Tonga Language Week


Mālō e Lelei! Welcome to our Uike Kātoanga‘i ‘o e Lea Faka-Tonga, Tonga Language Week archive. Explore stories, collection objects, and documentaries from past years that highlight the richness of not just Tongan language, but all aspects of Tongan culture.


Pakilau o Aotearoa Manase Lua

Chair of Auckland Museum's Pacific Advisory Group

As someone who was born in Tonga but raised here in Aotearoa, the Tongan language was vital for me. It was the key to unlocking the many insights and nuances to our ancient and proud culture. The Tongan language has different registers because the Kingdom of Tonga is a hierarchical society. There are different words reserved for ordinary Tongans, chiefs and for the King. This is fundamental knowledge for my traditional role as a Matāpule or talking chief.  

Tongan Language Week is a unique opportunity to showcase our rich history and culture. What better way to honour it than to share some stories, historical documents and artifacts housed at the Museum? This week we focus on sharing some of those insights and nuances through stories and talanoa. Culture evolves and so too does language. The key though, is to never forgot the essence of the culture or “Taufatunga Motu‘a”. 

Tu‘a ofa atu,


Taking talanoa online

During 2020's Level-4 lockdown, Auckland Museum’s Documentary Heritage team were delighted to present during an online faikava session of the Inasi online kava club hosted by Pakilau o Aotearoa Manase Lua.

COVID-19 has upended everyday life on a global scale and changed the way groups of people congregate together for the foreseeable future. One silver lining of maintaining social ties while still observing our physical distance has been the ability provided by digital technology to instead meet virtually and across oceans using digital tools such as Google Meet, Skype and Zoom.

Numerous kalapu faikava, or kava clubs, around Auckland where people gathered in a relaxed social setting to partake in the drinking of kava have been impacted by physical restrictions. When COVID-19 began gaining a foothold earlier last year, Pakilau envisioned the Inasi online kava club to be a positive outlet to encourage people not to congregate physically in these uncertain times yet still be able to gather virtually together to faikava and to talanoa. Talanoa can be translated as open-ended semi-formal discussion where many voices can be heard. 

Where kalapu faikava have usually been a social space for Tongan men, Pakilau has opened the Inasi online kava club to include diverse participants and presenters who have introduced a wide spectrum of topics to the worldwide audience to talanoa in the space he has fostered online. Faikava online sessions of the Inasi Kava club have discussed a wide range of topics, including the Labour government’s annual Budget, COVID-19 recovery progress, and advocacy for a compassionate pathway to residency to be put in place for overstayers affected by the pandemic. A ‘kava-thon’ event was held to gather signatures for a petition on this issue and taken to Parliament in July of last year. 

Image: Kava bowl, Tonga. AWMM. 27505; Faikava: a Tongan literary journal; PN6519.T613 FAI

On Thursday 10th of September 2020, Paula Legel and Leone Samu from our Documentary Heritage team attended the Inasi online kava club to share highlights of Pacific archival treasures we have in the Museum library, primarily the enrolment registers of Richmond Road School in Grey Lynn, Auckland.

In 2001 the Richmond Road School enrolment registers, which span a century of incoming students from 1884 - 1987, were donated to the Museum library. Many prominent figures and community leaders have come out of Richmond Road School; an All Black, a Hollywood superstar and a NZ Governor General are among the school’s illustrious alumni. The Chair of the museum’s Pacific Advisory Group, Pakilau Manase Lua, has a personal connection to the Richmond Road School as he and his sibling were enrolled as new entrants and listed in one register from the mid-1970s, along with many other children from Pacific Island families living in the school’s catchment area of Grey Lynn and Ponsonby.

