Celebrating Samoan identity, language, and culture

26 May 2020

This week is all about raising awareness and embracing a culture known for its “big hearts and smiles”.

Members of the Wellington City Council’s Pacific Advisory Group.

Samoa Language Week is being celebrated in New Zealand during 24-30 May.

Wellington City Council’s Pacific Advisory Group (PAG) has three members representing the city’s Samoan community – Mino Cleverley, Natalia Fareti, and Anthony Carter.

The trio say Samoa Language Week is an important annual event that raises the presence and profile of Samoan Pacific peoples in multicultural Aotearoa.

“It’s about celebrating Samoan identity, language, and culture on our journey towards shared cultural understandings and a greater sense of community,” Mino says.

Natalia says Samoan is the third most spoken language in Wellington and New Zealand behind English and Māori, and there are strong links between the countries, including the Treaty of Friendship that was signed in 1962 after Samoa became the first Pacific nation to regain its independence.

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“That Friendship Treaty has seven articles that emphasise the closeness of the relationship, recognising friendship, confidence and a mutual endeavour to obtain for their peoples fuller opportunities for social progress. Samoa is the only nation with which NZ has a Treaty of Friendship.”

Natalia, Mino, and Anthony say there are some things we can do to ensure the language is embraced not only for this week, but all year round.

These include using Samoan language apps to continue learning beyond the awareness week, attending language courses and accessing online resources (like those offered through Wellington High School’s Community Education Centre and Victoria University of Wellington), and promoting various other Pacific language weeks, especially within our places of work and study.

Mino says greater funding, resourcing and policy support for Samoan language teaching and assessment in early childhood through to tertiary education would help see the language better supported. And promotion and celebration of young people embracing Samoan language and culture (such as Aigagalefili Fepulea’i-Tapua’i, whose speech won the NZ Storytellers High School Champion 2019) would go a way to seeing it thrive.

Anthony, Mino, and Natalia say PAG's role as a conduit to Council and other influencers ensure Samoans are not an invisible part of Wellington’s communities and helps demonstrate their meaningful contributions towards a better society, as well as informing policy.

“In the Covid-19 crisis, our people have been essential people on the front lines particularly as important hospital cleaners and aged care workers, themselves at greater risk of catching the virus,” Mino says.

“There were no Pacific Covid-19 cases in the Wellington region, with Samoa Capital Radio and the three local district health boards playing a large part in communicating essential advice and news to the Samoan community.”

Radio New Zealand has just released ‘Sa’ili Mālō - Seeking a Better Life’, a series of stories in both Samoan and English as told by early Samoan settlers, now Wellington based, who came to Aotearoa to seek opportunities and a better life for their families.

“It gives an insight and appreciation of the dreams and struggles that early Samoan settlers to New Zealand experienced in terms of people, language, culture, climate, health, religion, food, transport, housing, employment and much more,” Mino says.

The interviewees include Mino’s mother, Namulau’ulu Tala Cleverley, who was a Wellington City Councillor for 15 years and also instigated the Council's Wellington Pasifika Festival, and Muāgututi’a Seve Poualae Tafililupetiamalie Aliota (Harry) Tauafiafi, who was employed by the Council for 20 years.

Natalia says one of her favourite Samoan sayings sums up the culture nicely.

“E laitiiti, ae maini – small but with a bite/mighty! Like Samoa and the many endeavours and achievements its people have made and continue to make – a small but mighty nation; proud of its culture, with big hearts and smiles.”

Established in 2003, PAG is a link between the Council and Wellington's Pacific communities, with representatives also from Cook Islands, Fiji, Melanesia, Micronesia, Niue, Tokelau, Tuvalu and Tonga.

More information about Samoa Language Week and resources can be found on the Ministry for Pacific People’s website.