By Gladys Hartson - firstname.lastname@example.org
"Tokelau ke mau ki te Gagana a nā tupuna auā he tofi mai te Atua - Tokelau, hold fast to the language of your ancestors because it is a gift from God."
That was this year’s theme and message for the Tokelau community as celebrations of Tokelau Language Week end today.
Speaking to Malo Toe on Radio 531pi's Pacific Drive this week, Wellington community leader Willie Galo says sadly, only 37 per cent of Tokelau people can speak the Gagana fluently. He says more needs to be done to ensure they don’t lose their gift.
“Basically we are asking people; this is a gift from God. We can’t be lazy about letting it go," says Galo. “We are losing our language and that is a real tragedy and that’s a real worry for us."
He says one of the possible reasons the Tokelau language has been in decline could be due to the migration of Pacific peoples to New Zealand. Galo says Pacific people come to New Zealand in search of a better life for their families and retaining the language has come at the expense of that.
He says many of the Tokelau people who came to New Zealand have had to adapt to the New Zealand life, and learn how to speak English, in pursuit of a good education and better work opportunities.
“Language wasn’t seen as a priority. They’ve gone on to another world and here we are, with the new New Zealand-born, the language hasn't been passed on properly."
Auckland Tokelau Language Week celebration Auckland War Memorial Museum October 2017. Photo/ PRN.
However, Galo says he’s encouraged to see a resurgence and interest from the new generation to learn the Gagana Tokelau. A
nationwide strategy is currently being developed to encourage people to learn the language.
He says a lot of the work is going into developing programmes to teach the language in the homes.
“So while we are celebrating we are also looking at revitalising Gagana Tokelau,” he says.
Galo hopes the next generation will take the time to learn from the older generation and learn the language from them.
“It would be good for the New Zealand-born who don’t know how to speak Tokelau and don’t know the culture, to learn about the real culture of Tokelau."