Tonga’s Earliest Game- Taupita

Recently Matangi Tonga Online ran an article that I thought was quite interesting and worth sharing about Taupita, which is Tonga’s earliest known game. The article was written by David Burley and Sean Connaughton:

There are rare moments on an archaeological project when, without expectation, an event or discovery will occur providing extraordinary insight into the past, or where the past connects with the present in an utterly astonishing way. Both occurred in late July of 2007, as we were carrying out archaeological excavations in the village of Nukuleka at the northeast entrance to Fanga ‘Uta Lagoon. This story is about the documentation of a shell game, taupita, but a shell game, as we found out, with an almost 3000-year-old history. It also is a story that binds Tonga’s earliest Lapita ancestors to the people of Nukuleka today.

Archaeological excavations at Nukuleka were undertaken early in the 1960s with additional projects in more recent years. It is clear from these endeavors that the bivalve species Anadara antiquata (kaloa’a) was abundant and a preferred food source for the earliest inhabitants. Though populations of this species have diminished, it continues to be an appreciated delicacy, sold at the Nuku’alofa fish market and commonly served at feasts or as part of Sunday fare.

The importance of Anadara to early Tongans went beyond consumption as part of a daily meal. With slight modifications to the lip of the shell, individual valves became tools for peeling taro, bark, or for use in scraping other materials. Anadara shell scrapers are one of the most abundant artifacts in early Tongatapu sites.

Our 2007 excavation project at Nukuleka hired a crew almost entirely from the village. It was a good group of men who worked hard, and who took interest in the project and what we were finding. The work day included tea-time and lunch breaks, where the crew played checkers or cards, always with faka-Tonga type vigor and the ruckus that inevitably results. Yet there was another game for these men to play if the checkerboard was in use or the cards left home. This was taupita, described by the men as a “war with shell”. But it wasn’t any type of shell, it was Anadara antiquata valves taken from the excavation fill we had removed from the site.

20200102 no1 Taupita 955px

Photo by

The game of taupita involves two players sitting opposite each other, each having an equal number of Anadara shells at the outset. As the game begins, the challenger holds the Anadara valve by the lip with the inner side up. The opponents shell is positioned on the ground with inner side down. Using as much force as possible, and the umbo as a hammer, the player strikes downward on the umbo of the stationary shell. If the shell breaks, another is set in place and the player continues. If the shell fails to break, or the player’s shell fractures, the opponent becomes the striker.

Taupita is a fast, back and forth game of individual wars with all of the gusto of cards or checkers. A winner is declared when a player’s shell runs out. As entertaining as the game was to watch, far more intriguing, and quite unexpected, was its by-product. This was a heap of broken shell refuse, but where several of the Anadara valves had their umbo removed. These were identical to the ones we had been excavating from the site, and the ones we had been interpreting as net weights.

Taupita is a popular game in Nukuleka, as we were told by the crew. Shell could be collected from the beach with little difficulty, and anyone was able to play, though most often it was a game for the young. We recorded the rules and we had our crew play the game with freshly collected shells, not the fossilized material being pulled from the site.

With the project of 2007 in the rear-view mirror, we can identify many important discoveries from the excavations, not the least being a documentation of Nukuleka’s considerable antiquity. But none are as unique as taupita. A tea-time observation fortuitously identified a game having a 3000-year-old history with important implications for archaeological interpretation.

To read the full article simply click here.

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Pasifika Festival Will Donate Proceeds to Samoa Measles Response

Proceeds from this weekend’s Pasifika festival in New Zealand’s capital will go to the Samoa measles response fund. About 15,000 people attend the Wellington event each year and this year festival workshops are asking for donations to help Samoa recover from the measles epidemic.

In Samoa eighty-three people, mostly children, have died in the space of three months – with multiple fatalities a daily occurrence at the height of the epidemic. More than 1800 of the more than 5600 people infected were admitted to hospital.

Donated funds from Wellington’s Pasifika Festival will help the ongoing support New Zealand is providing to Samoa through medical aid and expertise.


The Wellington Pasifika Festival will take place at Odlins Plaza on the Wellington waterfront. The event bring together arts, culture, food, local knowledge and more. Those who attend can grab themselves a bit to eat, partake in family friendly activities and enjoy the works of traditional and contemporary Pacific artists.

The program kicks off with a blessing and welcome speech from Minister for Pacific Peoples Hon Aupito Tofae Su’a William Sio. From there the packed lineup includes such acts as Niue Culture Group, Tawa Methodist Church, Tautua Dance, a Pacific cuisine cook-off, Annie Crummer and much more.

