Tongan Language Week – Finding my own way, Tongan Style

Mālō e lelei!    

Tongan Language Week / Uike Kātoanga’i ‘o e Lea Faka-Tonga runs from 4 to 10 September. The theme for this year is ‘Fakakoloa ‘a Aotearoa ‘aki ‘a e Loto’i Tonga’ (Enriching Aotearoa with the Tongan Spirit).

In 2013 census, there were over 60 000 New Zealanders who identified as Tongan, 35,385 of whom were born in New Zealand, giving lea faka-Tonga (the Tongan language) and anga faka-Tonga (Tongan culture) a special place here.

UC currently has around 56 students with Tongan heritage, and they play a vibrant role in contributing to our Pasifika community here. We asked UC Bachelor of Social Work student Mele Pahulu to write about her experience as a Tongan at UC…


Mele Pahulu (left) in traditional Tongan clothingHaving the opportunity to express being a Tongan throughout Tongan Language Week, it gives me the chance to share my culture to others while also learning new things about it myself. Growing up in an islander home, learning my native tongue was hard for me because I was raised here in New Zealand since I was three months old. I learned English first rather than my own language, because I had to adapt to the ways of society here.

Being Tongan means that I have had the opportunity to grow up with a unique culture and point of view in life, but most importantly I have grown up with the importance of famili (family), because one thing that I will always have in my life is my family, and that is something I’ll always treasure forever.

Growing up disconnected from my own country had an effect on me because it was very hard to learn or speak in my language to my family because I only knew how to speak English. I often felt that my identity as a Tongan was slowly slipping away because I could barely read or write let alone speak in my language. As I got older I started to get a grasp of learning where I came from and how to speak my language so that when I went back to my homeland I could connect with my family who live and breathe Tongan life every day.

Today as a proud Tongan student who came to the University of Canterbury in 2014, the Pacific Development Team has offered great help and support and are always so generous in wanting to help out a shy student like me. Celebrating Tongan Language Week at UC is a great way to embrace and feel appreciated about being Tongan because we live in a society that is filled with diverse individuals who have their own cultures and languages to offer as well.

Be proud of who you are, whether you are Pacific Islander or not – embrace your culture because it’s your identity and it is what makes you the person that you are today.

Photo caption: Mele Pahulu (left) in traditional Tongan clothing