Niue’s Biennial Arts and Culture Festival 2019

One of the organizers of last month’s Niue Arts and Culture festival said there was a lot of emphasis on the language at the event. The week-long Taoga Festival, in its sixth year, was well attended by locals and visitors from overseas.

Organizer, Glen Jackson, said one of the highlights of the biennial event was a discussion on the local language, which academics have warned is at risk of becoming extinct. He said one of its roles is to promote the language, which was reflected in the name change to ‘Taoga Festival’.

“We cannot be naive to the little place that we live in, in this beautiful little bubble in the middle of nowhere, that we have to be very careful about our language and to make sure it was emphasized through this festival,” Glen Jackson said.


Glen Jackson also expressed that they are already thinking about how they can take the festival forward in the future. “We’re looking at setting up what we can do to make sure the next 10 years of the festival is great so we’re collecting data, we have a website that we get registrations. So in regards to people coming through this is the opportunity that we like to kick start collecting data for that reason,” he said.

The Taoga Festival is designed to celebrate Niuean culture and traditions and reconnect families and friends with the motu. The Festival is open and inclusive of all forms of expression. This year the festival was officially opened by the Minister for Social Services and Taoga Niue Honorable Billy Talagi who highlighted the significance of preserving the Vagahau Niue, adding the festival is  an integral part of Taoga Niue. Mr. Talagi also encouraged the visiting artists to perfect their craft and to bring their talent back home.

The festival opened with an inspiring performance by Tukuola Group and sweet melodies from Tamatoa’s Tafiti Savages. It showcased Niuean Traditional and Contemporary activities including music, dance, theater, art, song-writing, sculpture, textiles including wearable arts, printing, film, writing, carving, and weaving.

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Who Owns Aloha?

Last month an interesting article appeared in the Samoa News about how the state of Hawaii is keeping an eye on protecting its native culture.

Last year, much of Hawaii was shocked to learn a Chicago restaurant chain owner had trademarked the name “Aloha Poke” and wrote to cubed fish shops around the country demanding that they stop using the Hawaiian language moniker for their own eateries. The cease-and-desist letters targeted a downtown Honolulu restaurant and a Native Hawaiian-operated restaurant in Anchorage, among others.

Now, Hawaii lawmakers are considering adopting a resolution calling for the creation of legal protections for Native Hawaiian cultural intellectual property. The effort predates Aloha Poke, but that episode is lending a sense of urgency to a long-festering concern not unfamiliar to native cultures in other parts of the world.

“I was frustrated at the audacity of people from outside of our community using these legal mechanisms to basically bully people from our local community out of utilizing symbols and words that are important to our culture,” said state Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole, a Native Hawaiian representing Kaneohe and Heeia.

The resolution calls on state agencies and Native Hawaiian organizations to form a task force to develop a legal system to “recognize and protect” Native Hawaiian cultural intellectual property and traditional cultural expressions. It also seeks protections for genetic resources, such as taro, a traditional crop that legend says is an ancestor of the Hawaiian people and that scientists have tried to genetically engineer in the past. The task force would be commissioned to submit its recommendations and any proposed legislation to lawmakers in three years. The resolution has passed House and Senate committees.

Native Hawaiian experts note there’s a cultural clash underlying much of this. Modern European-based traditions use trademarks, copyright and patents to create economic incentives and rewards for creating knowledge and culture. Indigenous culture, on the other hand, is often passed on through generations and held collectively.

“They’re never going to sit nicely together in a box,” said Kuhio Lewis, the CEO of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement. It will be difficult to determine who would decide who can use Native Hawaiian culture and who would be able to use it. Limits may violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The task force will have to explore who can do what, Lewis said.

“At the least, they need to have some cultural sensitivity about how it’s used. And they need to know you can’t be telling Native Hawaiian businesses they can’t use their own language,” Lewis said.

The resolution points to potential models in New Zealand and Alaska, which both created signifiers that indigenous people may place on their art as a mark of authenticity.


Honolulu, Hawaii, 2018

To read the entire article simply click here.

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Celebrating Rotuma Day 2019

Earlier this week Radio New Zealand posted a very nice article that I would like to share. It was written by Rotuman, Christine Rovoi, about why islanders celebrate Rotuma Day…

“Noaia e mauri se aus atakoa”

It’s that time of the year when, if you’re Rotuman like me, you feel special wherever you are.

Attending this week’s (May 13) Rotuma Day celebrations in Auckland – seeing familiar faces and making new connections – has left me happy and proud.

