It’s Tuvalu Language Week, 2020!

The theme of New Zealand’s Tuvalu Language Week is a call to resilience according to the Minister for Pacific Peoples, Aupito William Sio who was interviewed by Radio New Zealand.

Vaiaso o Te Gana Tuvalu was launched online yesterday morning with a church service hosted by Reverend Alee Talava, the Vice Chairman of Te Ekalesia Kelisiano Tuvalu Pulega Niu Sila. There were also remarks by various dignitaries including Minister Aupito and the Tuvalu High Commissioner Paulson Panapa.

Aupito said the week’s theme of ‘Fakatili Te Kiloga Fou‘ or ‘navigating the changing environment’ fitted the current climate as it pertained to Covid-19. But he also said it was a reminder of the threats of climate change to the nation of Tuvalu.


Tuvalu from the air, photo by ICAS

The minister urged Tuvaluans to be strong, resilient and future-focussed as they navigated the dual challenges of the pandemic and the climate.

The week is the sixth of nine official Pacific Language celebrations promoted by the Ministry of Pacific Peoples. It is the fifth time Tuvalu has been included in the initiative with language learning, history, traditional dancing and arts and crafts events being held across the nation this week, although many would be digitally hosted.

Aupito said Pasifika had already shown their adaptability in marking the weeks through such new and unique ways. He said the new normal would include a fusion of tradition and modern methods of celebration.

The minister said the Tuvalu community in Aotearoa had been proactive in establishing digital platforms to connect and support their community online. “They have confidently embraced the use of new technology to share their language and culture while also growing their reach of engagement with their community across Aotearoa and with families back in the islands.”

He said digital communication had also been critical in efforts to stamp out Covid-19. “While Covid-19 is foremost in our minds, Tuvaluan communities in New Zealand are also more keenly aware than most of us of the impact climate change continues to have on their island home and the future survival of their heritage and language. Tuvaluans have made their voices heard loud and clear on climate change. They have taken their message to the United Nations and have played a leading role in awakening the world on the need to address climate change, not just to save Tuvalu, but to save the world.”

Aupito praised Tuvalu’s courage and said New Zealand would support the people of Tuvalu to ensure their country had the infrastructure and resources to strengthen their resilience to adapt and pursue mitigation measures against climate change.

Tuvalu will also celebrate its 42nd year of independence on 1 October.


A sleepy lagoon, Tuvalu, photo by ICAS

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Language Fund to Support Pacific Wellbeing in NZ

I’ve been meaning to post a story which was posted on the Radio New Zealand Website and written by Sela Jane Hopgood about how Pacific language providers and groups in New Zealand were able to apply for grants of up to $NZ50,000 to deliver a range of initiatives. Although the deadline for the grants was September 14, I thought the article was still worth sharing. 

Minister for Pacific Peoples Aupito William Sio said the aim was to “revitalise, grow and strengthen the value of Pacific languages, culture and identities” in Aotearoa.

According to the comparisons from the 2013 census to the 2018 census, the proportion of speakers of Pacific languages had declined across the board, and for some languages such as those of the realm countries, (Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau), and small island groups, the decline was even more significant.

Aupito said Pacific languages, cultures and identity were essential to the health, well-being and lifetime success of our Pacific peoples and their communities. “The strength and resilience of Pacific Aotearoa is not only vital to their own prosperity, but integral to the prosperity of all New Zealanders, and is particularly important in helping Pacific people during our economic recovery and rebuilding efforts,” he said.

The minister said the loss of language was the loss of history, disconnecting past with the present. “It is a loss of self-identity and strength that not only hinders Pacific peoples’ deep connection with their heritage, but it also limits the cultural diversity and strength of New Zealand and effects the growth of the Pacific economy of Aotearoa.”

The Ministry for Pacific Peoples was looking for eligible Pacific language providers and groups who could deliver a range of initiatives. In the past, this included the Nafanua Communication and Culture Samoan Comic Series; where funding was provided to Nafanuatele Mafaufau and supported her in creating her online comic “O le Aiga Samoa: The Samoa Family”. The comics were written in Samoan and translated into English, and provided an insight into the Samoan home and what customs and cultural practices could be seen on an everyday basis.

There was also the Pasefika Kids in Books Initiative, where Sandra Fatu Nu’u wrote children’s books in Samoan, and Rugby Superheroes Vol. 1, the Flying Fijians written by Ryan Gounder who created bilingual books depicting Pacific Rugby heroes.