Here’s the Program:

12 noon 

  • Blessing
  • Welcome speech by Minister for Pacific Peoples Hon Aupito Tofae Su’a William Sio

12.15pm – Akatokamanava Organisation of Wellington Incorporated

12.25pm – St Teresa Tongan Youth Choir

12.35pm – Kiribati St Joseph Community

12.45pm – Wainuiomata Samoan Methodist Church Youth Group

12.55pm – Tamaiti o le Laumua

1.05pm – Niue Culture Group

1.15pm – Porirua Methodist Church

1.25pm – Wellington Solomon Islands Community

1.35pm – Makatu’unga He’ofa Wellington Tongan Community

1.45pm – Tawa Methodist Church

1.55pm – Awerangi Thompson

2.05pm – Pacific Cuisine Cook Off Competition

2.25pm – Tautua Dance (Cook Islands)

2.35pm – Mafutaga Tagata Matutua Exercise Group

2.45pm – Tautua Dance (Samoa)

2.55pm – Le Moana

3.00pm – Wayne Laai

3.15pm – Youngsolwara Poneke Vogue

3.25pm – Kupega Affect

3.35pm – The Company NZ

3.45pm – Arialan

4.15pm – Annie Crummer

4.55pm – Ex Nihilo Gospel Band

5.35pm – Mercy Band featuring Starr

6.00pm – Festival Ends

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Niue Language Week 2019

I’ve been meaning to share this article from a couple of months ago that was written by Christine Rovoi of Radio New Zealand about how Niueans across New Zealand celebrated their culture and language this past October. The theme was Tokiofa, Ofania, Mokoina e Vagahau Niue – Treasure, Love and Cherish the Niuean language.

Niue-born Wellington-based doctor Alvin Mitukulena said his language was not spoken widely compared to other Pacific languages. But he said there had been an increasing number of young Niueans taking an interest in the language and culture. “So, it’s quite heartwarming to see that and I hope it just only gets stronger and stronger… It’s a time of reflection, of coming together with the community with other Niuean people, and just sharing stories about our homeland, what we remember and what we can pass on to our young ones as well.”


The Niuean language is similar to the Tongan and Samoan languages, Mr Mitukulena said. He said Niue was earlier settled by the Tongans, Samoans and the Cook Islanders. “The Cook Islanders came to the north with the Samoans and the Tongans came to the south of the island.”

Niue is commonly referred to as “The Rock”, which comes from the traditional name “Rock of Polynesia”. It’s a self-governing state but New Zealand conducts most diplomatic relations on its behalf. Mr Mitukulena grew up in Niue and came to New Zealand when he was 16 and can remember “quite a lot” about his childhood. “I can remember going to the bush and plantation with my father clearing land, growing taro, going sea fishing and conversing in the language particularly in the village where I spend a number of years.”

Niueans are citizens of New Zealand and there are more than 20,000 people of Niuean descent living in New Zealand. Mr Mitukulena said the highlight this week would be the celebration of Aho Pulefakamotu or Constitution Day on Saturday. “That’s the day when Niue became a self-governing nation in 1974,” he said. “It’s when we showcase a lot of our cultural activities, our dances. We feast and we gather as a community.”

Mr Mitukulena urged young Niueans to ask their parents or grandparents to teach them the language because it was “dying”. Youth needed to take an interest and appreciate their language and culture: “Language is only one aspect of our culture. You don’t have to speak the language to identify as a Niuean.”

Minister for Pacific People’s Aupito William Sio launched Niuean Language Week in Auckland during the weekend, saying it was an opportunity for the islanders to connect with their history and culture. For Pacific people, language could be a source of strength and could also help ground and give the islanders’ confidence, he said. “Our languages provide us with an immediate and intimate access to our identity and our story – and from this comes a clear sense of belonging. “That’s what the theme for Niue Language Week says to me.”

Most of the people who could trace all, or part, of their ancestry back to Niue now lived in New Zealand. “We should remember that when they, or their ancestors, left Niue to come to Aotearoa, they brought their language and the stories it holds with them,” he said.We have a chance to pay tribute to these people and those who have continued to ensure this beautiful language has a home here Aotearoa.”

Fagatohi -Envelope

Fakaalofa lahi atu- Hello

Fakaaue ha kua – Welcome

Fakaaue lahi – Thank you

Fiafiaaga – Celebration.

Hifi ulu- Hair Cutting

Magafoa – Family

Momoi – Money

Paleu – Lavalava

Ufi – Yams

Vagahau Niue – Niuean language

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Cook Islands’ Voyaging History on Display

Happy New Year!

