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Tuvalu’s unique contribution to Pacific Aotearoa

Tuvalu’s unique contribution to Pacific Aotearoa

  • 04 Oct 2020
Emily Soapi

Proud Tuvaluan Emily Soapi says living in a country where the dominant culture is western poses a high risk for acculturation.

However, the Ministry for Pacific Peoples (MPP) Pacific Language Week series shows New Zealand’s commitment to valuing Pacific presence in Aotearoa.

“By setting aside a week annually to celebrate the vast Pacific cultures ensures we acknowledge the minority groups and the contribution they have made to the wider New Zealand community, and the richness of multiculturalism these groups bring,” Emily says.

Last week, New Zealand celebrated Tuvalu Language Week, now in its fifth year as part of the 2020 Pacific Language Weeks series.

Hosted by the Tuvalu Auckland Community Trust, a range of interactive, online events which illuminated the heritage, language, and culture of Tuvalu took place.

The week also coincided with Tuvalu Independence Day on October 1.   

Born inNanumea, Tuvalu, Emily and her family migrated to Auckland when she was seven years old.

Now a Registered Nurse with the Auckland District Health Board, Emily has most recently been working as part of the COVID-19 response team for contact tracing during the peak of the second wave, which hit the Pacific community hard.  

This year’s Tuvalu Language Week theme of Fakatili Te Kiloga Fou, which means Navigating the changing environment, resonated with Emily as it is essentially a call on all Pacific peoples to be strong and resilient in the face of COVID-19.

“Part of my work at ADHB is working with Pacific patients waitlisted for surgery,” Emily says. 

“As a Clinical Nurse specialist, I support, and co-ordinate planned care between patient and family and health services.

“I think the theme for Tuvaluan week resonates highly with this current role because essentially I am ‘navigating’ patients and family through their surgical pathway.”

In past years, Emily has been heavily involved in the Tuvalu community in New Zealand.

“I was in charge of organising the first Miss Tuvalu New Zealand pageant in Auckland,” she explains.

“My best friend and I thought of the idea – we wanted a platform for our young Tuvaluan girls to not only showcase our culture to the wider community but also get an opportunity to learn their cultural practices - tuu mo faifaiga Tuvalu, language and get the opportunity to go back to the homeland.” 

These aspects are especially important for the “New Zealand-born Tuvaluan girl”, who may not always think about the small island and the connection it has with one’s cultural identity, Emily adds.

These days, Emily is not so involved in community activities and events however, she did her best to bring awareness about her culture during Tuvalu Language Week while on holiday in Queenstown.

“I greeted strangers in my mother tongue around Queenstown,” she says.

“It was also a goal to instil unto my children the importance of language and I spoke Tuvaluan all week after my seven-year-old requested me to.”

Tuvalu is unique and Emily loves to share cultural experiences and interesting facts about the island nation.

“We are not a homogenous island nation and we are made up of eight islands.

“We each have slightly different cultural practices and norms, for example, the traditional dancing attire varies across the eight islands with regards to the design and colour combinations used.

“The head garland (fou/fau) we wear at special occasions, that too is weaved differently by each island accordingly.”

Tuvalu boasts a culture and language alive in New Zealand that is worth celebrating, Emily says.

The Pacific Language Weeks series is an ideal opportunity to embrace all the different Pacific cultures which make up Pacific Aotearoa.

Fijian Language Week is next in the series and runs from October 4-10.

Visit MPP for more information.