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Tokelau Language Week/Te Vaiaho o te Gagana Tokelau: Resources and Information

Malo Ni

Tokelau Language Week/Te Vaiaho o te Gagana Tokelau is being held from Sunday 25 October to Saturday 31 October. I have gathered some useful resources and background information for you all to use.

Tokelauans in New Zealand

2013 census showed that the Tokelauan ethnic group comprised 7,176 people with nearly half living in the Wellington region, mainly in Porirua and the Hutt valley.  There are also Tokelau communities in Auckland, Taupō, and Rotorua. 74 % were born in New Zealand and 26% percent were born overseas.

Tokelau language

Tokelauan is normally spoken on the atolls. It is related to Samoan and Tuvaluan. English is taught as a second language and is widely understood. 

The Tokelau language is one of the most-at-risk Pacific languages in New Zealand with Niue and the Cook Islands. With a population consisting of 7176 people only 2229 Tokelau people were able to hold a conversation in the language which means that 4,947 Tokelau people cannot speak their heritage language. 

For people identifying with the Tokelauan ethnic group living in New Zealand on 5 March 2013:

  • English was the most widely spoken language – spoken by 93.6 percent or 6,537 people.
  • Tokelauan was the second-most common language spoken (31.9 percent or 2,229 people). This proportion was a decrease from 2006 (38.1 percent).
  • Those born in New Zealand were less likely than those born overseas to speak Tokelauan, at 18.7 percent and 69.5 percent, respectively.

(Source Statistics New Zealand )

The challenge for Educators

I love this Tokelauan proverb: E mae te tavake ki ona fulu The tavake bird treasures its red feathers. In the same way, the Tokelau people treasure their language. The Tokelau language is so precious that it must be nurtured for its survival into the future.  As educators we all have a role to play in preserving the language and culture. Although your school may not have direct links to Tokelau, this national week provides the opportunity to introduce your students to the culture and language of Tokelau, helping to keep Gagana Tokelau alive in New Zealand. 

Interesting facts about the Tokelau Islands

Tokelau consists of three populated low-lying coral atolls located about 483 km north of Samoa The islands of Atafu, Nukunonu and Fakaofo have been a dependent territory of New Zealand since 1926 and they are currently moving towards self-government in free association with New Zealand. (Olohege atoll is now part of American Samoa)

Each atoll consists of a number of reef-bound islets (motu) encircling a lagoon. Tokelau has a total land area of approximately 12 sq km. The islets vary in size from 90 m to 6 km in length and from a few metres to 200 metres in width. The land consists of sand and coral that has built up on the surface of the reef. No point on Tokelau is higher than five metres. They have no surface fresh water. The people had to dig wells to a lens-shaped natural reservoir of fresh water trapped beneath the sand. This precious resource is replenished by rain.

Environmental threats to Tokelau include cyclones, tsunamis, and drought. Rises in sea level erode the atolls. A rise of a few metres would make these islands uninhabitable. Seawalls and sand bags help keep the ocean back. Tokelau is 100% solar powered and it is the world’s first truly renewable nation. The renewable energy system comprising of solar panels, storage batteries and generators running on biofuel derived from coconut generates enough electricity to meet 150% of the islands’ power demand.

Tokelau Islands

Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade  

Te Ara  http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/tokelauans/page-1

Tokelau Magic this site also has some Tokelauan legends (under ‘Origin Stories’), fast facts, maps and population information (who-what-where), images of life in Tokelau, and in the dictionary, common words and phrases in Tokelauan and English.

To learn more about the water rising


#MyClimateActionStory - Huega Detlef Isaia - Climate Warrior from Tokelau

Useful resources for Teachers

Human Rights Commission for information on Tokelau language

NZ curriculum resources and links to support Tokelau language week, this includes two School Journal links: Top of Form


"Inati" by Neemia Nikotemo Pt 02, No.4 2003
This report tells about the tradition of inati (food sharing) in the Tokelauan village of Atafu. Teacher support material is also available for this report

"After every storm" by Don Long, Pt 01 No. 3 2006
This poem is set on the atoll of Atafu in Tokelau. Teacher support material can be downloaded from: http://literacyonline.tki.org.nz/Literacy-Online/Teacher-needs/Instructional-Series/School-Journal/Teacher-support-materials.

National Library Service to Schools  has links to useful websites

Adapt this ESOL resource to create a Tokelau cultural village

Tau Gagana Tokelau This site allows you to learn Tokelau, it also has songs, myths and facts about the islands and the people.  It includes the following myths

Ministry of Pacific island Affairs: Tokelauan greetings   and also their Tokelauan language Week facebook page

http://blog.tepapa.govt.nz/tag/tokelau-language-week/ to read past language week blog posts with interesting snippets about their language and culture. See the 2014 5 minute quiz. Te Papa’s Pacific Cultures collections have around 314 objects associated with Tokelau including ili (fans), toki (adzes) and model vaka (canoes).

Tokelau dictionary  An online Gagana Tokelau dictionary

The Coconet has a poster of common words and proverbs which supported the 2014 language week, I especially like the proverbs.

Other links of interest

Tokelau community is keeping traditional knowledge alive by building a vaka from scratch video story.

Magnum photo collection, TOKELAU 2003, by Alex Webb

Digital New Zealand: Tokelau

NZ Pacific picture book collection especially Activity for ‘Watercress Tuna and the children of Champion Street’

TV! Tangata Pasifika programme

  • The art of the pa This week we celebrate Tokelau language week by talking to carvers of pa, made from the beautiful mother of pearl shell. The pa pendant is a symbol of identity for Tokelauans and we speak to a family of pa carvers in Whangaparoa. 
  • Tokelau Language Week how the community celebrates language week and their culture here in New Zealand

Community events

Auckland library events and links

Christchurch City Library  this site also has links to various storybooks

Pataka art museum in Porirua is holding day of free events and activities for the whole family where you can learn more about this rich and vibrant part of the Pacific. Saturday 31 October, 2015

Tofa ni