Let’s kick-off the year with a story from last year-

Last month the Cook Islands News ran an article written by Melina Etches about how the National Museum began an exhibit called, “Voyaging Vaka of the Cook Islands.”

For Vaka Marumaru Atua captain, Sam Timoko, the exhibit has been an overwhelming experience. Looking at the artifacts of Vaka Takitumu including its bow, and photographs and paintings of Cook Islands vaka brought him to the realization that he, too, would like to pay homage to Pa Tuterangi Ariki Sir Tom Davis (former Prime Minister of Cook Islands) for launching the renaissance voyaging in the Cook Islands.

Timiko revealed to guests at the opening that he had first seen Vaka Te Au Tonga on the movie “Johnny Lingo” on television in New Zealand and it had made a deep impression.  I thought, “Wow, what a beautiful vessel.”

Timiko, who has lived on Rarotonga for 10 years, revealed joining the Voyaging Society six years ago had changed him. “Voyaging has changed me, as a person… it’s a great job, not an easy one.”

He recalled the devastating fire in September 2017 that destroyed the starboard hull of Vaka Marumaru Atua. She was restored to her glory in New Zealand with the help of government, supporters and people of the Cook Islands. The vaka sailed back to Rarotonga in June 2019. “We want to share her with the Pa Enua (outer islands), there will be more visits to the Pa Enua next year.”

Cook Islands National Museum/Runanga Pakau director, Justina Nicholas, said the second section of the exhibition was in partnership with the Voyaging Society. It shares the history of the revival of the voyaging vaka, and the valued contribution of the late Sir Tom Davis to the country, the formation of the voyaging society, and the launching of Vaka Te Au o Tonga, Vaka Takitumu and Vaka Marumaru Atua.

Exhibition themes include traditional navigation, the role of the Cook Islands Voyaging Society and the Okeanos Foundation in the Pacific and the historic two-year voyage of Te Mana l Te Moana (The Spirit of the Ocean) from 2010-2012, which culminated with the gifting of Vaka Marumaru Atua to the people of the Cook Islands.

Footage of modern voyaging events and images are also on display.

The photographs will be auctioned in April 2020 to raise funds for Marumaru Atua’s planned voyage to Hawaii.

“Voyaging Vaka of the Cook Islands” will run until June 5, 2020.


The Vaka Marumaru Atua, photo by

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UNESCO Recognizes Samoan Fine Mats

Samoan fine mats, or the ‘le Samoa, is one of 15 cultural practices worldwide that has joined UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity on 12 December. The decision was made in Bogota, Colombia by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.

The ‘le Samoa, is a finely hand-woven mat, fastened at the hem with two rows of green and red feathers, with a loose fringe on one end. It is traditionally woven with fine strips of the pandanus plant, producing a silk-like final product. The ‘le Samoa’s shiny coppery color adds to its value, a testament to its age and the natural bleaching process it undergoes. The production process is highly intricate as each woven strand is as little as one millimeter wide.

A single ‘le Samoa can take several months and even years to produce. It is more than a cultural product with its true value as an object of exchange in traditional ceremonies and rituals, including weddings and funerals. Its exchange contributes to the maintenance of the social structure.

Today, fine mat committees have been established by women and master weavers in their villages. This allows them to swap ideas and strengthen the transmission of the art form, ensuring the preservation of the production of ‘le Samoa for future generations.

UNESCO also recognized Tonga’s lakalaka in 2003. It is an art form consisting of poetry that is sung and accompanied by dance. The Lakalaka was declared a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”.


A master weaver is measuring the ‘le Samoa using her handspan or aga during a monitoring visit to a village women’s committee. Photo: Ministry of Women, Community, and Social Development, Samoa, 2018.

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Traditional Knowledge Promoted Through Tourism in Vanuatu

Last Week the Vanuatu Daily Post ran an interesting article compiled by Adorina Massing about how the The Sustainable Islands Tourism Conference, which was held in Santo, Vanuatu, had profoundly highlighted the theme of ‘Protection of Sustainable Tourism Assets.’

The conference, which shone a light on how the Vanuatu Sustainable Tourism Policy (2019-2030) aims to strengthen the protection of these tourism assets (culture, custom, organic food, environment and friendly people) by supporting the traditional economy.

Central to the discussion was this idea of ‘regenerative tourism’ and the importance of indigenous or local participation to co-create sustainable tourism initiatives. Examples were shown as to how the traditional economy is protecting tourism assets through access to customary land which provides food security, housing, widespread employment, social security, biodiversity protection and ecological stability; traditional medicines, source of social cohesion, inclusion and cultural reproduction.


