4 Sep 2013

Wellington Tongan community leader targeting curriculum

5:01 pm on 4 September 2013

The president of Makatu'unga He 'Ofa in Wellington wants to see Tongan language incorporated into the New Zealand school curriculum.

The comment comes as New Zealand marks Tongan Language Week for the second year.

The Wellington Tongan community organisation's Kolovula Murphy says the number of Tongans living in the capital has grown from about 200 when she arrived in 1980 to 4,000

For the past year Mrs Murphy has been running a language programme for children between the ages of five and nine, which she says is so popular it's attracting whole families and has had to move to larger premises.

She told Annell Husband about 80 percent of the community speaks the language but it is increasingly challenging to get young people to use it.

KOLOVULA MURPHY: Most of our children born in here, most of us we try to take them home to go and learn from there and mix with the children in there and learn more of our culture. Mostly Christmas and New Year, even some people, they can't afford to go, but they're able to bring their grandparents here. It's good so that you don't feel isolated or separated from others. If you talk in the house or something like that I'm sure you will feel that you are part of that family and also that community you belong to.

ANNELL HUSBAND: Yes, because it's pretty important in terms of maintaining your Tongan heritage. It would be pretty key to know the Tongan language, wouldn't it?

KM: I would say so. It's very important for us personally in the family, and also our identity, where the people, they can identify us from the language we speak and also the workplaces. I keep saying to the children from where I'm working, I say 'It makes you more important'. Most of the people they go and they need help, and they don't understand some of the English or understand the rules of society, and you can help out those people in that way.

AH: What about non-Tongan people learning Tongan? Are there many of them?

KM: Most of them they are somehow in some area, they are connected with Tongans. And I think it's really important for them to know the basics, more like saying 'hello' - 'Malo e lelei' - or 'goodbye' or something like that because some people, they may abuse the language in some ways and they may say something that's rude that they never know or something like that. I think it's really good.

AH: How important is it for the Tongan community here to have a language week where Tongan is the focus?

KM: I think they mainly show the world, or mainly New Zealand, too, where we're from and make us more proud of our culture.