Being Tongan in Aotearoa

Being Tongan in Aotearoa

Born and raised in New Zealand, Etelini Manoa is a young Tongan woman in her second year of a BA majoring in Anthropology and Pacific Studies.  In this myView blog post she highlights the importance of learning the Tongan language and culture and explains why she is celebrating Tonga Language Week. 

Etelini Manoa—Student and President of the University’s Tongan Students’ Association.

Malo e lelei—ko hoku hingoa ko Etelini Manoa. I am a second-year student studying Anthropology and Pacific Studies. I am also the current President of the Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington Tongan Students’ Association.

Growing up in a Tongan household in New Zealand has definitely had its benefits, but there has sometimes been a cost. Living in New Zealand meant that my siblings and I were able to attend a good secondary school, play the sports we wanted, and access all that is provided by this land of milk and honey. However, living here has also meant that my siblings and I struggled to learn the language of our ancestors—lea fakatonga (Tongan Language). We grew up in a humble home, with a parent who provided us with the best life she could. To help us learn about Tonga and the language, our mother encouraged us to use it in our home, because she knew that it was the one place we would be able to learn. 

Etelini with her sisters in front of the Christmas tree at the family home in Blenheim.

We have done our best to learn about the country whose traditions, culture, and language are interwoven into our lives, regardless of whether we live there or not.

Moving to Wellington to pursue tertiary education was a hard step for me as I left behind my main support unit. I was also afraid of meeting other Tongans and being ‘not Tongan enough’, ‘plastic’, or ‘fie palangi (a term used for Tongans born and raised in western, metropolitan societies). All are words New Zealand-born Tongans dread hearing.

It has not always been an easy journey moving to Wellington and studying at this University, but what journey is? Being Tongan is something I am proud of and I will continue to rep #676 (the phone area code number for Tonga). Being a Tongan student at this University is also something I am proud of because there are not many of us. In Tonga we say, si’i pe kae ha—we may be small, but we are capable of great things. 

Because I enrolled in Trimester 2 of 2018, I didn’t join the Tongan Students’ Association until the following year. I didn’t know that the University had a group specifically for Tongan students and for those who wanted to know and learn more about the culture. I found out through one of my volleyball teammates, who was part of the Association in 2018 and I was eager to join.

Left: Etelini and Dame Winnie Laban at the Tonga Language Week launch, which was held on Monday 7 September. Right: VUWTSA girls performing a tau’olunga at the launch.

I picked up my first role as Sports Officer in my first year of being in Stallions (Tongan Students’ Association) and I made sure that I was involved in a lot of the events because of my passion for our Tongan culture. I then made the huge step of becoming President for 2020. 

That’s why I am celebrating Tonga Language Week this week. Because no matter what, Tonga is in my heart and in my blood and no matter where you grew up, I believe that as long as you are open to learning your culture, you are doing your ancestors and family proud. 

Ko e ‘Otua mo Tonga, ko hoku Tofi’a.

Etelini Manoa is studying towards a BA majoring in Anthropology and Pacific Studies. 


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