It has been humbling that I have the opportunity as a Rotuman and a journalist to witness the occasion – beautiful and rich in history – and to share in the joy of knowing that my language and culture is alive, despite a listing on UNESCO’s endangered languages list.

Rotuma is a Fijian dependency but closer to Tuvalu than to Suva and, while it’s influenced by Melanesian Fiji, the Rotuman culture is a little similar to that of Tonga and Samoa. About 2000 people live on the island with 10,000 on mainland Fiji and thousands more, like me, around the world.

Rotuman language tutor, Nataniela Amato-Ali, said he hopes a re-enactment of the island’s cession to Queen Victoria in 1881 will help people understand why May 13 means a lot to Rotumans. Mr Amato-Ali said ‘Rotuma 1881’, performed by the New Zealand Rotuman Fellowship Group (NZRFG) in the South Auckland suburb of Mangere, was a response to a request from the young people for a more inclusive, active and fun way to commemorate the day.

The show was also a response to “a lot of misinformation, or lack of it” about what actually happened on May 13, 1881, he said. “A lot of Rotumans either have a skewed story or a misinformed story. Some of them don’t even know why we celebrate this day every year,” he said.


So, what does May 13 mean to Rotumans?

“We celebrate it because it’s the day on which we became part of the British Empire – when Rotuma was ceded to Great Britain,” Mr Amato-Ali said. “Rotumans consider the time under Britain – the time under Queen Victoria as a golden age for us. And that is why Rotumans look back to that day and say, Oh, that’s when all the good things happened to us. There’ll be people who may not hold that view but nonetheless they celebrate this day because it is the day that we all, as a community, globally decide to celebrate.”

Mr Amato-Ali said they were able to acquire some video footage from the island which brought the story alive on Monday night. “The youth have come together and put this production together and learned their lines and so we’ve used their skills with technology,” he said. “As with all youth these days, they’re very tech-savvy. So, we’ve used that skill set to produce this. We’ve got imagery from the island. We’ve done our research. And so, a lot of it is based on what is written about the events leading up to and the actual cession of Rotuma to Great Britain,” Mr Amato-Ali said.

The NZRF group also held a youth night ‘Rotuma – te is ‘otomis haharagi’ at Auckland University and a three-day free camp from Friday with a show ‘Nga Kakano: Rotuma – Journeys of Identity in Aotearoa & Beyond’ at the Auckland Museum in the evening. Also on Monday night, members of the Auckland Rotuman Fellowship Group (ARFG) celebrated with traditional dances and feasting at Western Springs. They also held an arts and crafts exhibition and for the first time in NZ, guests sat on the floor to ‘A te fak Rotuma – eat in the Rotuman way.

Organiser Jioji Vai said they were happy with the turnout and looked forward to seeing more Rotumans come out to celebrate their language and culture this week – only the second year Rotuman Language Week has been held. “And from then we’ve just built on a new program and something that’s engaging, and informative, but also new for our people,” Mr Vai said.

Rotuma Day is when the islanders come together to celebrate “our culture, our identity, our people – it’s just about getting together,” he said. “And that’s something we want to continue. Fiji does it very well. And it’s happening all across the world. And it’s something we have done every year here. Celebrating culture and people.”

To read the full article simply click here.

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Norway to Return Artifacts to Rapa Nui

You might remember a post about how The Rapa Nui (Easter Island) island community asked the British government to return the Hoa Hakananai’a, one of the most spiritually important of the island’s moai, or monolithic statues from the British Museum. Well, last month I found an interesting article in The Guardian about the repatriation of artifacts from Norway to Rapa Nui that I would like to share…

Norway has agreed to hand back thousands of artifacts removed from Rapa Nui by the explorer Thor Heyerdahl during his trans-Pacific raft expeditions in the 1950s.

An agreement was signed by representatives of Oslo’s Kon-Tiki Museum and officials of Chile’s culture ministry at a ceremony in Santiago as part of a state visit by Norway’s King Harald V and Queen Sonja.

The museum pieces include carved artifacts and human bones from the Rapa Nui, the first inhabitants of the remote Chilean island in the Pacific. “Our common interest is that the objects are returned and, above all, delivered to a well-equipped museum,” said the museum’s director, Martin Biehl. He warned, however, that the repatriation process would take time.

Heyerdahl’s family said he had long wanted to return the pieces he collected in expeditions in the mid-1950s and mid-1980s, currently exhibited in the Oslo museum.The signing ceremony was also attended by Thor Heyerdahl Jr, who accompanied his father on one of his expeditions to the island in 1955, when he was 17. “The repatriation is a fulfillment of my father’s promise to the Rapa-Nui authorities, that the objects would be returned after they had been analysed and published,” he said.


