Toa Niue: Sir Robert Rex

This week is Niue Language Week. Why is Niue Language Week celebrated around this time every year? It’s because it coincides with one of the most important events in Niue’s history.

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Niue had been a Protectorate of Britain before New Zealand took over in 1901. New Zealand and Niue had a close relationship, but by the 1960s many people felt Niueans could do a better job of leading Niueans and that it was time for change.

Sir Robert Rex (1909-1992) was one of those people.  Robert helped Niue gain self government and was Niue’s first Premier. He was the longest serving head of government in the Pacific and one of Niue’s greatest modern leaders.

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Robert’s mother was Fisimonomono Tufaina from Avatele. His father was Leslie Rex from Tasmania.

When he was a child, Robert was fascinated by Niuean culture. There was nothing he enjoyed more than sitting in the fales listening to the matuas [old people] telling ancient stories of Niuean heroes like Laufoli.

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As Robert grew older he wondered how he could serve the Niuean people. He decided to become an interpreter and peacemaker. Robert would travel to villages and help people solve problems. He had great knowledge of Niuean customs and people respected the
things he said.

Robert was good at his job. But he felt he could help Niue more by becoming a politician. Throughout the 1960s he watched other Pacific islands become independent nations. He wanted his own country to have more say in the way it was run.

“We want to decide for ourselves what our future is going to be”, Robert said.

From the late 1960s, Robert’s goal, along with two other important men in Niuean history, Terry Chapman and Young Vivian, was for Niue to gain self-government. They travelled to New Zealand and the United Nations and held fonos and workshops all over Niue. It was a
long process. They wanted to do it properly, in a way the Niuean people would be happy with.

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On 19th October 1974, thanks to the determination of the three men, Niue finally became self-governing. At last, Niueans would have more control over their destiny. Niueans
all over the world celebrate Aho Pulefakamotu on 19th October every year in memory of this event.

Robert was elected as Niue’s first Premier and remained so until his death in 1992. In 1984 he became the first Niuean to receive a knighthood.

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The Niuean flag was designed by Sir Robert’s wife Lady Patricia Tuagatagaloa Rex. Lady Patricia was an artistic person, talented at weaving and hand crafts. She came from the village of Alofi.

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  • The yellow background represents the warmth of the Niuean people.
  • The Union flag represents that Niue was once protected by Britain.
  • The four small stars represent Niue’s close relationship with New Zealand.
  • The large star inside a blue circle represents Niue self government, Niue
    standing on its own in the Pacific ocean.

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I’ve just published a new play that my Niuean students helped me to write. It’s called Rock Bottom. The play is centred around teenage Niuean girl, Lologo, who lives with her Nan, father and two brothers. Mum has recently passed away and everyone is struggling with it in their own way. Dad is afraid of losing any more family members and becomes overly strict on the children causing conflict, especially with Lologo.

Rock Bottom was shortlisted in Playmarket’s Plays for the Young Awards. Click on the cover for more information. Happy Niue Language Week everyone!

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Enriching Aotearoa with the Tongan Spirit

Hey everyone, it’s Tongan Language Week this week and I’m launching my new book, Tongan Heroes. In the lead up to the launch I’m going to post short pieces and clips about some of the heroes in the book.

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The theme of Tongan Language Week is ‘Fakakoloa ‘a Aotearoa ‘aki ‘a e Loto’i Tonga’  — Enriching Aotearoa with the Tongan Spirit. Today’s Tongan Hero has done just that!

Filipe Tohi

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Filipe Tohi is a world famous, award winning artist whose work is found in places as diverse as China, England, France, Japan and even Saudi Arabia! He’s a drawer, sculptor, painter, carver, photographer, and videographer … when it comes to visual arts, there’s nothing this talented son of Tonga can’t do!

Growing up in Tonga, Filipe found ways to get paid for his talents. He made stencils from the covers of exercise books and used them to print designs on his friends’ tee shirts. His most popular prints were of ABBA, Bruce Lee, hibiscus flowers and other Tongan images and patterns. In return, his “customers” bought him movie tickets and ice creams.

Filipe says an important moment in his life was when he learned about “lashing”. Some people asked him to lash a special canoe for a museum and gave him some books containing drawings of traditional lashing techniques.

He experimented with different kinds of lashing styles of his own, mixing them with tapa patterns and other Tongan designs.

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“I like the patterns the lashings make because they remind me of how Pacific people are connected,” he says. “The rope is like an umbilical cord that binds canoes and houses and people together.”

Find out more about Filipe in Tongan Heroes

Check out the Ministry for Pacific Peoples website for resources to use during Tongan Language Week, including useful Tongan phrases.

