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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