Celebrating Samoan language week

Issue: Volume 97, Number 9

Posted: 28 May 2018
Reference #: 1H9iwS

In honour of Sāmoan Language Week (27 May–2 June), one Sāmoan New Zealander talks about the importance of language, while a Wellington school reflects on their culturally inclusive practice.

Language classes help bring Sāmoan back into homes

The introduction of Sāmoan classes at a Wellington school has had a surprising effect, with students saying that the classes have brought the language back into their homes.

What started as a response to a changing demographic of students and a desire to see students feel more at home has had unexpected benefits.

St Mary’s Acting Principal Helen Hardwick says that reflecting the school’s community in the classes it offers and the teachers it employs has helped students feel more valued by the school and more connected to their culture at home.

“For us it was looking at the make-up of our school. What are our students like? Where do they come from? With these questions in mind, we can try to find a curriculum that is responsive for them and can support them to have a sense of belonging at St Mary’s. I think that begins with them having knowledge of their own culture.

“Some students have told me that despite their parents being Sāmoan they weren’t speaking it at home, but now they do because it’s the students who are starting the conversation. Some of those students are now talking to their grandparents and asking them for help, and I think that’s a really positive thing.

“Feedback from parents has been very positive as they know it helps nurture and foster culture. We want our students to have that opportunity to learn about Sāmoan and Pasifika culture through language and to feel supported doing that here at St Mary’s.”

Over the last few years, Wellington-based St Mary’s College has seen its Pacific population grow, with particular growth in the number of students with Sāmoan heritage. Of the school’s 605 students, 15 per cent are Sāmoan. It was this shift and input from the school’s strong Sāmoan/Fono group SMSAO (St Mary’s Sisters as One) that prompted the school to introduce Sāmoan language classes last year.

Helen says the school made a conscious decision to employ a teacher who is himself Sāmoan.

“It wasn’t easy to find a teacher, but we managed to find one and getting a new teacher was a really positive thing because this was a new start to introducing the language,” she says.

Sa’umani Taimalelagi joined the school last year after graduating from Teacher’s Training College in 2015 and has noticed the changes that he and fellow Pacific teacher Malia Tu’amoheloa have made.

“I’ve definitely seen that the girls feel in touch with their culture. I think it’s good to have staff  here that reflect the students at the school. Here at St Mary’s, there’s quite a large Pasifika population and it’s good they can see someone who’s just like them, values their heritage, and recognises that their culture is important.”

Sa’umani sees his role not just as a teacher but also as having an important part to play in encouraging the next generation of Pasifika language teachers.

“With Sāmoan language here in New Zealand, the teachers are an ageing population. A lot of them are originally from Samoa and were teachers in Samoa as well, so it’s really important that we have vibrant, fresh, young Pasifika people who want to pass on that knowledge.”

Sa’umani is keen to see more schools recognising the value that Pacific Island cultures have in New Zealand by introducing language and culture lessons.

“I think there’s a huge potential within the Pasifika community in schools that can be used to help out not just Pasifika students, but students overall.”

“New Zealand is a country in the Pacific Ocean and we have a large Pasifika population, so I think it’s good to value those cultures, the diversity and the further richness that Pasifika people add, not just to schools, but to New Zealand as a whole.”

Demand for the classes isn’t just being led by Sāmoan students and the school is now looking to extend its offering to Year 12 next year and Year 13 in 2020.

“We have students in the junior school who do not identify as Sāmoan, but have opted to take Sāmoan as a learning option – this is true learning!” says Helen.

“There’s a positive vibe and the students are really keen for us to continue this journey, and I think we’ll go from strength to strength and see where that takes us.”

Holding on to gagana Sāmoa and all our ancestral languages

Māngere East local, Tuiloma Lina Samu reflects back on her own gagana Sāmoa journey, and those people who introduced her to te ao Māori and the world of languages.

