Case study: Vagahau Niue Language Week

The New Zealand Niue community has taken swift and strong action in response to concerns about the declining speakers of Vagahau Niue (Niuean language). The Vagahau Niue Trust has been heavily involved in preserving the Niue language and culture.

Image of Niue children.

“Our language is very important to us and we want to ensure that it is protected, retained, maintained, sustained and developed across future generations,” says trust patron Her Excellency O’Love Jacobsen, High Commissioner to New Zealand.

The Vagahau Niue Trust’s (the trust) success is based on the vision of previous leaders, including late Rangi Viliko, the late Aiao Kaulima, and Tutagaloa Tutose Tuhipa, Malua GR Siakimotu, Limaono Kingi, Moka Sipeli and Tufuga Lagatule. These leaders noted the decline in use of Vagahau Niue in the 1970s and mobilised efforts to protect their language.

Vagahau Niue Language Week

Vagahau Niue Language Week is one of seven annual Pacific language week celebrations in New Zealand. It serves as a national platform for raising awareness about the status, usage, and cultural significance of Vagahau Niue. The week aims to promote the use of Vagahau Niue in everyday settings and increase its use in families, communities and wider society.

Vagahau Niue Language Week is held every October to coincide with Niue Independence Day. Each year, the week is given a particular theme and events and activities are organised to reflect the theme. The theme of the first Niue Language Week was Fakafiafiaaga ma e Vagahau Niue (the celebration of Vagahau Niue).

The Vagahau Niue Language Week celebration includes activities such as community gatherings, cultural celebrations, religious blessings, raising the Niue flag, ­­flax weaving, dancing, singing, speeches, sports and storytelling. The trust produces written, audio and visual resources in Vagahau Niue for schools, institutions and the wider public. These are available in English and other languages.

In 2015, a Victoria University of Wellington student filmed various Members of Parliament speaking Vagahau Niue to help celebrate Vagahau Niue Language Week. “This was an innovative approach to celebrating the week and it was a great way of encouraging others to speak Vagahau Niue,” says Mele Nemaia, chairperson of the trust. The trust works hard to ensure children have access to resources to learn their language. Mrs Nemaia notes that the Niuean children learning Vagahau Niue are also succeeding in mainstream learning. “These results are critical not only to our children who are succeeding but to Vagahau Niue and its status.”

Mobilising young people

Mobilising young people as part of the efforts to maintain Vagahau Niue has been a priority for the trust. Pefi Kingi, deputy chairperson/special projects manager for the trust emphasises the importance of harnessing the energy, enthusiasm and passion young people have for their language, culture and identity. The trust’s establishment of youth representatives “ensures the needs of young people are included and encourages their ownership in the Niue Language and the week’s festivities,” says Ms Kingi. The trust also assisted with the formation of the Niue Youth Network, which has been an important catalyst to inspire young people to own the maintenance of their language and culture.

Effective partnerships

The trust has taken a strategic approach to collaborating and partnering with other organisations. They have established strong relationships with community organisations, schools and government agencies. “It would have been impossible to do our work without collaborations and partnerships,” says Chris Lagaluga, treasurer of the trust. These partnerships include a mandate from the Niuean government to act as a steward for the language in New Zealand.

To ensure Niueans across New Zealand have access to their language, the trust is comprised of local groups across Auckland, Waikato, Wellington and Christchurch. The trust has also assisted Niueans in Australia and Hawaii to form groups.

Take home advice

  • Ensure that your celebration includes young people, they are the future of the language.
  • Develop useful strategies and partnership opportunities – this is the key to success!