Mālo ni!

On this page you can explore content from previous years of Te Vaiaho o te Gagana Tokelau, Tokelau Language Week.

Header image: Vilivili (pump drill); AWMM 1998.13.11, 55491.


Fuli Pereira

Curator Pacific

Fuli Pereira

Mālo Ni! 

To celebrate Tokelau Language Week the Museum will share staff stories, objects from the collections from books to plants, and crosswords to help improve your Tokelauan vocabulary, and even colouring-in pages.


Image: Fuli Pereira with knowledge holder Mrs Sefulu Kalolo and Tokelau community lead Rev, Iutana Pue looking over the last known Tokelau o (a species of small fish) fishing net.

The question of Olohega

The question of Olohega

Curator Pacific Fuli Pereira has chosen this article as a must-read for Tokelau Language Week. The paper presents a timeline of the United States claiming sovereignty over the Tokelau island of Olohega, most recently through a proclaimed “friendship treaty” organised by New Zealand. Author Laray Polk explains that despite this claim, Olohega belongs geographically, historically, and culturally to the nation of Tokelau.

“Tokelau has deeply felt the loss of Olohega. The treaty that confirms its annexation, which is how Tokelau views it, is Tokehega. This word is a combination of Tokelau and Olohega, but poignantly it also means 'a separation from' or 'wrenching away’,” explains Fuli.

Read more

A catch from our Documentary Heritage collection

Casting a net into our Documentary Heritage collection brings a catch of archival items related to tautai and Tokelauan fishing knowledge, three of which are highlighted here.

Ko te Koloa a Tokelau by Peato Tutu Perez

Ko te Koloa a Tokelau by Peato Tutu Perez

The Museum’s pamphlet collection holds two versions of an informative booklet called Ko te Koloa a Tokelau – A Treasure of Tokelau, written by the late community elder, Peato Tutu Perez. Mr Perez was brought up on Fakaofo atoll and documented many aspects of Tokelauan life. He passed away in 1980.

Over a span of twenty pages, his pamphlet discusses the significance of tifa (mother of pearl shell) to Tokelauan culture, and describes in detail the manufacture of pā, or pearl shell fishing lures. Diagrams indicating how a pearl shell would be cut to form the highly sought-after fishing lures, as well as naming different components that make up a full pā are included in the text.

Ko te Koloa o Tokelau was first published in a limited ‘trial run’ of 300 copies in 1989. This was then followed by a re-issued in 1992 in gagana Tokelau by Learning Media as a resource for children growing up in Aotearoa New Zealand. Both versions are available to view in the Museum Library.

Traditional Tuna Fishing in Tokelau by Robert Gillett

Traditional Tuna Fishing in Tokelau by Robert Gillett

In July 1984, the South Pacific Commission (now known as the Pacific Community) acted on a request from the Office for Tokelau Affairs for assistance on a project to document traditional fishing knowledge. It was rightly believed that tautai possessed invaluable cultural knowledge and specialised skills of considerable interest to fisheries scientists and the like.

The resulting report, Traditional Tuna Fishing in Tokelau (1985) was authored by Robert Gillett. It presents information gathered from interviews conducted in Tokelau with fifteen tautai, including: Teata, Uili, Teao, Havini, Gau, Logotahi, Peleni, Mika, Toloa, Tu, Dr Iona, all from Fakaofo; Paulino and Apolo from Nukunonu; and Teve and Taumanu from Atafu. Details are given of their birthdates, the names of the tautai under whom they took instruction and gained their knowledge of tuna fishing from, and the date at which they underwent the kau kumete ceremony to advance to the title of tautai themselves.

Some of the subjects discussed with the tautai included fish taxonomy, tifa, manufacture of equipment, vaka paopao, fishing techniques, and information relating to the lunar calendar with discussion of optimal times of year for various methods of fishing.

The translator on Gillet’s project was Dr Iona Tinielu who, as well as being a trained medical doctor was also a tautai himself.  At the conclusion of the report, Gillet recalls: “Perhaps the fondest memory I will have of my work in Tokelau will be Dr Tinielu’s soft chuckling when, in the course of an interview, some interesting fishing information previously unknown to him, was revealed.”

Auckland Museum has a pā in the collection that is attributed to Dr Tinielu (click here).