“Kon Tiki” from

Heyerdahl, an anthropologist and adventurer, became famous in 1947 when he and a crew of five crossed much of the Pacific on a balsawood raft, the Kon-Tiki. He was seeking to prove his theory that the Polynesian islands could have been settled by prehistoric South American people, and not by settlers from Asia as most scholars believed. Heyerdahl died in 2002 aged 87.

“The study of human remains – using DNA – could demonstrate a prehistoric contact between Rapa Nui and South America, which was the main thesis of my father,” Thor Heyerdahl Jr said. “As a ministry, we have the mission to respond to the just demand of the Rapa Nui people to recover their cultural heritage.”

Chile’s culture minister, Consuelo Valdes, said in a statement. “Today, one more step has been taken through this historic agreement with Norway, which will enable the return of valuable cultural and symbolic pieces.”

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Celebrating Tuvaluan Art and Culture

Tuvaluans in New Zealand say they hope last weekend’s celebration of their art and culture in Auckland will help others learn about who they are. Hundreds of people attended the first Tuvalu Arts Festival in New Zealand hosted by Niutao islanders, one of eight islands in Tuvalu.

Niutao islander Kelesoma Saloa said the aim was to bring everyone together to share and be proud of who they are. He said it also gave them an opportunity to teach non-Tuvaluans about the Pacific nation. “Tuvalu is facing climate change, sea-level rise – our problems back home. So we’re showcasing our arts and our crafts and the language. We managed to secure some funds (from Creative New Zealand) to exhibit our arts and crafts so people can know about Tuvalu,” said Kelesoma Saloa.

New Zealand’s Tuvalu community plans to build a community hall to hold future events, including language classes, Mr Saloa said.

Associate Minister for Pacific Peoples Carmel Sepuloni opened the festival on Saturday. On her Facebook page, she thanked the organizers for their “awesome work” in putting the event together. The exhibition was followed by a traditional feast and dancing.

Tuvalu will also be hosting the Pacific Forum Summit in August.


Tuvaluan dancers- Funafuti, Tuvalu 2018

A little about Tuvalu…

Tuvalu, pronounced “too-VAH-loo”, and means “Cluster of Eight,” is an independent constitutional monarchy in the southwest Pacific Ocean. Formerly known as the Ellice Islands, they separated from the Gilbert Islands after a referendum in 1975, and achieved independence from Great Britain on October 1, 1978. The population of about 12,000 live on Tuvalu’s nine atolls. The islands are low-lying, most being 13 to 16 feet (4 to 5 metres) above sea level.

The first settlers were from Samoa and probably arrived in the 14th century AD. Smaller numbers subsequently arrived from Tonga, the northern Cook Islands, Rotuma, and the Gilbert Islands.

Europeans first discovered the islands in the 16th century through the voyages of Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira, but it was only from the 1820s, with visits by whalers and traders, that they were reliably placed on European charts.

A well known Australian author, George Lewis “Louis” Becke, spent time as a trader in Tuvalu. Before he took to writing, he traveled extensively in the South Pacific, finding employment in may areas. In early 1880, he took up a position with trader Tom de Wolf on Nanumanga, and eventually opened his own store on Nukufetau in February 1881. There he married native Nelea Tikena.

Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife Fanny visited Funafuti in 1890, travelling on the trader steamer Janet Nichol. They stayed for only two days, but Fanny Stevenson recorded the visit in great detail in her diary.

The Tuvaluans are Polynesian, and their language, Tuvaluan, is closely related to Samoan. English is taught in the schools and widely used. The vast majority of the population belongs to the Church of Tuvalu (the former Ellice Islands Protestant Church).


Where is Tuvalu?

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Valuing Pacific Languages

Last month Radio New Zealand ran an article about how New Zealand’s Minister for Pacific Peoples claimed that Pacific languages need to be better recognized and valued. Aupito William Sio said 2019 is a momentous year as the UN has declared it the International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL2019). The UN aims to raise awareness about the consequences of losing indigenous tongues.

Aupito said indigenous languages are important for a people’s development, reconciliation, good governance, peace building and general well-being. He said it’s important to protect and nurture Pacific languages for the well-being of New Zealand’s Pacific peoples and the broader community.

