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Our Niuean cultural experience


Karl Vasau.

Karl Vasau, principal of Rowandale Primary School in South Auckland, recently took some of his teachers to Niue to learn more about the language and culture.

In this blog, Karl reflects on this cultural exchange and shares some activities that his school uses to promote the language and culture of Niue.

“Ke fakamau, fakamanatu mo e fakaaoga tumau e Vagahau Niue.”

“The maintenance, retention and development of Vagahau Niue (Niue language).”

Rowandale School logo.

My father is Niuean and my mother is Samoan and palagi. Both were born and bred in their respective countries. My experience of Niue is what I’ve been shown in New Zealand by the Niuean community I grew up in. I consider myself lucky because two of my Niuean grandparents are still alive and my father is fluent in Vagahau Niue. This means that some of the questions I have regarding my identity and family history can be answered.

The Niuean visit came about after members of the Niue Government visited Rowandale School in 2016 and spoke about their desire to improve educational outcomes for Niue students, to strengthen the education provided by their schools, and to address areas identified as part of their recent ERO review. Mrs Moka Vaka, the principal of Niue Primary, spent a week with us at Rowandale having meetings and discussions with myself and the senior leadership team on a variety of areas including self review, appraisals, responsive curriculum, leading learning and teaching, parental engagement, strategic vision, and professional learning development opportunities. She also accompanied me to a number of principal meetings that involved her networking and meeting Pasifika principals who belong to the New Zealand Pasifika Principals’ Association.

Niue - Avatele.

So in term 3 2017 I travelled to Niue to further mentor and provide support for Mrs Vaka and the Niue Primary staff. I went with five other Rowandale staff members of Niuean descent or who had strong connections with Niue, and some family members. My thinking is that in order to teach children, you need to know the learner, but first teachers need to know who they are. It was a reciprocal learning experience. We provided professional development, particularly team teaching strategies and workshops for staff and parents to help Niue Primary collect parent and student voice.

What made this visit special for me is that, as a New Zealand born Niuean, I have never travelled to Niue but I’ve always felt very proud to acknowledge that I am the first principal of a school in New Zealand of Niuean Heritage.

We spent a week immersed in the Niuean culture and education system. Each teacher was paired up with a Niuean teacher to team teach and work collaboratively over four days. During this time different teachers from Rowandale led and provided professional learning development (PLD) for the teachers and staff of Niue Primary and the Early Childhood Centre (ECC).

For the teachers from Rowandale and Niue this exchange allowed them to:

  • develop their cultural identity of who they are so they can share this with their own students, family and each other
  • develop their leadership through presenting and leading PLD for and with each other
  • reinforce and strengthen their own beliefs and understanding about best practice
  • develop a reciprocal relationship based around support and collaboration between NPS and RPS
  • enhance, reinforce, and strengthen their teaching as inquiry appraisals.
Fakaalofa - food.

Soon after we arrived we were formally welcomed by Moka and her staff and were absolutely blown away by the “fakaalofa” we received. The entertainment, food, and refreshments were just simply amazing – faakaue lahi Niue Primary School!

We were shown the sights of Niue. I was amazed because I thought Niue would be like a “rock” but it’s one of the biggest islands I’ve been to. The flora and fauna are so expansive and reflect the untouched nature of Niue.

Niue - Togo.

We visited Togo, just outside of the village of Hakupu and within the Huvalu Conservation Area, and to get there you need to walk a 45 minute track through an ancient coastal forest. Togo is surrounded by unusually fascinating landscape and rock formations. At the end of the track is a beautiful inland beach in an oasis like setting. Totally worth the effort.

Hikulagi Sculpture Park - Protean Habitat.

We then headed to Hikulagi Sculpture Park and observed what one can do with discarded materials and junk metals. Two sculptures that stood out for me were the “Protean Habitat” by Mark Cross and “Sale’s Fale” by the Niuean community. This inspired a couple of teachers in our group to maybe create a similar thing along our PRIDE Walk.

Niue - gifts of taro.

We observed what goes on at a Niuean haircutting ceremony. This was a first for some of us seeing how the gifts of taro and meat are divided up into portions that reflect your financial contribution.

We were formally welcomed to Niue Primary School (NPS) by the students, staff and Government officials. The welcome started with a formal “takalo”performed by senior students. It was both powerful and moving. Students were dressed as traditional Niuean warriors armed with ka-toua (spears).

Takalo - performed by senior students.

In Niue, school starts at 8am and finishes at 1:45pm. For one of our PLD sessions we shared our journey towards creating a culture of more Agentic behaviour. From the feedback we received it was good food for thought and definitely something they would like to learn more about.


