to educate non-Tongans about our culture.”

Migrating from Tonga in the late 90s to South Auckland, but feel connected to home while staying in "Ōtāhuhu aka little Tonga," because when the national sports teams play, all of the fans put on a parade.

Pulu is celebrating the language week by sharing fun facts about Tonga with his colleagues.

“For instance, I share common Tongan phrases. It’s a fun and collaborative way of encouraging others to use the language. “

Respect, he says, is a word that means a lot to him in Tongan.

“Faka’apa’apa is one of the most important Tongan values to me. In fact, this is one of the Faa’i Kaveikoula ‘a e Tonga or the Tongan core values.”

As for Stewart, her favourite expression in Tongan is “hoiii.”

“Every time I roll my eyes, can’t be bothered, have a bit of an attitude. I love saying ‘Hoiiii’ I just think it’s the perfect way to express an unbothered emotion!”

She is a believer in being loud and proud about who you are every day in the workplace, at school, and with friends.

Stewart loves wearing Pasifika clothing and tries to greet people in Tongan or begin her news bulletins with Malo e lelei.

“It’s important to celebrate who we are every day.”

According to the 2018 New Zealand census, there are 80 thousand people who identify as Tongan.

Stewart argues that it is crucial to maintain a sense of community and Pacific identity.

“Attend events, practice the language, and know that you can be proud of the community we’re a part of here in the Pasifika diaspora just as much as you can be proud as a Tongan living in Tonga.

“And always keep that MATE MA’A TONGA energy everywhere you go.”

Pulu says more can be done to spread the culture throughout Aotearoa.

“Use the networks and share the events far and wide as our people are in different parts of Aotearoa, and now we are global. Tongans to the World”.

Hero image: Indira Stewart and John Pulu. Photo / Supplied.

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