With funding provided by the Ministry, Gounder was able to complete the first book in the series written in both English and Fijian which highlights ‘The Flying Fijians’. Ryan hopes to continue writing these books and is currently working towards Volume 2 in his series depicting the Manu Samoa squad.

The 2019 Wellbeing Budget provided $NZ20 million over four years towards the support of Pacific languages and cultures, funding a range of initiatives critical to reversing the decline in the uptake and use of Pacific languages. “It was our communities that identified Pacific languages as the key to their wellbeing. By supporting the languages of our Pacific peoples, we enable them to lead more confident, resilient, prosperous lives,” Sio said.


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Ancestral Remains Reburied in Saipan, CNMI

I don’t typically get a lot of news to report from the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), but I recently came across an article about ancestral remains being reburied in Saipan that I thought I’d share…

Over 700 ancestral remains have now been reburied on the Northern Marianas island of Saipan. The remains date back to the ancient Chamorro settlement of Anaguan, which is now present-day Garapan.


Where is CNMI? Map from

The majority of the Chamorro remains were found during the construction of the Imperial Palace Saipan resort and were reburied on the same site, while the `36 were interred at the Surfrider Resort Hotel in Chalan Kanoa.

The CNMI Historic Preservation Office held a cultural reburial ceremony alongside the Indigenous Affairs Office, with the procession being led by the blowing of the kulu or conch and the reciting of several Chamorro chants.

Non-profit group 300 Sails, which is trying to revive ancient marine traditions, also sailed three traditional canoes, called proa, to the beachside of the reburial ceremony at the casino site.

All flags in the CNMI were lowered to half-mast.

The reburial of the ancient Chamoro remains came after the district court dismissed a lawsuit filed by Liana Hofschneider and her husband, Richard, to stop the reburial. In their complaint filed last month, the couple asked the federal court to order the CNMI government and Imperial Pacific International, where the bulk of the remains were found, to immediately stop the reburial.

They also wanted the federal court to issue an order to demand that the CNMI government, IPI, and archaeological firm Scientific Consultant Services pay $US25 million for the desecration of an over 1,000-year-old ancient Chamorro village and burial ground to make way for the casino operation.

In the 1990s, the first archaeological excavation at Anaguan was conducted, where 268 remains were discovered.

In 2015 a second excavation was conducted and another 416 ancestral remains were found.

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Revitalizing Tongan Language Through New Book

Radio New Zealand posted an article written by Sela Jane Hopgood about a 72-year-old author who has released his first dual language book in a series in English and Tongan in hope of revitalizing the Tongan language.

In 2019, Sione Tapani Mangisi and his wife Irene visited Auckland and by chance managed to catch up with Mangisi’s two friends from when they studied trade in Wellington in the 1960s.

It was after that reunion of over 30 years that Mangisi went back home to Melbourne and started writing the Manatu Melie [sweet memories] series. “When my friends and I were reminiscing, the memories were so beautiful and sweet, hence the name of the series,” Mangisi said. “I have been thinking about writing and recapturing our shared stories for quite some time.”

“It dawned on me that all of us had many stories about growing up in Tonga, about navigating our way through the challenges and opportunities in New Zealand, so I’ve decided to write these books about what it was like growing up in Tonga in the 1950s. Some of these stories haven’t been told publicly at all.”

The first book of the series is called Marbles and Mangoes, which Mangisi explains comes from a favorite childhood memory of his of when they would use hard shell fruit nuts as well as glass and ceramic marbles, introduced by Europeans, to play a game of marbles. “The rules of each type of game are included as well as what happens when someone decides to break into a game and run off with everyone else’s marbles,” Mangisi said.


The book opens up with a dedication by the author, which reads, “To all the Pasifika children and grandchildren growing up away from the Pacific Islands homes’ of their parents and grandparents, especially those from my home village of Ha’avakatolo and indeed Tonga.”

Mangisi’s main drive of having the books in both the Tongan and English languages was to ensure there were resources for people wanting to learn the Tongan language to have, as well as keep the Tongan language alive. “Each story is told in English and Tongan to assist readers to develop their skills in both languages,” he said.

Mangisi added, “I have written the book, especially for those Tongans living overseas who are keen to strengthen their cultural ties and to preserve the Tongan language. The language is very important to me and I can see it dying out in the next 50 to 100 years if we don’t use it or write it.”

