Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tokelau Community celebrate language and culture at Easter gathering

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Seinafolava Sanele Chadwick | Reporter/Director - Wellington

After seven years in the wilderness the largest Tokelauan festival in the world  made a triumphant return to Aotearoa.

The Tokelau community’s Easter festival brough participants from all over Aotearoa to the Hutt Valley for a four-day celebration of language and culture over Easter. 

Last held in 2017, the event was postponed during the Covid-19 period until this year.

For many who’ve come from afar, the event is about reconnecting. 

“I don’t have words to explain how good it feels to be here and to be able to represent Rotorua and Tokelau,” says Una Filipo.

“It’s really good for the kids to be here to embrace the Tokelauan culture ’cause I know so many feel like me and feel, oh I’m not Tokelauean enough. You know what? You’re as Tokealuan as you can be, and that’s what matters.”

Held at the Walter Nash Centre, the event was hosted by the Tokelau Hutt Valley Sports and Culture Association. 

“Tonight we’ve maxed out the main stadium,” says group president Vaka Lemisio.

“And there is a big overflow, so we’ve got people in the back part of the stadium, and it’s a big screen that they’re watching so it’s been a logistical challenge. But it’s awesome having everyone under one roof.”

Many here are enjoying the opportunity to maintain Tokelau’s culture and language which is described by UNESCO as ‘severely endangered’.

It’s a state of affairs people like Henry Atoni from the Tokelau Porirua community are well aware of.

“This is who we are as a community and it’s just a way of getting our language and our culture thriving again because we are one of the dying languages of the Pacific,” he says.

And with more Tokelauans living in New Zealand than Tokelau itself, the responsibility for  maintaining the language must come from tokelauans living here. It’s a sentiment echoed by the organisers. 

“The importance of these festivals is to keep the language going, keep the values going, keep our songs going, keeping the stories and and our songs going and passing them on to the next generation,” Lemisio says.

And thankfully, it’s a message those here are embracing with pride and passion.

“This is my first time participating,” says Porirua youngster Penehe Tulafono.

“All the past tournaments, I’ve always been on the sideline watching from the stands. So to be a part of this for the first time, man this culture is my blood, and my blood is this culture.’ So being able to participate was just, woo!”

“Hopefully we can get this rolling again in the next two or three years like we used to do,” Atoni says.

“And just see more people get involved and just try and help get our language to grow, our culture to grow and just make our parents proud.”

And from proud mum Una Filipo from Rotorua, a call to arms.

No matter the percentage of Tokelau you are, you are Tokelauan and embrace that. Embrace it, you are Tokelauan, one percent, five percent, it doesn’t matter you are Tokelauan and embrace it,” she says.

“Go to every Tokelauan event you can go to, even if you don’t know anyone, just go. Go ‘cause you’ll meet family, and the amount of family I’ve met here is crazy!”

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