Pa’u Iulio Maimaitua, chairman of Samoan Northland Community Inc. Photo / Mary Afemata
Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air
A national language week is connecting Northland’s Samoan community with their culture.
Pa’u Iulio Maimaitua, Samoan Northland Community Inc chairman, said 90 per cent of Samoans in Whangārei are New Zealand-born, which influenced the way they celebrated the week. This year’s theme is “Mitamita i lau gagana, maua’a lou fa’asinomaga”, which translates as “Be proud of your language and grounded in your identity”.
Pa’u, born in Vaigaga, Samoa, said there were more than 50 members in the Samoan community group he chaired and more than 25 active members.
Last Sunday, Samoan Language Week (SLW) opened with a presentation about the history of Samoan culture and its significance.
The ceremonial drink ‘ava was shared among its participants in a traditional ceremony that marks important occasions.
Pa’u says most of the Whangarei Samoan community are born here and unfamiliar with the ‘ava ceremony.
“They weren’t really exposed to that side of the culture. Of course, they may have heard or seen the process, but never participated or know the reason why we should do it.”
Pa’u speaks fluent Samoan.
He emphasised the importance of learning the basics, especially for youth, by learning to say “hello” (talofa lava) and “goodbye” (tōfā soifua) in Samoan.
Pa’u says the community group hopes to get Samoan language classes running again.
Another challenge is the lack of an established Samoan church in Northland.
Church and God are the foundation of Samoan culture.
Pa’u hopes in future they will have a Samoan church open for everyone.
Maualaivao Ueligitone Sasagi, a Samoan community leader, was born in Sala’ilua, Samoa.
He is also a town planner who taught Samoan language and cultural classes for four years in Whangārei before relocating to Mangawhai. He stressed the need for these classes to continue and hoped funding could be found to support the learning.
Maualaivao reiterates the importance of youth learning the language.
“I would like to invite our youth, our young generation to observe and try to understand and use the language, the mother language for Samoa and the culture.”
Samoan Language Week is about “honouring and respecting my language and the culture”.
Samoan Language Week celebrations end on Saturday with an ava ceremony and performances at the Fale Pasifika in Rust Ave.