My beloved Grandma Silulu was born in Pu’apu’a, Savai’i in 1900. My first memory is of her peeling me a big juicy fat navel orange and explaining its name and sounding the word out: “Moli. O lea le mea lea? O le moli. Fai mai Lina: moli.” (“Orange. What is this thing here? It’s an orange. Say it after me Lina: orange”)

Because of her, Sāmoan was my first language. She lived with us at our home but after she died, our parents only spoke Sāmoan to each other and English to us. I was lucky as somehow, the language stayed with me.

I went to Sutton Park Primary School. It was great as we had an informal Sāmoan speaking group run by parents who were teacher aides. My Dad taught us younger kids the Sāmoan alphabet, national anthem and Bible scriptures but my four older siblings were brought up mostly in an English language environment. I think about this a lot.  Our parents wanted us kids to be able to fit in and succeed in life as fluent English speakers. It wouldn’t have been an easy decision. They definitely faced racism. Dad said when he arrived in the 50s sometimes if he was in a queue, Palagi people would just walk in front of him and get served first. This was acceptable back then.

At school I remember performing the taualuga as the taupou and doing the ava ceremony with red cordial. Being raised in the LDS Church meant that Sāmoan gafa (family tree) was taught and our ward was Sāmoan speaking as well.

Being brought up around Māori people meant seeing their absolute respect for the legacy of ancestors and whakapapa. I found that Sāmoan people didn’t talk much about our ancestors beyond grandparents, but thanks to great teachers like Aroha Sharples (nee Baker) I was encouraged to know about my ancestors, cultural birthright and heroes. She was a kapa haka superstar and I was in great awe of her.

One day at primary school when I was 7 our teacher (who I thought looked like Gail from Coronation Street) was reading a book to us and she kept mispronouncing the protagonist’s name. His name was Sefulu but she kept saying: Sefarloo. And I piped up: “It’s not Sefarloo. It’s Sefulu!”

All the Palagi kids in my reading group began telling me off: “NO! You’re saying the wrong name. It’s SEFARLOO!”

I was very angry and started shouting back at everyone shouting at me:

“I am not saying the wrong name. If you keep saying Sefarloo I’m going to get you all!”

By this time the teacher got up, went to her desk, came back with a leather strap and hit me five times on each hand. She continued reading the book about Sefarloo.

But I’ve also had amazing teachers:  At Māngere Intermediate I remember John Tāpere and then at Ngā Tapuwae College, I was blessed to have Kepa and Pani Stirling as mentors.

My Sāmoan was nurtured by being immersed in te aō Māori and by learning to read and write in te reo as Sāmoan was not an option at school. I remember asking my parents to teach me, they always meant to get around to it but never quite did: and this is normal for many of us. Our parents do what they can do and what they have the energy to do at that time but there was no plan around to help them either.

Today we have some excellent initiatives such as the Pasifika Education Centre in Auckland providing free Pasifika languages lessons, the Chief Executive there is quite simply a visionary.

After a BA and then an MA in Languages and Literature, I recently completed the work for my PhD in Public Health Research. A big part of my thesis was raised by younger interviewees who fear that within one or two generations their ancestral languages will be lost, languages like Vagahau Niue, Gagana Tokelau, and Te Reo no Kuki Airani. Most of their people live here now and the end of their mother tongue is something they are dreading.

As someone who can speak my language and others like te reo Māori, Tongan and Kuki Airani: not being afraid of making mistakes when speaking has always been key. I remember as a 12yo saying something and my elderly aunts chortling with laughter but then when they finished, they touched my hand and explained they were laughing because I had accidentally said a swear word.

I love being a Sāmoan person in Aotearoa because this has shaped me. Having the privilege of learning te reo and tikanga Māori: has helped me to be a stronger Sāmoan woman and speaker of gagana Sāmoa.

Samoan Language Week/Vaiaso o le Gagana Sāmoa is being held from Sunday 27 May to Saturday 2 June.

The theme for this year is “Alofa atu nei. Alofa mai taeao – Kindness given. Kindness gained”.

You can find information on the week and language resource cards through the Ministry for Pacific Peoples.(external link) 

You can find Pacific Island dual language resources through TKI(external link)

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 9:00 am, 28 May 2018

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