Focusing on Language amid Covid-19 Challenges- Tokelauans

This past week has been Tokelau Language Week in New Zealand. Radio New Zealand recently posted an interesting article about how preserving cultural identity and well-being is the focus of this year’s Tokelau Language Week in Aotearoa New Zealand…

Te Vaiaho O Te Gagana Tokelau was launched online last Sunday by the Tokelauan community in Taupō. The theme is Apoapo tau foe, i nā tāfea i te galutau. Ke mau mai, ke mau mai’ which means ‘Never give up hope, even amidst chaos and much uncertainty. Stay united, stay strong’.


Where is Tokelau? map from

Minister for Pacific Peoples, Aupito William Sio, called on Tokelauans to stay strong in the face of challenges and remain true to their heritage and languages. Aupito said the theme was a “timely reminder” amid the difficulties communities faced due to the Covid-19 outbreak. “It reminds us we must never surrender to the challenges we face in our lives, but instead we must persevere and overcome them,” he said.

Aupito said, “The relationship between heritage and language is critical for our Pacific communities to realize their fullest potential of becoming modern-day navigators and explorers, creators and innovators.”

Aupito said the greatest treasure of “Pacific Aotearoa” was its cultural heritage.

He said this gave Pasifika confidence and a unique insight to develop innovative ways to address the challenges they faced. “Pacific communities have drawn on their confidence and insight, utilising digital technologies such as social media and streamed events to deliver the Pacific Language Weeks program in the face of the Covid-19 outbreak. They have not only succeeded in that delivery, they have expanded the reach beyond Aotearoa, through the Pacific and to the rest of the world.”

Aupito said this work had been vital to the growth and future of Pacific languages and cultures, and to the health and well-being of Pacific communities. “We know that embracing our Pacific cultures and languages will not hold us back, rather they will propel us forward, giving us the ability to determine and lead our futures with the wisdom and understanding of our cultural past.”

Comprising three coral atolls – Atafu, Fakaofo and Nukunonu which sit on extinct volcano peaks – Tokelau has a land area of 12 square kilometres. The 2018 Census showed there were 8,676 Tokelauans living in New Zealand with nearly half in the Wellington region.


Fakaofo Atoll, picture from

Tokelau, a member of the New Zealand Realm of nations, is also celebrating 72 years since the assent of its Administration Act which will be marked on 29 October. Celebrated since 2012, the Tokelau Language Week is the ninth and final language week this year.

There is an official Tokelau Language Week 2020 Facebook page where the public is invited to participate in the range of activities. To celebrate Tokelau Language Week, Auckland Museum will share staff stories, objects from the collections, and crosswords to help improve Tokelauan vocabulary as well as colouring-in pages.

Curator Pacific, Fuli Pereira, said her career at the museum was defined by an absolute shift in the way consultation is carried out and a dedication to descendant communities of makers and owners of collections in the care of Auckland Museum.

During Tokelau Language Week, Pereira said she would reflect on lessons she had learned, how change was made and what she hoped to see happen next.

The language week ends on 31 October.

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