O la’u gagana, o lo’u fa’asinomaga – Helleniga Arona

O la’u gagana, o lo’u fa’asinomaga.

Being a young woman born and raised in the islands of Samoa, I often hear the saying ‘U’u mau i lau gagana’. To simply translate, it means hold firmly onto your language. A quote well memorised by almost every Samoan, despite their place of birth, or whether or not they are considered full Samoan. Being told to firmly hold onto your language highlighted its significance. I was taught and reminded so frequently that losing my language would be the equivalent of losing my name. It contributes greatly to my identity just as much as my name.

My journey leading us to New Zealand accentuates how vital it was that we held onto our language. I was born and spent the first seven years of my life in Western Samoa, then moved to American Samoa for an additional seven years. This month also marks the seventh year since my family and I migrated to New Zealand. Throughout our entire journey, there were two things we always seemed to take with us everywhere; our surnames and our language. Living amongst a community that envies people who spoke a second language. I quickly developed a sense of gratitude that my parents ensured our firm connection to our roots were strongly maintained. We had the luxury of being born and raised in both islands and migrated here mid-teen-years. This indicated that I lived in the islands of Samoa long enough to experience the struggle in their daily lives. In addition, we attended schools in American Samoa long enough to understand a different system and how the culture varies between the two islands. Then lastly moved to New Zealand, a place that guaranteed us better education and life opportunities. All with our values, culture and language still intact.

Living in Christchurch currently, although allows me less opportunities to speak my first language, it still gives me an extra uniqueness that not many are fortunate to have. Seeing the youth in New Zealand resort to Samoan classes in hopes of learning to speak Samoan fluently, is a perception that strengthened my appreciation of my gagana. Na ‘ou u’u mau i la’u gagana, auā o lo’u fa’asinomaga lea.

Helleniga Arona

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