Print files from the National Publicity Studio

Print files from the National Publicity Studio

Image: Fishing beyond the reef from canoes (paopao). Photographer Mr. Nicholson. Archives NZ (AAQT6539 W353769 /A81159).

While not officially catalogued as part of our Documentary Heritage collections, Auckland Museum holds 133 print files from a series taken by the National Publicity Studio on an official trip to Tokelau in 1966.

The photographer on the trip was R. Nicholson. Many of the images are taken on Fakaofo atoll, and among them are pictures of government officials and everyday village life, including several images of Tokelauan fishermen, young and old, at work.

The above photograph depicts a Tokelauan fisherman, perhaps a tautai, lowering his fishing line into the water. He is wearing diving goggles on his head, seated in a vaka paopao (outrigger canoe) with two others seated behind him. These fishermen are not identified in the record documentation at this time.

All the original images and their copyright are held by Archives New Zealand.

For members of the Auckland-based Tokelauan community who may find it difficult to travel to Wellington or navigate access to these images online, these print files can also be requested to view in the Library’s reading room, and Documentary Heritage staff are happy to assist with online access for these or any of the publications mentioned in this blog.

Neta Peau

Tokelau Cultural Advisor and Language Translator

Neta Peau

This year’s theme for Tokelau Language Week is “Tokelau! Tapui tau gagana ma tau aganuku, i te manaola ma te lautupuola”, translating to “Tokelau! Preserve your language and culture, to enhance spiritual and physical wellbeing.”

Tokelau Cultural Advisor and Language Translator Neta Peau discusses how giving love to others is inseparable from preserving language and culture.

Love supersedes everything else. Although it is not just the love we show towards our own people that is important, but the love we show towards our community. The love that we give to the newcomer who happens to walk by our house; bound by generosity, the love we show when we invite that tagata (person) to come and share a meal at our table. Showing love towards the community is a value expressed by my ancestors in the villages of Fakaofo and Atafu in Tokelau. It was a value expressed by my late grandfather, Teata Tinielu. The love that he had for not just his family, but his people, culture, language and Tokelau is what makes him one of my biggest inspirations.

I try to show love for my community by working to educate others about Tokeluan language and culture. I show this through my work as a cultural advisor and language translator. I am teaching fatele (traditional dance) and songs to my grandchildren and I have started Tokelaun language classes at home with my three children and makopuna (grandchildren). I hope they will aspire to teach the language themselves when they’re older.

My love for my language drives me to do all that I can to retain, revitalise and to teach it through song and dance. In particular, songs are a good a way of connecting the younger generation to the older generation. 

I remember the village of Nukufou where I attended school as a youngster, where dreams were recognised and where life was carefree. The coolness of the sea breeze often took one’s breath away. It was, and still is, a reminder that we are gifted our land and our language to uphold and to treasure. We are gifted them to pass on for generations to come.

Naunau mo he lumanaki manuia.

Strive for a better and successful tomorrow.


Top Image: (Left - Right) Neta’s youngest son, Elia Peau; Neta Peau; Neta's husband, Ben Peau; daughter, Milena Peau with her daughter Mariana and her partner Isaac Fitzgerald. Missing in this picture is Neta’s second son, Isala Peau.
Bottom image: Neta performing in traditional Tokelaun attire. 

Watch and learn from Neta Peau

We caught up with Cultural Advisor and Language Translator Neta Peau to discuss her work within the Tokelaun community. Neta shares about her role as an official Tokelauan face and voice in COVID-19 messaging, protecting those in her community with English as a language barrier. Neta also discusses her work with the younger generation - from vaccination initiatives to preserving gagana Tokelau (Tokelauan language) and culture through her passion for dance and songs.

+Learn more about Neta

Neta is a cultural advisor, tutor, and translator. She has been involved in the Tokelaun community since she was a youngster, attending school in the village of Nukufou.

Neta is currently conducting research on behalf of the Ministry for Pacific Peoples regarding Te Gagana Tokelau. She sits on the Auckland Tokelau Society Board as well as The Mulihelu Atafu Trust Board. She is the Secretary for the Mafutaga Tupulaga Tokelau i Aukilani and also one of their Cultural Leaders. She does translations for MOE and MOH through the Pacific Education Centre, and for the Ministry of Pacific Peoples through PEC and Bright Sunday.

