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Sunday 4th – Saturday 10th September 2022 is Uike Kātoanga‘i ‘o e Lea Faka-Tonga, Tongan Language Week.
To celebrate we've brought together stories, collection objects, blogs and documentaries that highlight the richness of not just Tongan language, but all aspects of Tongan culture.
Tongan Language Week is a great opportunity to learn more about not just the Tongan language, but what it also means to be Tongan.
As a deputy principal, I recognise that learners who speak languages other than English need plenty of opportunities to see and hear their language in order to have their identity affirmed. This is an important part of learners feeling safe and ready to learn in the classroom and school environment as a whole. Whilst not my educational experience, the opportunities that language weeks now provide offer positive and affirming opportunities for many of our learners to bring their whole selves to their learning setting.
I am a first generation New Zealand-born child of the 70’s. As an immigrant family I learned from an early age an appreciation of custom and tradition, both Tongan and German. Without being raised with either language these traditions became critical connectors to my cultures. Sadly, I don’t recall my maternal grandparents as both passed before I turned the age of five. I am my grandmother’s namesake and I often wonder how different my life may have been had she been around to speak Tongan to me.
Navigating the cultural invisibility I experienced during my secondary years, the art room became my safe space to explore further connections. My art became the vehicle for my ‘voice’. Much of my initial art exploration in the 1990’s critiqued the illustrative plates and engravings from the Pacific voyages of scientific exploration. As I progressed in my practice I wanted to examine themes of materiality, and the construction methods within Tongan feminine art forms, called koloa. The aesthetics of pattern and design within early Tongan koloa imbue a tangible sense of awe and admiration of the skills and intelligence of my ancestors.
Recent museum visits across the world have afforded me a very personal and emotional connection to my heritage and the artists of hundreds of years ago which I desire to share and express with my own artwork. I may not speak fluent Tongan but translating and galvanising this traditional and ancestral knowledge into contemporary art forms is my personal response to ‘being Tongan.’
Dagmar Vaikalafi Dyck
Dagmar’s maternal lineage hails from the Wolfgramm and Hemaloto kainga from the village of ‘Utungake, Vava’u, Tonga. Her paternal lineage includes Dutch, Polish and German ancestry and links to her father’s birthplace in Gdansk, Poland.
Auckland Museum is honoured to have worked with renowned Tongan artist, Sopolemalama Filipe Tohi in the redevelopment of the new South Atrium, Te Ao Mārama. Unveiled at the end of 2020, the renovations established a new public space, one that acknowledges both Mana Whenua and Pacific connections.
Tohi's new work Manulua is a striking feature within the new space. Watch the video above to learn more about the work, then learn more about the artist below.
Sopolemalama Filipe Tohi is a famous Tongan community leader and artist who hails from the village of Ngelei‘a, on Tongatapu. Tohi is a master craftsman of the ancient Pacific art of lalava or lashing.
Lalava is the technology used to bind objects together in traditional Pacific architecture, tools and vaka (canoe) building. Tohi often uses the patterns of lashings to symbolize the unity of all things, past, present and future. He explains,
"My work transforms the technology of the past into a modern representation of identity and experience. By using the patterns established by lalava, I express a Polynesian heritage with metaphors that speak to our entire community."
Tohi has exhibited over the world and has sculpture in international collections including Japan, China, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Tonga, Samoa and the USA. An example of his metal sculpture is called “Hautaha (Coming Together)” and is located outside the community centre in Onehunga in Auckland. Other artwork can be seen across Aotearoa New Zealand including in Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington, the University of Auckland’s Pasifika Fale, and Puke Ariki in New Plymouth. Tohi’s sculptures from 1980 to 2000 were mainly created in stone, wood, and mixed media, but works made since 2000 are often created from metal, using aluminum or stainless steel. He notes,
"For me, stainless steel represents the shiny new structures of the modern world. Wood is based more in tradition – in natural things from our environment."
A fibreglass kumete kava has recently been acquired for the Museum's collections.
The kumete kava represents contemporary developments in kava ceremonies and an innovative response to dwindling resources (there is limited access to timber resources for the continued carving of such items).
It is one of two that were made by an uncle and his nephew who have pivotal roles in the on-going construction of kava ceremony in contemporary Auckland. The nephew/maker, Dr Edmond Fehoko, has written his Masters and PhD on the changing roles of Tongan men in New Zealand society.
Image: Fibreglass Kumete Kava. AWMM 2018.29.1.
More Tongan people are currently born in New Zealand than in Tonga. As such, Aotearoa has a special role in celebrating lea Faka-Tonga mo e 'ulungaanga Faka-Tonga (Tongan language and culture).
Learn more about how the Museum is taking part within this role.
Koe Gaahi himi. Charles Tucker. Vavau, [Tonga]: Printed at the Wesleyan Mission Press, W. A. Brooks, 1838; BV510.T66 TUC
Research from Tāmaki Paenga Hira, Auckland Museum has recorded two unusual species of fish in Tonga.
The discovery was made in 2015 during a survey of fish in Tonga. The Museum researchers recorded Meiacanthus bundoon in Teleki Tonga (South Minerva) and Meiacanthus oualanensis in Teleki Tokelau and Teleki Tonga (North and South Minerva), both previously only recorded around Fiji, extending their known distribution.
Discovering these fish was unusual considering that they were thought to have a very narrow distribution and be endemic to (only found in) a small area around Fiji. Thus, perhaps these species are less isolated than originally thought.
More discoveries to come?
Over the last ten years, the Museum has been undertaking marine biodiversity surveys in the South Pacific. The results of the surveys have been quite dramatic, with each revealing fish populations to be about 10-20% more diverse than expected. This indicates there are still many species yet to be recognised from islands across the South Pacific region.
Diversity of fishes across Te Moana Nui a Hiva, the Pacific Ocean, diminishes as one heads east. A person travelling through New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji, Tonga, and the Cook Islands, in that order, would notice the fish fauna becoming less diverse in each country.
But just how great is this drop off in diversity? For now, we can say: not as great as once thought.
Image: Top and bottom, Bundoon fangblenny (Meiacanthus bundoon) only recorded from Kadavu and the Lau islands of Fiji, and Haʻapai in Tonga; middle, Canary fangblenny (Meiacanthus oualanensis) only recorded from Fiji.
In this well known memoir by William Mariner, he recounts his time in Tonga during the years 1806-1810. Stranded in the Ha’apai group, Mariner would eventually be adopted as a son by the chief Finau ‘Ulukālala II, who would give him the name Toki ‘Ukamea ("Iron Axe"). In the second half of this blog, guest writer and digital storyteller Richard Wolfgramm reflects on the enduring significance of Mariner’s memoir and his desire to bring the account of Toki ‘Ukamea to a new and global diasporic audience.
Engraving of William Mariner from 'An account of the natives of the Tonga Islands, in the South Pacific Ocean. With an original grammar and vocabulary of their language'; AWMM DU880 MAR
Find as many Tongan words as you can in this wordfinder, and maybe learn a few new ones along the way. When you're finished, you can find the answers here.
From Sunday 4 September until Saturday 10 September, the Museum will be illuminated every evening in red and white in recognition of Tongan Language Week.
Visit our archive of Tongan Language Week content from previous years.
Discover unique stories about what it means to be Tongan in the past, the present, and years to come. View our galleries of significant koloa and plants and animals that have found a home within the Museum’s collections. We even have a crossword.
This, and more, is available to view in our archive now.
Image: Kiekie. 1976.73, 47575.
Visit the archive