What’s in a name as Alfred Ngaro announce Pacific language week dates?
The seven weeks of 2017 allocated as Pacific Language Weeks were proudly announced by new Minister for Pacific People’s, Mr Alfred Ngaro yesterday.
Starting with Samoa on 28 May, it ends with Tokelau on 4 November.
As he takes on the reins of the Ministry, Mr Ngaro committed to a 2017 resolution to increase his Pacific vocabulary beyond the three languages flowing through his family’s bloodline.
“In my family we have three Pacific languages and cultures; Cook Island, Vagahau Niue and Gagana Samoa but I’ll be making a special effort to learn more phrases from some of the other heavenly languages of the Pacific,” he promised.
An admirable personal commitment to policy I thought. But as I scrolled down Mr Ngaro’s press statement, it triggered a software that opened up a number of related Pacific Guardians articles.
There were seven of them written from 2013 to 2016 with various headlines:
- It’s Pacific language week. Who cares? 30/05/13
- INJUSTICE: Pacific languages abandoned as National invests $10million on Asian tongues 28/08/14
- ‘Pacific Language Week’, rolling out templates and tokenism extraordinaire 05/06/15
- Celebrating Cook Islands “Māori Kūki ‘Āirani” language
- Preserving Tuvalu’s language in NZ becomes critical as nation face existential threat from climate change 28/09/16
- Celebrating Tokelau language, culture and traditions in Porirua, NZ 31/10/16
But it also opened up an eighth.
An article unrelated to Language Weeks but the Social Assistance (Portability to Cook Islands, Niue, and Tokelau) Bill (Superannuation portability) in which Mr Ngaro was Chairman for the Parliamentary Committee.
What caught my eye was the reference to the Samoan meaning of Mr Ngaro’s name. It was a quote by Su’a William Sio, which was hyperlinked to the Parliamentary Hansard transcript of his 18 June 2015 speech about the ‘superannuation portable bill’.
As I read the article, I felt the relevance of Su’a’s statements to the mandate for why Pacific Language Weeks were established in the first place. To promote, maintain and preserve Pacific culture by mimicking their homeland setting, through language, to Aotearoa and wider New Zealand society.
But before detailing Su’a’s statement, it is important to define the term “culture” in the Pacific context and then pinpoint where “language” sits within that definition of culture.
We will use Samoan references since Gagana Samoa was the first Pacific Language Week (in 2007) celebrated; and that is besides the fact Gagana Samoa is the third most popular language in Aotearoa (behind English and Te Reo); and the second most popular in Auckland, the world’s most populous Pasifika city.
Firstly, “Fa’asāmoa” or Samoan culture, is not something Samoans were born with. It is something they learned from the people they were born from. Putting it another way, all humans are born with a standard package of habits. For example, humans are born with hunger, thirst, sexual attraction and falling asleep. And have different bodily parts all functioning to touch with, to look at, to walk to and from, to speak with and to breathe with.
However, the ways in how to eat, to drink, to sleep, the ways to walk, to look, to speak and to touch, these are habits that are not included in the ‘standard package’. Yet it’s these ‘non-standard habits’ that make up what is called “Fa’asāmoa”.
For a Samoan, those ‘non-standard’ things are learned from other Sāmoans whom they were born amongst. It means the “Fa’asāmoa” has already stipulated ways and styles for eating, for drinking, for walking, for speaking and for sleeping.
When translated to the Samoan reference, it means: Don’t eat or drink while standing; don’t eat while walking; don’t speak with a lump of food in your mouth; when sleeping, don’t sleep while stretching your legs to where people are sitting, especially guests; if you walk close to people sitting, then you say a word, “tulou”, together with a list of various ways and styles to be observed as clear indications of politeness and respect such as don’t look people in the eyes when you’re conversing with them.
There is no boundary in Sāmoan culture. All parts of Samoan society are involved, from the government to the churches, from the schools to the village chiefs and community members.
Language therefore is a part of Culture. It is the tool humans use to express their Culture and the way they think about the world.
So now let’s turn our attention to Su’a’s statement and his use of Samoan proverbs to articulate support for Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau’s case.
May I begin by saying that I want to share a Samoan saying: “O e e lavea’i ia te a’u i taimi o puapuaga, o ivi, o toto, o aano.” If I translated that, it would mean: “They who come to my hour of need are my family. They are blood, bones, and flesh.” I say that at the outset because when it comes to dealing with the Pacific, you are dealing with people, and relationships are paramount in our ongoing dealings with the Pacific.
That reminds me of another Samoan saying: “E u’u le afa, ae togi le moa. E togi le moa ae u’u le afa.” It is a trap. We will give you a little bit now, but we will hold on to this other part for later on.
“The unique and special relationship has seen many New Zealand citizens move from the Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau to work in New Zealand and contribute economically, socially and culturally to [the] fabric of New Zealand society.”
New Zealand prides itself on saying that we have this constitutional arrangement between New Zealand and members of the Realm countries: the Cook Islands, Niue, and Tokelau. Because we do not have a written constitution, we rely on the words of past and present Prime Ministers, past and present Ministers of Foreign Affairs, and past and present Governors-General.