A gagana Tokeulau speaker, Neta is part of the Tokelau team presenting COVID-19 messages on media platforms. She is also working closely with Pacific leaders in West Auckland and local Pacific providers, along with WDHB, to look into initiatives to encourage Pacific people to get vaccinated.

Neta has just started a small business called Te Malamala Solutions with the hope of running language and cultural classes as well as consultancy work.

She says "I am passionate about the importance of maintaining our culture, our way of life and our language. I love singing and dancing and have a passion for other cultures."

This video includes a section of footage from the Ministry for Pacific Peoples (MPP),


Words with Neta

Have a go at these Tokelaun words and expressions used by our guest Neta:

tuluma - tackle box / tulou - sorry / fakamākeke - to be strong, to get together / pūpū - drinking bottle / manuia - success or successful / gagana - language / tatalanoaga - interview, discussion / haunia - prepare / fakamanatu - celebrate, remind, remember / fakatalofa atu - to greet

The Flora of Tokelau

The Flora of Tokelau

By Ewen Cameron, Curator Botany

The first wild vascular Flora (a comprehensive record of the plants of an area) for the Tokelau archipelago was published in 2018 by Dr Art Whistler – the information below is mainly from that Flora. It was based on a botanical literature review, herbarium collections and Whistler's four collecting trips, during 1976-2011. The term ‘vascular plant’ includes: flowering plants, conifers and ferns. Cultivated species are excluded, and in Tokelau there are no conifers recorded.

The four islands of the archipelago are atolls with a maximum elevation of 5m above sea level. The vegetation is broadly placed into four plant communities: managed land vegetation (regularly disturbed, including pulaka/giant swamp taro pits), coconut plantations, freshwater marsh (restricted to Olohega/Swains Island) and littoral strand (contains virtually all of the original vegetation of Tokelau). Most of the littoral strand species have buoyant, saltwater-resistant seeds and fruit capable of long-distance dispersal by ocean currents and consequently are mostly widespread in the tropical Pacific.

Lacking any high land, the flora is limited to only 100 wild species, only 38% of which are native. Tokelau has no unique/endemic species. Two species are quite rare, including tamatama/lau tamatama (Achyranthes velutina) which is present on the four islands. It was discovered on Macauley Island (part of the Kermadec Islands) in 2002 – making it one of the few species common to both Tokelau and New Zealand.

Image: Flora of Tokelau, by Art Whistler, 2018, published by Isle Botanica, Honoluu. 125p. 
Cover features Gahu (
Scaevola taccada) abundant shrub in clearings and on the margins of the littoral forest.

The Auckland Museum herbarium holds at least 40 vascular plant specimens from the Tokelau archipelago, mostly collected in 1995 on Olohega (Swains Island) in 1995 by Ian McFadden. Some are shown below.

W. Arthur “Art” Whistler, 1944-2020

Ethnobotanist, taxonomist, ecologist

W. Arthur “Art” Whistler, 1944-2020

His five decades of studying the plants of Polynesia and Micronesia began with a three-year stint in the U.S. Peace Corps in Western Samoa (1968-1970) where he taught high school biology. Art graduated in 1979 with a PhD in vegetation ecology from the University of Hawai’i. His interest and publications moved into ethnobotany, including books on: Tongan herbal medicine (1992), Polynesian herbal medicine (1992), Samoan herbal medicine (1995), Plants in Samoan culture (2001), and Plants of the canoe people (2009).

However, his real love has always been taxonomy and flora of Polynesia, especially Samoa. His Flora of Tokelau (2018) was based on his study there of the flora, rare plants and ethnobotany. His flora of Samoa is written and awaiting publication and he had intended to follow that up with a flora of Tonga. Sadly, Art died on 2 April 2020 in Honolulu after contracting Covid-19 during a trip to Washington State, USA. One of the few greats of Pacific botany, Art leaves behind a legacy of botanical publications and herbarium specimens.

Image: Art Whistler during field work on Lake Lanito’o, Upolo, Samoa. By Alice Campbell, Aug 2018.

Can you put the vaka back together?

Can you put the vaka back together?

Try your hand at assembling this Tokelauan vaka! Remember, you can adjust the number of puzzle pieces to suit the skill of the puzzler.

Start Jigsaw