31 May 2018

Samoan Language Week focus on keeping youth connected

4:00 pm on 31 May 2018

One of the key aims of Samoan Language Week in New Zealand is instilling a sense of identity and pride in young Samoans living here.

The Samoan Language Week celebration at St Patrick's in Upper Hutt

Photo: RNZ Pacific/ Tim Glasgow

Samoan is the third most spoken language in New Zealand and Samoans make up the highest proportion of the Pasifika population in the country.

Many young Samoans are New Zealand-born, so an effort has been made this year to make sure they are aware, and connected to their heritage.

A range of events has held across the country to celebrate Vaiaso o le Gagana Samoa or Samoan Language week.

The theme this year is 'Alofa atu nei. Alofa mai taeao, or Kindness given, Kindness gained'' and Luaipouomalo Michael Savelio from the Ministry for Pacific Peoples explained what is behind this message.

"It's really around ensuring our kids are aware that as we show kindness to people of today, that they will benefit from that later on in their life in people showing kindness to them."

He says it's also about reaching out to young Samoans in New Zealand.

"We want to make sure the language thrives but we also want to ensure that the youth of today, especially our New Zealand born, are able to walk confidently in both worlds, both the Samoan world, but also the New Zealand born in New Zealand."

St Patrick's College in Upper Hutt for their second annual Samoan Language Week celebration on Monday.

The Samoan Language students put on a presentation that included a traditional 'Ava 'o le Feiloa'iga ceremony conducted by the senior students, spoken presentations from the junior Gagana Samoa students, and a Taualuga which included all of the students.

A Samoan teacher at St Pat's and organiser of the event, Liko Alosio, says with only 10 percent of students being Pasifika at the college, instilling a sense of pride in the Samoan students is important.

"Just being able to give back to their ancestors or their parents. Most of [the students] are first generation-born, New Zealand-born Samoans so a lot of their parents have emigrated here for a better life, for a better future, for a better lifestyle for their kids.

"And I guess for the parents to be able to see them interact and re-enact something in their culture ... it's a way of service, service to their parents."

Year 11 Julius Masoi says he has learnt a lot about Samoan customs and traditions since learning the language at school. He told me about the 'Ava ceremony.

"If you look into it we've got, like, traditional stuff, the 'ava ceremony, or calling out the food for the people to come in, the chief titles, that's all traditional.

"Because these roles that our students are doing are meant for chiefs and we're only, like students, and we're just trying to act it out. The harder you try the easier it gets."

Samoan Language Week at St Patrick's Silverstream

Photo: RNZ Pacific/ Tim Glasgow

While Year 10 Junior Bartley told me about what his class included in their speeches.

"We just picked different introductions and stuff. just talked about the principal, said good stuff about him. It's like the hierarchy. He's higher in our school."

And Elisaia Stowers- Kasiano, who is in the same class, says their speeches also focused on their families.

We were just introducing their names. To start with, they are higher than us so we also have to mention them."

Year 9 student Senio Sanele, who is 14, says learning Samoan at school has allowed him to connect with his older Samoan relatives.

"Throughout my life my grandparents speak to me in Samoan, my whole family does, but I respond in English but then I start learning new words and then I start speaking Samoan to them."

Year 11 Jona Bartley was the Tufa'ava at the ceremony. He was born in Samoa and moved here with his family in 2007.

The Samoan Language Week celebration at St Patrick's in Upper Hutt

Photo: RNZ Pacific/ Tim Glasgow

He grew up speaking Samoan, and was surprised when he got there that other young Samoans had much less understanding of it.

"I found it weird that they're Samoans and they don't understand or talk in our language. I found that was different to the way I was brought up. Like everyone speaks Samoan.

"And why do you think it's important that those people learn about their culture, the ones who weren't born over there or who don't know much about the language or the culture?

"I think it's important for them so they can just like teach it to their kids in the future and they will understand where they came from as well and their parents and why they came to New Zealand."

Samoan Language Week runs until 2 June.