Mangisi hopes to encourage other Tongans to share their stories about growing up in Tonga with the younger people in their families and their community. “I am pleading with Pacific people who can speak both their mother tongue as well as the English language to write stories like I have did to save the language,” he said.

Mangisi applauded the Ministry for Pacific Peoples in New Zealand for offering Pacific language providers and groups grants to deliver a range of initiatives to support Pacific well-being. “The New Zealand government are leading the way and know that saving the language is so important because it can make Pacific people prosper and have a deeper connection with their heritage,” Mangisi said.

“It’s heart-warming to know there are people like me who want to keep the language alive.”

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First Traditional Navigation School in Fiji

I came across very interesting news on the Fiji Sun Website. There was an article written by Wati Talebula about how indigenous Fijian DruaI Vola Sigavou captain, Setareki Ledua, is aiming to start Fiji’s first traditional navigation school.

He said that there was a need for youths in Fiji to know, practise and understand their history especially in building and sailing canoes.

He will be reaching out to villages in the maritime islands to get their views on his plans to establish the school. “We want to harness this knowledge and experience to build the school, so we can teach our youths and the next generation to build, sail and tackle their own ocean in their own canoes,” Mr Ledua said.


Fijian Drua, I Volasigavou, photo by

He added that it could also generate a livelihood for island communities especially in the tourism sector. “We believe getting to know this history, and understanding who we are, is something to be proud of.” We will be sailing to Lau to lay the foundations for our vision for a traditional navigation school here in Fiji.” He added that they will be focusing more on the youths of these outer islands and also getting ideas from village elders.

University of the South Pacific Scientific and Technical Advisor at the Micronesian Centre for Sustainable Transport, Peter Nuttall said the traditional navigation school was a good idea. “In 2011 when we went to the Lau group to do the first recording of this we found that just a handful of old people who were alive still could remember Drua and we want our next generation to be able to look back and say that Fiji did an incredible thing by bringing the Drua to the world,” he said.

“It is important that we do not lose that knowledge and so a traditional navigation school will not only be the chance to catch the history but also to give youths a chance to learn about something they can be proud of.”

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Acknowledging Theme for Tongan Language Week

Radio New Zealand journalist, Sela Jane Hopgood, wrote an interesting article about how the theme for this year’s Tongan language week, by no coincidence, is fitting as New Zealand continues to fight Covid-19. Fakakoloa ‘o Aotearoa ‘aki ‘a e Lotu Mo’oni, which translates to enriching Aotearoa New Zealand through prayer and faith, was a theme decided upon by the Tongan language week committee in September 2019.

For Dr. Linita Manu’atu, chairperson of the committee, said the term Lotu Mo’oni is more about God’s spirit in us. “With that spirit, people worship God in spirit and in truth and practice God’s commandment, that is, love God with all your heart and love your neighbors as you love yourself,” she explained.

Manu’atu said her team did not anticipate what was to come this year with the pandemic and acknowledged how suitable the theme was during these uncertain times. “The theme was announced in parliament last September, so people have started to talk and discuss the theme from the beginning of this year, especially before Covid-19. During lockdown, Pacific families have time to reflect critically about themselves and their habits. Lotu Mo’oni is a spiritual concept that begins at home. Covid-19 has driven people to change their gregarious ways to focus on the meaning of social relationship. It has shifted people to rethink, retrieve, and renew their relationship with God,” she said.

An Auckland-based production company has had to shift their music and dance classes for children online due to Covid-19, yet their shift in focusing on Lotu Mo’oni in their work hasn’t changed. Pukepuke ‘o Tonga has been established for over a decade by the Pusiaki family and offers the Tongan community in New Zealand a platform to celebrate and showcase the Tongan culture, heritage and language.

Manager and producer Asilika Aholelei said the children love attending the classes and learning more about their culture. “It was important for us to keep that momentum moving forward as we only started these specific classes this year, and so we wanted to keep the passion for Tongan song and dance alive with our kids, especially during this pandemic,” she said.

Aholelei said, “We believe that the theme Lotu Mo’oni starts from home, where we teach our values, culture and language. We showcase and highlight those stories, sharing of intergenerational knowledge and learnt experiences through our song and dance.”

During Tongan language week, Pukepuke ‘o Tonga has shared online their works, including a Tongan song composed by one of their original students. “Semisi Folau has been with us for awhile and it was a huge milestone for our company to see him produce a new song with our string band and to have it released on Tongan language week,” Aholelei said.

