Published Wednesday 7 Sep 2022

Mālō e lelei, mālō ‘etau lava! As we continue to celebrate Tongan Language Week we spoke to a staff member about how they are helping stop the decline of their language in Aotearoa.

Uike Kātoanga’i ‘o e lea faka-Tonga (Tonga Language Week) is celebrated in Aotearoa between 4 – 10 September and this year’s theme is Ke Tu'uloa 'a e lea faka-Tonga 'i Aotearoa, which means, ‘Sustaining the Tonga Language in Aotearoa’. 

The word ‘Tu'uloa means to continuously grow, nurture, and sustain a valued idea, practice, event, or memory in an enduring way.

Well, there’s no questioning Ma’u Filse Pauta’s desire to keep the Tu'uloa value alive as she strives to promote the Tongan language by using it as much as she can in her home, social environments and workplace.

Originally from Tonga, Ma’u – a Registered Nurse in the Emergency Department (ED) at Wellington Regional Hospital – has been in Aotearoa for more than 20 years.

Ma’u said she is a proud Tongan who loves her language. But after seeing its use start to fizzle out more and more amongst New Zealand-born Tongans, she decided early to encourage her two young children to learn the Tongan language.

“One way I have kept my language alive is by speaking Tongan to my two young ones from a very young age here in New Zealand. Now I can say that both are fluent in Tongan and we all speak it at home. We keep the language flowing in the family and I am very proud that my boys are able to speak to us in our native language.”

Despite the mean feat of having a fluent Tongan speaking family, Ma’u knew she would have to find ways to keep the language thriving outside their home too.

“We knew speaking Tongan just at home would never be enough because we are in an English speaking country. So how we kept the language flowing outside our home is by attending our Tongan speaking church. Here we all talk with everyone in Tongan, sing in Tongan, and it is enough to make sure my boys don’t forget anything about their culture and language.

“It seems to be the only way for my boys and my husband and I to keep our language alive.”

Ma’u is the only Tongan-speaking staff member at Wellington Regional Hospital’s ED and she relishes the moments she gets to step in and help when there is a language barrier.

“I am the only staff member in ED that can speak Tongan, so I use it as an opportunity to translate for Tongan speaking people and bridge that language gap to make it easier for everyone. A lot of our (Tongan) elderly that come into ED need that help so I try to help whenever I can.

“It is useful to be able to speak another language to help reduce language barriers which occur a lot in ED.”

Ma’u said it was important to celebrate Tongan Language Week to promote her unique language, but also shows everyone who you are.

“Tongan Language Week is important because it tells the world who you are and where you are from. That you belong to another culture that is not solely from New Zealand.

“We (Tongans) should be proud of our identity and language because it has started to decline, especially amongst the New Zealand-born Tongans. It is a unique language in how you pronounce it not just in conversation but in music etc. And that’s why I do my best to keep speaking my language with my family and going to our church. It keeps the language alive.

“Tongan Language Week is a great opportunity to learn more about not just the Tongan language, but what it means to be Tongan as well.”