Niuean Youth Help Keep Their Culture Alive

A Niuean trust’s efforts to keep its threatened culture alive will now invest in a new youth network. The network falls under the authority of the Vagahau Niue Trust, a group developed by mamatuas (early New Zealand settlers from Niue), and was recently established to preserve the Niuean culture and language.

Statistics show that in 2011, just over 1500 Niueans were living in Niue, while more than 20,000 were living in New Zealand as of 2013. Thus, one of the main goals of the group is to promote and bring awareness to the Niuean language through several initiatives, as well as to provide a platform for young people to tap into their Niuean culture and learn more about their ethnic identity.

Chairperson of the Vagahau Niue Trust, Mele Nemaia, believes that the trust being organized and led by the youth makes the network special. “They’re hungry for their language, they’re hungry for their culture, they’re just hungry to be Niueans. I can see that these young people can take us forward but we need to nurture them. We need to look after them,” said Nemaia.


Niue is one of the smallest countries in the world, and is self-governing in free association with New Zealand since 1974. It is fully responsible for domestic affairs, while New Zealand takes on the responsibility for foreign affairs and defense. Like many of the Pacific Islands nations, their economy suffers from geographic isolation, few resources, and a small population. They rely heavily on grants from New Zealand that are used to pay wages to public employees.

When Captain Cook discovered the island of Niue during his second expedition to the South Pacific in 1774, he called it “Savage Island,” as he was not welcomed by the local population. In fact, Cook had spent barely 24 hours there and made three attempts to land. However,  he had been completely rebuffed by less than friendly natives. Legend has it that the natives who came to greet him were painted in blood. But, in fact, the red substance on their teeth was from a native red banana which they had just eaten called the hulahula.

For the next century or so, Niue was known as Savage Island until its original name, Niuē, which translates as, “behold the coconut” was reinstated.

Today, Niue is one of the world’s friendliest and safest destinations and one of the few countries in the world where crime is almost unheard of.

About islandculturearchivalsupport

Island Culture Archival Support (ICAS) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of records pertaining to the cultural identity of island peoples in Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia whose national and public archives, libraries, cultural centers, and business organizations are underprivileged, underfunded, and understaffed. The specific purpose for which this nonprofit corporation was formed is to support the needs of these South Pacific cultural heritage institutions by helping to preserve and make accessible records created for business, accountability or cultural purposes. The organization will endeavor to add value by providing resources or volunteers to advise, train, and work among island residents to support their efforts in building their future and preserving their collective memory through the use of modern archival techniques.
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