The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa has revisited the Tongan co-collecting stories of Project 83 to celebrate Tongan language week. Project 83: Small Things Matter was developed by Year 13 Tongan language students of Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate in 2017, with the guidance of their teacher Mrs Maata Fusitua.  There are over 20 objects of their most treasured objects including a Tongan dance costume, a hand-stitched pillowcase by a Tongan grandmother and a work uniform.

Curator of Contemporary Art, Nina Tonga, said the students’ stories about the significance of their objects includes strong references to their faith, which reflects the theme of Lotu Mo’oni.

Tonga explained that Te Papa’s changes their approach to the language week year to year and often in response to the set theme. “With Covid-19 we are following alert level 2 restrictions and social distancing, but we were still able to host an onsite ngatu [tapa cloth] demonstration with members of the Tongan community in Lower Hutt,” she said.

“We use our digital channels regularly as we know this is a great way to reach our communities outside of Wellington. Our thinking around the blog series and online content has really been motivated by wanting to make sure our content is accessible as possible for Tongan communities across Aotearoa and further abroad.”

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Tongan Language Week amid Covid-19

Aupito William Sio, who is New Zealand’s Minister for Pacific Peoples, says the theme of this year’s Tongan Language Week will be used to underpin the community response and recovery to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The theme for 2020 Uike Lea Faka-Tonga is: “Fakakoloa ‘o Aotearoa aki ‘a e Lotu Mo’oni”, which in English means “Enriching Aotearoa New Zealand through prayer and faith”.

Sio said in his experience the Tongan community throughout Aotearoa were deeply spiritual people, and their theme reflected their strong faith-based belief system like many in the Pacific.”The theme underscores the practicality that faith and works must go hand in hand,” he said.

“We have seen this with the Lotofale’ia Parish of the Tongan Synod of the New Zealand Methodist Church, which has been at the forefront of using their lands in Māngere to build houses in partnership with Housing NZ, which has highlighted a church leading by example to address the immediate practical housing needs of its community.”



Aupito said one of the best Covid-19 responses he had seen was when the main Tongan churches held off holding mass meetings and provided other support to their membership to reduce the risks of community transmission. He said,  “This has been consistent with the safety approaches made by the Catholic Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, along with other mainstream churches where online services and home-based family meetings were held instead of mass gatherings.”

The minister celebrated the fact that it was the 10th year Tongan Language Week was being marked in New Zealand. “Over the past 10 years, Tongan community groups and organizations have employed a range of initiatives and programs to support and grow the language and culture of Tonga. Understanding the need to nurture and support their language every day, the Tonga Language Committee launched a Tonga Language Year program which is now in its fourth year,” he said.

Uike Lea Faka-Tonga was officially launched online over the weekend and will run until 12 September.

“I would encourage all New Zealanders to join in the celebration of the Tongan culture and language online, and continue to abide by the safety Covid-19 messages and guidelines,” Aupito said.

“New Zealand is very fortunate to be a country with so many different Pacific languages and cultures. We need to fully embrace this diversity and allow it to enrich all of our lives with the diversity of knowledge and experience from across the vast Blue Pacific continent and beyond.”


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Teuila Festival 2020- Samoa

Samoa’s annual Teuila festival showcasing the country’s culture, traditions and music will be a digital event this year due to Covid-19, and the government’s State of Emergency regulations. Celebrating its 30th anniversary, the festival will highlight iconic performances and celebrations.

Teuila is the national flower of Samoa and can be seen around the island in all its bright red glory. The vibrant beauty of the plant inspired the festival name as it represents the same qualities as the event: the true heart of the region’s culture.

The event, one of the largest annual festivals in the South Pacific, normally sees thousands of visitors and performers flood into the country to take part. Typically, guests join locals in traditional Samoan dances, arts and local fare and elevated gastronomy. Expect traditional tattooing, or tatau, as this tradition is deeply rooted in Polynesian culture.

This year’s Teuila Festival online will also be the first time there will not be a Miss Samoa Pageant.The reigning Miss Samoa, who also holds the title of Miss Samoa NZ and Miss Pacific Islands, Fonoifafo Mcfarland Seumanu, will continue her reign for another year.

Members of the Tourism Industry will also be hosting events throughout the week in commemoration of the Festival. There are a variety of activities and events ensuring there is something for everyone.

To celebrate the special anniversary of this renowned event, festival organisers are streaming live event coverage and highlighting iconic performances from the past 30 years on the Samoa Tourism Facebook and Instagram pages until 5 September.