For me, the Governor-General who enforced how important that was, was Sir Anand Satyanand, who, everywhere he lived, walked, and spoke, would always acknowledge the languages of the Realm of New Zealand: Māori, English, sign language, Cook Islands, Niuean, and Tokelauan. That says it all—that that Governor-General acknowledged this uniquely special relationship.
Before considering Su’a’s Samoan reference to Alfred Ngaro’s name, it is important to explain the Samoan reference for “proverb”. One of the best-documented narratives on the subject is in Samoa’s Head of State, Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi’s eloquent 2007 Hawaii address on Samoa Jurisprudence.
The excerpt describing ‘proverb’ in reference to the Samoan principle of Tulafono (laws, rules, regulations) is as follows:
In my Samoan oral culture knowledge on any subject, philosophical or otherwise was, more often than not, embodied in proverbs or muagagana [Alaga upu (meaning, “the road to knowledge, the road to whatever is through this word” – suggestive of ‘the right path’) is often used interchangeably with the term ‘muagagana’]. In searching for an understanding of tulafono the first and most logical place of call should be an analysis of Samoan proverbs.
The Samoan term for proverbs, muagagana, is significant in that it speaks directly to the role of proverbs or proverbial speak in Samoan traditional culture as ‘first principles’: mua, meaning ‘first’; and gagana, meaning ‘language’; ‘first’ also meaning ‘priority’ and by extension ‘right’.
On this basis muagagana are arguably the Samoan indigenous basis for ‘right behaviour’; Samoan moral and ethical codes of conduct or standards.
Tulafono [laws, rules, regulations] when read alongside muagagana in this way can only be interpreted as products, not of and/or from a culture of rigid calculation and unfeeling application, but of a culture that privileges:
- the dignity and sacredness of humans,
- their weaknesses and strengths, and
- their right to live in a manner and form: within their customs, rules, and laws that do justice to them as living beings, as creations and children of God.
In this sense, tulafono is arguably more about justice than law. And establishes there is no surer guide to the Samoan soul, Samoan vision, values, ethics and morals than through an analysis Samoan proverbs.
Some examples of Samoan muagagana include:
- “O le tagata ma lona faasinomaga” (i.e. ‘every man, homo sapiens, is entitled to a designation) – the proverb makes the point that every person is entitled to a designation;
- “Fili i le tai lē agavaa” literally choose the leader by performance in the open seas – the proverb makes the point that a leader should be selected by performance or merit;
- “E iloa le matai i le ‘au tautua” literally a matai is assessed by the quality of the service given him – the proverb makes the point that the status of the matai is measured by the quality of service and the numbers of those who serve;
- “E le tu se tamaaiga i luga o se uaniu” (i.e. a tamaaiga does not stand at the top of a coconut tree) – the proverb makes the point that a tamaaiga’s eminence is dependent on the love and loyalty of his family, immediate and extended;
- “O mea a tamaalii o le togisala, o mea a tufanua o le faalumaina”, (i.e. the mark of a chief is to own up about wrongdoing and to make amends consistent with culpability and remorse; the mark of bad breeding is where there is no accounting and making amends for wrongdoing and so contempt is suffered as a consequence) – the point is obvious in the translation;
- “Taipisia nuu malolo”, (i.e. neither crew nor passengers of a boat are spared salt water in storm tossed seas) – the proverb makes the point that the collective interest/security is the common concern of all belonging to the community and you ignore at your peril; and lastly, but by no means least, the proverb…
- “Pe na o le utu e vaeluaina” (even a louse can be divided and shared) – the proverb makes the point that even the smallest of things can be divided and shared. This proverb underlines the imperative of the spirit of sharing in a community.
With the history lesson above, the words in Su’a’s statement can be interpreted in their Samoan and Pacific context. As well as a reminder that Realm of New Zealand countries deserve recognition, that their diversity, languages, uniqueness and contribution to New Zealand society must not be forgotten.
“Alfred Ngaro continues to live up to the meaning of his name [in Samoan it means ‘forgotten’],” said Su’a
“Ngaro continues to ‘forget’ that these islands are members of New Zealand’s realm. He should be ashamed of his stance.
“Instead of using his role to convince his Government of the merits of recognizing the realm island countries as citizens of New Zealand entitled to all the rights and privileges of a full New Zealand citizen, he fails the Pacific in his stance, especially the Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau.
“Do not live up to the meaning of your name and forget who brought you to where you are.”
Dates set for 2017 Pacific language weeks
Samoa Language Week: Sunday 28 May – Saturday 3 June 2017
Cook Islands Language Week: Sunday 30 July – Saturday 5 August 2017
Tonga Language Week: Sunday 3 September – Saturday 9 September 2017
Tuvalu Language Week: Sunday 1 October – Saturday 7 October 2017
Fiji Language Week: Sunday 8 October – Sunday 14 October 2017
Niue Language Week: Sunday 15 October – Saturday 21 October 2017
Tokelau Language Week: Sunday 29 October – Saturday 4 November 2017