The minister said the languages are a national asset which add a unique vibrancy to New Zealand life. The minister cites New Zealand’s Pacific Language Weeks as a tool to raise awareness and promote the use of Pacific languages which are seen as increasingly vulnerable.

New Zealand’s 2013 census confirmed that language use had declined across all Pacific communities. The languages of New Zealand’s realm countries: Niue, Tokelau and the Cook Islands are classified by UNESCO as vulnerable or endangered. This year the Ministry of Pacific People’s has released the dates of the language weeks early so as to, “encourage more groups and organisations to get involved in the promotion of the Pacific Language Weeks,” Aupito said.

The Pacific Language Weeks started in 2007 with Samoan and now celebrate, promote and raise awareness of seven Pacific Languages.

This year’s line-up begins with Samoa Language Week in May and ends with Tokelau Language Week in October. All events now run for at least a month and some extend activities throughout the year.

Language Week Dates:

Samoa Language Week: Sunday 26 May – Saturday 1 June 2019

Cook Islands Language Week: Sunday 4 August – Saturday 10 August 2019

Tonga Language Week: Sunday 1 September – Saturday 7 September 2019

Tuvalu Language Week: Sunday 29 September – Saturday 5 October 2019

Fiji Language Week: Sunday 6 October – Saturday 12 October 2019

Niue Language Week: Sunday 13 October – Saturday 19 October 2019

Tokelau Language Week: Sunday 27 October – Saturday 2 November 2019

About IYIL 2019…

It is through language that we communicate with the world, define our identity, express our history and culture, learn, defend our human rights and participate in all aspects of society, to name but a few. Through language, people preserve their community’s history, customs and traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking, meaning and expression. They also use it to construct their future.

Language is pivotal in the areas of human rights protection, good governance, peace building, reconciliation, and sustainable development.

IYIL2019 will promote indigenous languages in five key areas:

1. Increasing understanding, reconciliation and international cooperation.

2. Creation of favorable conditions for knowledge-sharing and dissemination of good practices with regards to indigenous languages.

3. Integration of indigenous languages into standard setting.

4. Empowerment through capacity building.

5. Growth and development through elaboration of new knowledge.


Pacific Harbor, Fiji

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UNESCO Inscription bid for Polynesia Tattooing

Speaking of Polynesia Tattoos…

More news about Polynesian Tattooing came about this past week on Radio New Zealand. An article stated that there was an outcry in French Polynesia over a reported bid by a French politician keen to inscribe Polynesian tattooing as part of the UNESCO world heritage. The proposal was made by a left-wing member of the European Parliament, Younous Omarjee, who is from the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion.

The Patutiki Association, which promotes traditional tattooing of the Marquesas Islands, said it was impossible to amalgamate the tattooing practices of all Polynesian islands and cultures, which extend from Rapa Nui to Hawaii and New Zealand. It said each island group had developed its own methods, designs and meaning.

The proposal, which was put to the French president, was akin to describing all types of dancing in the region as Polynesian or taking a practice specific to a European country and then labeling it European.

The Association said while it appreciated the thoughts of Mr Omarjee’s party it would prefer if it in future abstained from speaking on behalf of those concerned.


Picture from

A little bit about Polynesian Tattoos…

Tattooing has a long history in the Oceania region, with some of the earliest examples of Polynesian tattoo art showing up more than 2,000 years ago. Each Polynesian culture has its own take on tattoos, from the varied motifs to the tools and techniques. The work is often intricate and deeply meaningful, and it has successfully made the leap into the modern era, where you can see this artwork today across Polynesia. Discovering how these tattoos evolved from ancient history to today’s world is a fascinating journey through cultural traditions and spiritual beliefs.

A few centuries ago, one of the easiest ways to figure out where a Polynesian person came from was to look at their tattoos. Each of the islands of Polynesia had designs that were unique to that area, so you have an easy visual cue to figure out someone’s origins. While better travel options have made this a less tell-tale sign these days as natives move about from island to island, you can still see these touches from the tattoo artists themselves.

Since Polynesia did not have written communication for a significant part of their early Polynesian history, the tattoo also acted as its own type of communication medium. They not only talked about the person’s rank in their culture but also their personality, work and many other personal details such as family ties and unique passions.

The origins of tattooing likely extend back to the Māori civilization, and it seems to have flourished in the “Polynesian Triangle,” which includes the regions of New Zealand, Hawaii, Samoa, Easter Island, and the Cook Islands. It was widely practiced in French Polynesia and reached its developmental peak in the Marquesas Islands, where tattoos are known for vibrant, intricate designs and themes.

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