Rowandale teacher Mrs Sagote, and her husband Fono, led the whole school in Zumba, which was a new experience for Niuean teachers and students. They loved it and are keen to see this type of whole school or team fitness return to their learning programme at Niue Primary School.

Parent workshop on numeracy.

Our Rowandale School group ran a parent workshop on numeracy. We were unsure of the turn out we would get but it was one of the most attended parent events to date.

Tunu-paku preparation.

To finish off our night the teachers at NPS put on a traditional Niuean BBQ known as a Tunu-paku. It is cooked on an open fire and is set out so that people eat the food straight off the hot plate. It was absolutely delicious and we were again blown away by the fakaalofa shown to our group.

Niuean vaka - gift from NPS.

This trip was not just about providing PLD for Niue teachers but also making sure that each teacher from Rowandale developed and strengthened themselves on a professional and personal level. We were exposed to cultural events so we could grow and learn about being Niuean. As well as attending church on Sunday, we visited historical and spiritual sights around the island. The biggest learning for us came from connecting with family and the land where our ancestors lived years ago. One of the teachers found her grandmother’s grave. For me, a teacher who has that experience can offer more to her students.

I was able to see with my own eyes where my father was born and where he grew up. My great grandmother was one of many children and I didn’t even know her name. Now I know how I fit into this world so I can pass this knowledge on to my son. This is important to Niueans.

I know some basic Niuean words but I’m studying Niuean language at Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) this year. This trip made me want to learn more Vagahau Niue. The language is not the only part of the culture but it is definitely important. There are fewer Niuean language speakers around now so it’s important we make options available to our students.

How can teachers foster Vagahau Niue in their classrooms? What happens at Rowandale School?

At Rowandale School our Niue Language Week starts with a Flag Raising Ceremony on Monday morning led by senior Niuean students. Last year they read 10 important facts about Niue:

  • Niue is an island country in the South Pacific.
  • Niue uses New Zealand currency.
  • Niue is one of the only places in the world where you can swim with whales in crystal clear water.
  • Niue is a Wi-Fi nation – FREE access for the whole country.
  • Niue has a population of 1400.
  • The capital of Niue is Alofi.
  • More Niueans live in New Zealand than Niue.
  • Rugby is the most popular sport in Niue.
  • The Niue Star is the newspaper in Niue.
  • Niue land area is 260 square kilometres.
Niuean Flag.

A student explained the significance of the Niuean Flag:

"The Union Jack symbolises the protection granted by the United Kingdom in 1900 after petitioning by the Kings and Chiefs of Niue. The Golden Yellow is inspired by the bright sunshine of Niue and also said to symbolise the warm feelings of the Niuean people towards New Zealand and her people.

The association with NZ, which took over responsibility and administration of Niue in 1901, is also represented by the Four Small Stars that depict the Southern Cross. Finally the Blue Disc containing a larger star represents the deep blue sea surrounding the self-governing island of Niue.”

  • Niue weaving - placemats.
    Each class learned the Niue National Anthem and how to weave placemats.  
  • In Niue, weaving (especially hats) is a tradition carried out by both men and women.
  • Traditionally weaving is done by using flax but we used A5 paper instead. We exposed the children to basic weaving skills.
  • They explored different colours with the older students, trying harder designs instead of the basic straight lines. Nice and easy, you can use this video to show the value of weaving in Niue.
Karl Vasau.

At the end of the week we had a special celebration assembly with music, dance, culture, craft, art and food. We had special Niuean guests perform a beautiful Niuean song and a traditional welcome dance.

Rowandale Primary School sign.

One of our special guests spoke about how she was very proud to be Niuean and that she was happy to share her language with people especially young Niueans. Another spoke about how she had four things she has used to get her to where she is today: listen to your parents; listen to your teachers; do your homework; and set reachable goals. She finished her talk with a beautiful Niuean dance.

I spoke about my experiences as a young Niuean born in Grey Lynn and then performed a traditional Niuean Haka, much to the school's amusement. Our special guests judged the Niuean weaving competition, with the winning class getting to display a traditional Niuean Sika in their room.

Throughout the day the Niuean students helped prepare tikihi, a traditional Niuean food, and learned how to scrape the coconut. For lunch the students and staff enjoyed some amazing food and there was plenty for everyone. It's a privilege to celebrate the culture, history, and food of the beautiful islands of Niue.

Fakaaue lahi / motulo kia (Thank you and regards).

Supporting resources

Niue Language Week
This special week gives speakers of Vagahau Niue the chance to be experts in the classroom, and allows whānau and the wider Niue community to see their language and culture being treasured in New Zealand schools. This page provides ideas, resources, and inspiration to help you learn and celebrate Vagahau Niue with your school community.