5 Oct 2017

Language week promotes Tuvaluan culture in NZ

11:21 am on 5 October 2017

Tuvalu Language Week is being celebrated for the fifth time in New Zealand, with this year's focus on retaining and progressing their culture.

Tuvaluans make up one of the smallest Pacific ethnic groups in New Zealand and the focus of this year's language week is: fano ki mua kae sa puli tou iloga - progress to thrive, not forgetting your roots.

Tuvalu Language Week 2017

Tuvalu Language Week 2017 Photo: Supplied

Waikato University international student Moeli Homasi is the president of the Tuvalu Student Association.

Through her role, she has decided to promote the theme for Tuvalu Language Week by organising a symposium at the university to look at the big issue facing Tuvalu - climate change.

Named 'Tuvalu and the Pacific Symposium: Climate Change Adaptation' it will feature four guest speakers who have all completed research about climate change - Kelesoma Saloa, Maina Talia, Dr John Corcoran & Tevina Tupoufalepouvale.

Ms Homasi wanted to bring awareness to the issues facing Tuvalu and educate the wider community about her culture.

Tuvalu Student Association at Waikato University.

Tuvalu Student Association at Waikato University. Photo: Supplied

"I grew up in Tuvalu, so I have seen the changes that have happened since I was a kid to now.

"Traditional foods such as an underground fruit called pulaka have been damaged by rising sea levels, which means we have to rely heavily on imported foods from other countries.

"The droughts are common and has forced Tuvalu to think of ways to manage water effectively because our main water source is from the rain," she said.

Ms Homasi said the symposium would touch on ways to adapt to climate change and used the example of a project happening in Tuvalu.

"It's called the Tuvalu Compost Toilet, where people will no longer use water to flush the toilet.

"Tuvaluans will use compost manure from trees and plants to use in the toilet and that way it helps manage the water because of the droughts," she said.

Molia Alama Tulafono, who is part of the Tuvalu Language Committee, is a big advocate on the work Moeli Homasi and Tuvaluan youth are doing to engage in the culture, language and events happening around Tuvalu.

Ms Alama Tulafono said youth were vital to the preservation of the language.

"I've seen a great number of young Tuvaluans here in Auckland and across New Zealand proudly engage in their language especially during the White Sunday celebrations, fatele celebrations for independence day and Polyfest."

Dancers from Tuvalu.

Dancers from Tuvalu. Photo: RNZ/ Koroi Hawkins

The fatele is a traditional Tuvaluan dance that involves a big group of up to 100 people that will sing, dance and drummers.

Ms Alama Tulafono said it can be used as a tool to learn the language.

"It's a way of passing on that knowledge from daily life lessons to educational messages to biblical messages, so it's a really empowering tool for our youth and that's what I want to hold on to," she said.

Fala Haulangi, who is the Tuvalu programme producer at Pacific Media Network, sees her line of work as a way of giving back to the community.

She said it is vital to educate the future generations on the correct protocols of the culture and through her role in media, she will help lead that.

Fala Haulangi

Fala Haulangi Photo: RNZ Pacific / Sela Jane Hopgood

"I am from Nanumea, an island in Tuvalu and we are quite unique within Tuvalu for example we celebrate the first born and weddings differently.

"Sometimes even our own people in Tuvalu are like, oh my gosh you people are so different in a way.

"With the fatele, for the dancers there are certain skirts that they wear during the day and during the night. It was just the way it was.

She said that on the island of Nanumea dancing groups traditionally never combined men and women.

"Nowadays in New Zealand that tradition no longer is present. People want to make it easier and just have men and women perform together. We don't want to be teaching our younger generation that because in Tuvalu it's a no no."

Ministry of Pacific Peoples Chief Executive Laulu Mac Leauanae said the Tuvaluan community is growing rapidly in New Zealand and this is why it is vital to embrace the culture in the country.

"I've just been reflecting on the stats. There's 2,800 Tuvaluans out west Auckland alone."

"3500 in New Zealand and the Tuvalu High Commissioner has shared with us that we nearly have half of the total population of Tuvalu here in New Zealand."

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