Focus on Tongan youth after decline in under 15s speaking the language

By Kelvin McDonald

Aotearoa's Tongan community are celebrating the start of Tonga Language Week which begins today.

While Tongans are the fastest-growing Pacific ethnic group in Aotearoa in recent years, census figures indicate that of the 82,389 Tongans in 2018, only 12 per cent under 15 spoke the language in Aotearoa - a decline of nine per cent since 2006.

This has led to a focus on Tongan youth this language week.

“During Tonga Language Week, many of the online and in-person initiatives will focus on youth and the passing of cultural knowledge from the elders to young people, through activities such as music, cooking, wellbeing, dance, arts and craft, storytelling and oratory – we want you to get involved, mālō 'aupito,” Pacific Peoples Minister Aupito William Sio said in a statement Saturday.

The theme of this year's language Week is sustainability.

“The word Tu’uloa in the theme this year means to continuously grow, nurture, and sustain a valued idea, practice, event, or memory in an enduring way.

“Rather than forcing everyone to stick to the theme, organisers thought it would be more relevant to give ownership and responsibility to the community to interpret and articulate what Tu’uloa means to them.

“For example, a youth group might create the mantra Tu’uloa - ‘e mo’ui ‘a e lea ‘i he kaha’ú ‘o makatu’unga ‘i he to’utupu ‘o e lolotongá, which translates to ‘Sustainability’ – the language will survive in the future based on the youth of today.”

Sio said the hope is that initiatives such as this will help stop the decline in the use of the language by the New Zealand-born Tongan population.