Events include traditional Siva dancing, fire knife dancing, tattooing and carving demonstrations, Umu demonstrations (underground Samoan oven cooking), the annual Flower Float Parade, the popular Fautasi race (iconic Samoan boat race), and the crowning of Miss Samoa.

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Kiribati Community Plans New Cultural Center

Radio New Zealand Pacific Journalist, Sela Jane Hopgood, wrote an article about how the Kiribati community in New Zealand is looking to bring a new cultural center to the heart of the Rodney district, through a community space resembling the design of a traditional Kiribati Manaeba or meeting house.

The largest population of i-Kiribati families reside in Warkworth and Rodney district in the northern part of the Auckland region. There are nearly 600 people of i-Kiribati descent living in Warkworth, with families settling there for work opportunities such as seasonal employment since the 1980s.

The Kiribati Integrated Manaeba Project (KIMP) proposed by the Kiribati Aotearoa Diaspora Directorate (KADD), a youth-led charitable trust, will work primarily as a centre for the celebration and promotion of Kiribati culture, while being a space to be shared with other Pacific communities in the country. It is planned to be a multi-purpose building with the tripartite aim of providing an office space, transitional housing and an outdoor community space.

Chairperson of KADD Rae Bainteiti said the newly planned centre will be able to host numerous events and functions. “From exhibitions and community fairs, to community-building functions including orientations for new migrants, diversion community programs, domestic violence support groups and community kitchens. We would love to have other programs for the community for example celebrating of the independence for different ethnicity groups, the language weeks,” he said.


A Kiribati Manaeba- photo by

The space will also serve as a hub to share Kiribati culture. “Through Pacific festivals and youth art programmes, incorporating contemporary and traditional arts from Kiribati and New Zealand.”

In Rodney, where there has been a growing population of Pacific people, this project will provide a much-needed cultural space for these new migrants, said Bainteiti. “This has been a long-standing project that the Kiribati community in Warkworth and Rodney have been dreaming of since we started to settle here, for like 30 years now. The center will not only provide the recent migrants a space where they can be reminded of home, but also a vital monument to honour their culture as they adapt to life in New Zealand.”

The KADD team have completed phase one, the consultation process, and the project itself looked like taking a few years to complete. An elder in the Kiribati community that helped open the consultation for KIMP, Eititara Beia, said having a manaeba was a very important part of Kiribati culture, and it was important that’s reflected in the Rodney community. “Back home it’s an important building because it brings us together, you feel like you’re not alone,” she said. “We are so excited about the plans for the centre because it has been a long time coming.

Beia said the next step for the project was looking at funding opportunities to further the project and acquire the necessary land. “We are currently planning ways to fundraise money for the center.”

Unfortunately, due to current restrictions under alert level 3 in Auckland, the next meeting to discuss how to fund the project had been postponed, said Beia. “I was so sad when we had to cancel our meeting due to the lockdown because we have been waiting for years to get this project up and running. “We will be waiting patiently for the government’s next announcement to then plan the next steps for our team to take with this project,” she said.

The land and traditional manaeba will be constructed from sustainable local materials, and be supplemented with passive heating and cooling, alongside an aim for energy self-sufficiency with solar and rainwater harvesting.

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Returning to Traditional Foods in the Pacific

I recently came across an article about how Dr. Vincent Lebot, a genetic scientist and tropical root and tuber crops expert, said the Covid-19 pandemic is an opportunity for Pacific countries to return to traditional food sources. Dr. Lebot recently published a second edition of his book on the crop production science and horticulture of Cassava, Sweet Potato, Yams and Aroids.

Dr. Lebot said the pandemic had shown the limits of international trade and globalisation and he felt there was an urgent need for Pacific Islands to build up resilience and self-sufficiency.

“These crops are of course ancient crops but they are offering promotions for the future because they can be cultivated locally with very low input and carbon footprint and they can strengthen small holders capacity to adapt to climate and of course for food security,” Dr. Lebot said.

Dr. Lebot said he wrote the books because he felt there was a need for scientific information on these crops to help farmers in the region to strengthen and increase the yield of their crops.


The Market in Suva, Fiji

He also said returning to the traditional Pacific diet would help significantly with the non-communicable disease epidemic that had gripped the region and was now the leading cause of death in many Pacific countries.

“So I think if the present crisis could promote these locally grown tropical root crops that would be good because that would balance the diets and that would strengthen food security.”



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