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Dalvanius, the Fijian Sevens team and the hit song made on a marae

This week I went to see Poi E: The Story of our Song … what an inspiring film! I learned an amazing lesson about self belief from this film … and from the Fijian Sevens rugby team, and the singer, Kings!

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The film tells the story behind the success of the classic NZ song Poi E,  written by Ngoi Pewhairangi and Dalvanius Prime.

Some people criticised Dalvanius for mixing a Maori song with modern beats and instruments, break dancing and space invader noises. They said he was disrespecting traditions and that elders would hate the song.

That didn’t stop Dalvanius.

He believed the song would make people proud of Maori culture and language, especially young people. He believed music was an effective way to reach youth and to teach them about Maori culture and values.

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Radio stations wouldn’t play the song because at the time they rarely played New Zealand songs, let alone one sung entirely in Maori.

That didn’t stop Dalvanius.

If radio stations wouldn’t play the song, he’d take it to the people himself!  He travelled around South Auckland and played it where the people were. One place was in gyms. He asked trainers to put the song on and see if people would love traing to it. They did!

People began to buy the song and soon it went to number one on the NZ music charts. It stayed at number one for four weeks. Not even Michael Jackson could top the popularity of Poi E in New Zealand.

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Dalvanius and the Patea Maori Club were even invited by Queen Elizabeth to do a Royal Command Performance in Scotland. Dalvanius asked various government departments for support to take the group to Scotland but they all turned him down.

That didn’t stop Dalvanius.

He mortgaged his own home so the group could go. And the people in Britain loved the song and the performance.

Poi E made a comeback in 2010 when it featured in the  film Boy. It reached No.3 on the NZ singles chart in May that year. Poi E is the only New Zealand song to make the hit charts over three decades.

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It’s so cool that Dalvanius had so much belief in his song, even when others didn’t and that he did all he could to see it fulfil all its potential. I think Dalvanius squeezed every bit of success he could out of it.

The Fiji Sevens rugby team are like that. They come from a small place, if by small we mean the size of the land mass.  There are fewer resources than other nations and less money. But they don’t focus on what they don’t have  … instead they focus on what they do have – a tradition of growing some of the greatest sevens rugby players in the world.

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Other nations picked their professional 15s players for Rio. New Zealand commentators wondered why All Blacks like Beauden Barrett and Ben Smith weren’t in the Kiwi team. Fiji don’t think that way.

“We’re picking the boys from the villages and we’re using that as a real strength,” said coach Ben Ryan. “If we’re going to win a gold medal medal, it’s going to be because of the heart and the ability and the local players from the villages doing their thing.”

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And though they come from a small nation, with fewer resources than other nations, their expectations and goals were not small at all. They expected to win. “No Fijian team will ever be happy with a silver medal,” said Fiji sevens legend Waisale Serevi.

Don’t Worry Bout It is the only Kiwi song in this week’s Official Top 40. The artist Kings, created the song in his own studio which is located in his marae, Awataha. “If you can encourage people to believe enough, things can happen,” he said in an interview on Marae. “That’s a big belief in our family.”

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Kings says he struggled with the decision to stay in a safe job, folding boxes at Target in Australia, or to follow music, his passion. I’m glad he had that belief in himself to trust his talent and to not be content with a “safe” life, but to get everything he can out of his talent. Kings says his goal now is to win 5 Grammy Awards, so that he can share his music and his culture with more people.

Dalvanius Prime, the Fiji Sevens team and Kings are such encouraging examples for all of us, especially for me: let’s trust ourselves, use our strengths to make our best work, and try to squeeze every bit of success we can out of our lives.

Have an awesome week everyone.

And if you get the chance … go see Poi E: The Story of our Song!

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The Shine and the Struggle

If you  watched the Olympic Opening Ceremony, you would have seen the memorable entrance of the Tongan team led by their coconut-oil glistening flag bearer, Pita Taufatofua.

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Pita missed qualifying for the Olympics three times and has suffered numerous serious injuries, including six broken bones, three torn ligaments and months in a wheelchair. But he persevered and finally achieved his goal this year.

“What people see now is the guy who broke the internet covered in oil,” he said. “They don’t see the struggle. They only see the shine. … Everyone out there is on their own little journey, and I want them to push through. I think people give up too easy.”

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There was one thing Pita said that I’ve heard before in various forms: “It’s important for me to get Tonga seen by the world and for everyone around the world to see that you can come from a tiny island country and we can do our bit to bring it to the big boys.”

The late Tongan social anthropologist and writer, Epeli Hau’ofa, questioned the thought that Tonga and other Pacific Islands are “tiny” or “small”.

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“Smallness is a state of mind,” he wrote in We Are the Ocean. “The peoples of Oceania did not conceive of their world in microscopic proportions.

