Faaiuga Vailalia Talitonu (pictured) is studying Global Studies (major in global politics and human rights) at the University of Auckland. The 19-year-old also took third place this year in the United Kingdom’s Pacific Climate Photography Competition’s youth category. Her entries are part of the National Library’s Trouble in Paradise exhibition – and you can check them out on MPP’s Facebook. As we continue to gather responses for the Leo Moana o Aotearoa Pacific Languages Survey, Uga shares with us the importance of her language to her and why she links the fight for it to thrive in New Zealand with her battle for climate justice.
A bit about me
I speak fluent Gagana Samoa.
I was born in Samoa so had the chance to learn and speak my mother tongue from a very young age.
Even after we moved to Aotearoa when I was six, it has always been a must in my family for us to speak Gagana Samoa with each other.
That’s been especially important for my sister and me – it’s helped us to maintain our language.
If we speak English, my parents tell us off.
Also, Gagana Samoa is the only way we can communicate fully with our parents.
I don’t want any language barriers between us, so for me, it’s really important that I continue speaking my language, including with my friends. It helps us all keep our language strong, and our fluency in speaking it.
Pasifika in Aotearoa
I appreciate living in Aotearoa, where Pacific and other cultures are acknowledged and celebrated.
It can feel a bit weird or inappropriate to speak your native tongue in public places but other than that it’s fine.
I think it’s absolutely beautiful that we celebrate Pacific Language Weeks and independence days in this country.
I love Aotearoa so much – and I believe, as a Pasifika person, my language completes my identity.
Being able to speak your Pacific language is the other 50 percent of your makeup.
I’m not talking about word by word, but if you know at least five or more words, even the basics then that totally completes the 50 percent of your identity.
Climate change and language loss
For me, climate change is really highlighting the importance of holding on to our Pacific languages.
I think climate change will deeply affect how fluent Pacific people in Aotearoa are in their languages, because without our lands we won’t truly know and/or experience the root of our languages and how language interrelates with culture.
I’m a firm believer once our lands go under water, so do the origins of our cultures, traditions, stories, and language.
Our lands are our taonga and they are the treasure-holder for our cultures, languages and everything in between.
They are what define us and more importantly, give meaning to who we are as the people of the Moana, particularly for those who live in the diaspora.
Our lands are a crucial part of our identity.
Fighting for climate justice
The reason I chose to do a project on climate change as part of my studies this year was because I felt the responsibility as a Pasifika person living in the diaspora to raise more awareness around climate change in hoping to keep fighting for climate justice.
More importantly, I wanted to let our people back in our homelands know that we, the youth who are living outside of our homelands are also in the fight for climate justice and we stand together with them.
The importance of this was to make them feel they are not alone in this fight and we care about the issue just as much as they do.
We deserve a home to go back to and in order for this to be successful in the next 10 years or so, we must act against climate change as soon as possible.
If not, then this will be a huge problem not only because we don’t have our homelands to go back to but also because our identity as a Pasifika person will be at stake.
We won’t be identified as that specific nationality because our lands will be under water.
Furthermore, having our lands upon surface also contributes to our knowledge on our cultures and more importantly the languages.
Just like the Samoan quote which states, 'A leai le gagana, ua leai le aganu’u, a leai le aganu’u, ua leai le gagana', meaning, without language there is no culture and without culture there is no language.
Which I think is 100 percent true. Take for example, the Samoan culture - it wouldn't be complete without its unique language (gagana) and for most of our cultural customs and practices we always have to speak our gagana (language).
It would be disrespectful if we did our cultural customs while speaking English, it just won’t make sense.
Therefore, I believe our languages are highly significant.
Not only that, but our Pasifika languages differentiate us from other cultures worldwide.
I think everyone, especially our youth now should appreciate the importance of our languages as they are unique and essential for keeping our cultures alive.
Everything is possible if our lands don’t sink.
So, in order to save our homes we must act against climate change, for we deserve to have our lands upon surface for the next 100 years.
Keeping our languages alive
The best thing we all can do to keep our languages alive is to just speak them wherever and whenever we can.
This way, we’re maintaining our fluency and good pronunciation.
Another way of keeping our languages alive, especially for the upcoming generation, is to encourage everyone to take language classes in schools.
So that way, if they're not speaking or learning their language at home, at least they're speaking it at school.
In future, I’d like to see more Pasifika people speaking their languages in Aotearoa.
Over the years there has been a dramatic drop in people speaking their native tongue, which is deeply problematic.
If we lose our languages, then we will also start to lose our cultural practices, values, customs and so on.
Even though we're living on Aotearoa land, it does not detract from the fact that we should still speak our languages.
We must always try to speak them as much as we can and never be ashamed to do so.
A short message I would like to share with our young Pasifika in Aotearoa, is to be proud of who you are and where you come from.
I know the media often leaves us on the margins and categorises us as low achievers, bad or poor people.
All of that means nothing if we truly know who we are and are proud of it. Be proud of your culture and your language, even if it appears to be different and weird to others.
We were all born to be different and so make sure you stand out and always be proud of who you are.
We are all a product of the moana – I am way proud to be one and so should you.