Tagata Pasifika The Pacific voice on New Zealand television since 1987

Bilingual children’s books launch in time for Kiribati Language Week 2021

Keeping the language alive for I-Kiribati children in New Zealand has been at the forefront of Kinaua Ewels’ mind. The author has written three bilingual children’s books in time for language week celebrations.

The books, funded by the Ministry for Pacific Peoples and Ministry of Education, feature personal tales of i-Kiribati heroes written by teacher Kinaua Ewels. ‘Konenerio & The Flag Master’ is a story about Kinaua’s grandad set during World War Two.

Kiribati children's books
I-Kiribati children reading Kinaua Ewels’ bilingual language books

“I wrote the books because in New Zealand, we have no resources,” says Kinaua.

“A lot of children in New Zealand have problems learning their language, because they’ve been immersed with the Palagi, the English language. Writing these books is supporting them to read and write and learn to speak the language.”

The books launched at a community gathering in Papakura to celebrate Kiribati Language Week 2021 – Wikin te Taetae ni Kiribati – and 42 years of Independence from Great Britain. The day’s celebrations also included traditional singing, dancing and games.

I-Kiribati dancers. Photo: Marama T-Pole
I-Kiribati dancers. Photo: Marama T-Pole

Tui Witeti, a 17-year-old student at Manurewa High School, was one of four teenagers performing traditional dance. Although she’s not fluent in taetae ni Kiribati, she says she tries to take part in her culture as much as she can.

Another student, 18-year-old Teeua Rosary, was among about 20 young people playing a traditional stick game, karanga, accompanied by a song.

“I actually really enjoy it. It’s really fun playing with sticks and singing along.  And I hope we continue to do this,” says Teeua.

I-Kiribati youth playing karanga. Photo: Marama T-Pole
I-Kiribati youth playing karanga. Photo: Marama T-Pole

She speaks her language mostly at home – fitting with this year’s theme of ‘Maubonian te teei i nanon te mwenga bon karekean te maiuraoi, te ongotaeka ao te tangira,’ which means ‘the home is where we nurture our children towards a healthy, responsible, loving, and prosperous future’.

Over 3000 i-Kiribati live in New Zealand according to the 2018 census. However, Lydia Tetao, the Secretary for the NZ Kiribati National Council, believes from how many people she sees at community gatherings that the numbers are much greater.

“Coming together is one of our values. It’s all about relationship, who you are and keeping that connection,” says Lydia. “So when it’s July, we know we celebrate our Independence Day and our language week as well.”

To purchase any of Kinaua Ewels’ books, check out the NZ Kiribati National Council facebook page or email [email protected]

By Marama T-Pole

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