“Their universe comprised not only land surfaces but the surrounding ocean as far as they could traverse and exploit it, the underworld with its fire-controlling denizens, and the heavens above with their hierarchies of powerful gods and named stars and constellations that people could count on to guide their ways across the seas.

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“Their world was anything but tiny.

“They thought big and recounted their deeds in epic proportions. One legendary Oceanian athlete was so powerful that during a competition he threw his javelin with such force that it pierced the horizon and disappeared until that night when it was seen streaking across the sky like a meteor.”

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For more on the epic history and achievements of Pasifika Olympians check out my new book, Olympic Islands.

You’ll read the inspirational stories of some of the most successful athletes the Pacific has known, including multiple gold medal winners Duke Kahanamoku (Hawaiian swimmer), Greg Louganis (Samoan-American diver) and Valerie Adams (Tongan shot putter). These athletes did not think of their world as tiny, they thought big and achieved big!

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Find out more about Pita’s journey in this awesome article from the Chicago Tribune and this interview he did on Radio NZ

 

 

 

 

Olympic Islands

The Olympics start this week and it’s also Cook Islands language week. In honour of both events, here’s a history of the Cook Islands in the Olympics, taken from my new book Olympic Islands.

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The Cook Islands competed in the Olympic Games for the first time at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, Korea.

Boxer, Zekaria Williams was the first Cook Islander to appear in the Olympics. He entered the flyweight division and lost his only fight to a boxer from the Soviet Union who went on to win the bronze medal. Erin Tierney was the first Cook Island female to compete at the Olympics. She ran in the 100m and 200m events, finishing in eighth place in both her heats.

Memorable Performance: Luisa Peters (Weightlifting)

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Luisa competed in the women’s 75kg category at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. She finished in 12th place, equal to the Cook Islands’ highest ever placing in an Olympics.

“Waking up every day knowing that you’re at the Olympics is the best feeling ever,” Luisa said. “Think I’ve done good for my first Olympics.”

Luisa comes from Avatiu in the Cook Islands and attended Tereora College. She’s a living example of the school’s motto, “Kia Toa”. She’s strong and courageous in representing the Cook Islands on the world stage.

Legends: Sam Pera Sr and Sam Pera Jr  (Weightlifting)

Athens 2004 OG, Weightlifting, -105kg Men - Final, Sam PERA (COK).

Sam Sr was a weightlifter who represented the Cook Islands in three Olympics: 1992, 1996 and 2004. He is the Cook Islands’ most decorated Olympian and won the Cook Islands Sportsman of the Year award five times.

Sam’s son, Sam Jr was also a weightlifter. In 2006, they competed against each other at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. It was the first time a father and son had competed in the same event at a Commonwealth Games.

Sam Jr won their battle … but his father didn’t mind. “It’s just as well he beat me,” Sam Sr said. “My wife told me before we flew out to Australia that I’d be in a lot of trouble if I beat my son.”

How did Sam Jr feel? “I always wanted to beat my dad as he’s always set the standard for me growing up,” he said. “I’m really proud of what I achieved here and what he’s achieved throughout his career.”

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Sam Jr showed how much he had learned from his dad when he made history himself at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. His 12th place finish in the 105kg Superheavyweight category is equal to the highest ever placing by a Cook Islander at an Olympics.

World Class Performance: Christie Mokotupu (Volleyball)

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Christie is a Cook Islander who was selected in the Australian women’s volleyball team for the Sydney Olympics. She was just 17 years old  but was considered to be one of the best young international volleyball players in the world at the time. She played over 200 test matches for Australia. Christie’s family hails from Tautu, Aitutaki.

Watch Luisa Peters talk about her training here:

Would you like to read more about the history of Pasifika Olympians? Check out Olympic Islands, a celebration of the history and achievements of the greatest Olympians the Pacific has known.

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Book Review: Tangaroa’s Gift, by Mere Whaanga

Ive always loved this book. Beautiful writing and illustrations and a moving story for kids. Its awesome to see a new edition published 🙂

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_tangaroas_giftScholastic has published a new edition of  bilingual classic Tangaroa’s Gift, by Mere Whaanga, which tells the story of a sad and lonely sea creature named Paua, who ended up with a gift that changed his life.

The book has the Māori and English text on facing pages so will be welcomed by those who are fluent in Māori as well as those who want to learn.

Paua was sad because he could not find a friend. There weren’t many like him and it was hard to find others because they all had to hide from the hungry fish. He so ached with loneliness that Tangaroa, the god of the sea, asks him what is wrong.

Paua tells how the fish and other sea creatures taunt him with their beauty and speed and laugh at his ugliness. Tangaroa decides Paua deserves something special, so he makes…

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