Students step up to grow their Niuean language

Issue: Volume 97, Number 19

Posted: 25 October 2018
Reference #: 1H9n5Q

A group of Niuean students in Auckland are meeting each month to practise speaking their language to keep it alive in Aotearoa.

There are some concerns that the Niuean language may be under threat if the young people stop speaking it, but they are stepping up. At monthly meetings in Auckland, members of the Niue Youth Network practise the language, as well as dance, sing and make music.

Youth Network member Matt Manukuo, who is head boy at Avondale College, says they realise it is vital to embrace their culture, including the language, arts and music. They learn traditional church music but are adapting it to make it their own.

“Lyrics in our traditional music helps us retain the language and expand our vocabulary. But the songs are more upbeat, and brighter, to make the music more captivating for us, because although we respect our culture, some things have to change and adapt for the new generation.”

Matt, whose parents are Niuean, says the Niuean culture is fragile as there are so few people left on the island.

“Niueans came to New Zealand in large numbers from the 1950s on, and gradually people lost touch with the language as they started using English for everyday life.”

Avondale College in Auckland has a large number of Niuean students. Matt takes part in the school’s Niuean group, which competes in Polyfest, and this year he won the award for Best Male Niuean Leader in the festival. He also makes sure to try to use his language at home with his parents, who put time aside twice a week to practise the language with him.

“My parents are my teachers when it comes to our language. I’m integrating new words into everyday conversations with them, and when they use a phrase that I don’t know, I will ask how to use it.”

He’s travelled to Niue, where he has links to his family’s village, and is also part of a group from that village which regularly meets in Auckland.

He says going back is humbling as it is the heart of his culture. “Being there strengthens my drive to keep up our traditions. It’s the younger generation’s responsibility to maintain our culture.”

Mele Nemaia, Chairperson of Vagahau Niue Trust, is an ardent supporter of the Niue Youth network. She says, “Our children and our youth are the future of our Niue language.”

Niue’s population is just 1,600, as large numbers of people migrated in earlier decades to other countries, particularly New Zealand, attracted by jobs and better economic opportunities. As a result, the diaspora of the small rock is struggling to keep its culture and traditions alive.

Niueans are the fourth-largest Pacific ethnic group living in New Zealand, but only a small number of the 20,000 living here are fluent in the language.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 3:42 pm, 25 October 2018

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