Pakilau recognised that for his family and the families of many of his Polynesian schoolmates, the registers are a jump-off point for stories that could be told about the reality of that time for Pacific communities in 1970s central Auckland at the height of the Dawn Raids era. At that time, for instance, many Tongans had responded to the NZ Government invitation to come to Auckland for the short-term work opportunities offered, and then staying on past the time allowed on their work visas. ‘Overstayers’ became a term the media and many politicians of the time loaded with negativity and racism. Mainstream media at the time did not report the full story of the situation, only reported the government narrative, neglecting to describe the reality for Pacific workers, who often needed to repay loans (which enabled them to come to work in the first place) and send money back to their families in the islands. The registers dated from the late-1960s onwards are not simply a list of Pacific names and dates, they are a catalyst for talanoa, enabling the sharing of Pacific families’ experiences of Auckland at a time of significant social change.

As kaitiaki for archival treasures at the Museum we want to connect these taonga we care for with communities of people wherever they are gathering.

Malo ‘aupito.

Image: Richmond Road School registers; 2002/116, MS-2002-116 | The Islanders, AWMM GN667.5 ISL

Vasiti Palavi
Staff Profile

Head of Collection Care

Vasiti Palavi

(Te Rarawa, Ngati Kuia, Hoi Tongatapu, Leimatu‘a Vava‘u)

Tapu mo e Fale ʻo Haʻa Moheofo, tapu mo Houʻeiki mo Haʻa Matapule, kaeʻumaʻa ʻa e kainga Tonga kotoa pe, kae ‘ata moʻoku ʻa e faingamalie ni ke u kau he ma’alali ʻo e uike fakamamafa ʻo e lea Faka-Tonga ʻi Aotearoa ni. Fakamolemole ka ʻi ai ha lea ʻe taʻefeʻunga, kuo u kole ke u hufanga he lea ʻoku taka he fonua ʻo Tupou mo Houʻeiki: “Ko e potopoto ʻa niu mui pe”.

This week celebrates Tongan people in Aotearoa New Zealand to celebrate and share our culture and language with everyone. Fakakoloa ʻo Aotearoa ʻaki ʻa e Lotu Moʻoni – Enriching Aotearoa New Zealand through prayer and faith. 

In the heart of faith is hope. In the heart of prayer is contemplation of the challenges in our life and a belief that our words and actions can create transformative ripple effects out into the world. In these unprecedented times, hope is an articulation of what we need to change, and actions to create this change.

Siʻoto ʻofa atu, My name is Vasiti Palavi and my role here at Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland Museum is the Head of Collection Care. As a proud Tongan and Māori woman I have been honoured with the privilege of working across the Natural Science and Human History departments and now leading the Collection Care department here at Auckland Museum. 

At the centre of my work as a kaitiaki, leading a team of expert collection managers and conservators who care for our taonga in our collection is a hope that we create a cultural heritage legacy for the future. Our cultural heritage connects us to those who have gone before us, threads into the present, and talks to those who are still to come.

Fofola e fala kae talanoa e kāinga (Laying out the mat for the families to dialogue) is a proverb that guides my practice at the Museum. It reminds/encourages me of my role in the Museum - to create the fala, or mat - a place of safety, belonging and equity. The strands of the fala connecting and weaving together the four pillars of the Tongan culture - Fakaʻapaʻapa (respect), loto tō (humility), tauhi vā (nurturing relationships) and mamahi’i me’a (loyalty/passion) to provide a platform for our families and communities to talanoa, for their voices, knowledge and ways of knowing to be amplified. It fills me with great pride that the work we do in growing knowledge and partnerships with our communities are at the core of the work that we do at Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland Museum.

Fakatauange naʻa mou maʻu ha Uike Lea Faka-Tonga fakakoloa mo fakamafana 
ʻOfa lahi atu

Anaseini by Matavai Taulangau

In this film by Auckland-based artist Matavai Taulangau commissioned by Auckland Museum, Taulanhau visited his mother and filmed her as she talks about Mango Island, her home in Tonga and the stories behind some of the items she brought with her to Aotearoa. Watch this beautiful short film here.

Tonga, in a few koloa

It is impossible to sum up a place in objects alone, but museums rely on objects to stand in for much larger stories of place and identity. These are just a few koloa (which translates to English as 'wealth', 'possessions' or 'what one values') from our Tongan collection, selected for their significance to Tongan culture.

Plants and animals of Tonga

Here are some highlights from the Museum's collections of plants and animals, some of which are only found in Tonga.