Slit drum, Port Vila, Vanuatu

Delegates emphasized the need for strong collaboration across the public and private sector to guarantee environmental and socio-cultural assets are upheld and conserved. The Director of Tourism, Mr Jerry Spooner and the President of Malvatumauri Council of Chiefs, Chief Willie Plasua, among others, spoke about the importance of mapping and protecting Ecological and Culturally Significant Areas (ECSA) across Vanuatu to ensure these areas are protected from unsustainable development.

Other nations who have lived through the consequences of unsustainable tourism applaud Vanuatu’s preservation of nature and culture and encouraged them to maintain and regenerate its pristine environment and rich socio-cultural diversity.

Johnny Edmunds, from World Indigenous Tourism Association (WINTA) expressed tourism as a “double edge sword” as socio-cultural protection and preservation were widely discussed. “Delegates expressing the opportunities of sustainable tourism for developing stronger pride for custom, land and culture among local landowners and communities.”

Votausi Mackenzie from Lapita Café and Robert Oliver from the Pacific Islands Food Revolution delivered an emotional presentation calling for the South Pacific to be proud of their local food and cultural heritage, highlighting the severe health consequences that are being experienced in the South Pacific as people leave their traditional diets for imported packaged foods.

Delegates felt inspired and motivated by the discussions of the day which brought together unique insights and ideas to better environmental and socio-cultural sustainability in the tourism industry.

A major sponsor for the event the Pacific Agricultural Research Development Initiative (PARDI 2) as part of the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) stated that “while we have to consider what the tourism market wants, what’s more important is focusing on the needs of Pacific islanders and not compromising on Pacific values, markets can be re-educated (through more experiences with local food and culture), however once culture and heritage is lost it is difficult to retrieve.”

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A New Fijian Dance to Help Embrace Identity

A couple of months ago Radio New Zealand posted an article about how a new Fijian meke or traditional dance aims to encourage the islanders to embrace their identity and help them cope with the changes around them.

The director of Fijian dance at the Pasifika Arts Center in Auckland, Alipate Traill, said the new meke will be launched in Auckland this weekend. He said the dance tells the story of Fijians in New Zealand and the impacts of change on their lives.

This past October Fijians across New Zealand celebrated: It’s Macawa Ni Vosa Vakaviti – their language week. The theme is Na Noqu Vosa – Ai Takele Ni Noqui Tovo or My language anchors my culture. During the same week the islanders also marked 49 years of independence from Britain.

Alipate Traill said this year’s theme is fitting because it reminds Fijians of the importance of knowing their culture and language. He said he has been happy with the children who have spent months learning the new meke dance. “The meke emphasizes the need to hold on to each of our yavu or our foundation – the Māori call it tūrangawaewae. Everyday we wake up, there’s something changing – whether it’s through social media, through information or through the system that we live in. And the meke is a call-out to our people – not only in New Zealand but on home soil back in Fiji.”


Pacific Harbour, Fiji

In 2013, Fijians made up 4.6 percent (14,445) of the Pasifika population in New Zealand and less than half of the islanders speak the language. Mr Traill said young Fijians must find the balance between their culture and the influences of the West. “The Ministry of iTaukei Affairs carried out a survey a couple of months ago and they found that a lot of our young people don’t even know the basics of their oral history – of certain customs and protocol. Find that balance, find your footing in your foundation. And that provides you a secure platform to handle life’s challenges.”

Fijian academic Raman Subramani warns the indigenous iTaukei and Fiji Hindi languages face extinction. The professor in languages and literature at the University of Fiji is calling for the recruitment and training of indigenous language activists to save the country’s vernacular languages. “Simply because there is no writing in the language.  I’m concerned that the indigenous iTaukei language is not being enriched by writing. And when the language is not enriched by writing, it is not recorded in writing. Then there’s a gradual demise of the language,” he said. Mr Subramani said it’s a very serious issue that many Fijians don’t speak their mother tongue.

Alipate Traill says he was greatly influenced by his grandmother growing up in Fiji. “It’s to her that I attribute all my knowledge even the spoken Fijian (Vosa Vakaviti). She only spoke Fijian  in the home and as much as we only spoke English, I had no choice but to learn to respond to her in Fijian. Didn’t realize that over the years as I left Fiji, everything she taught me started to come back and I’m so so grateful indeed.”

Mr Traill is urging Fijian parents to continue to encourage and teach their children their culture and language.

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