Tokelau Language Week: “My grandmother’s legacy.”

Tokelau nurse, Melania Wright-Leleimalefaga, is proud to be the granddaughter of Melania Pou Patelehio – a renowned songwriter and dancer who wrote many popular songs in her native Tokelau language.

Melania, who is a senior practice nurse at the Pacific Health Plus clinic in Wellington, says her grandmother left a lasting legacy and through her music, has helped promote and celebrate their language. One of her songs, Nukunonu e toku nuku peleina, is popular today and has many versions on Youtube.

“I feel happy when I hear people sing my grandmother’s songs. She wrote beautiful lyrics and makes me really proud of what she has achieved.”

Melania was born and raised in the atoll of Nukunonu in Tokelau and moved to New Zealand in 1988 to study nursing.

She says that her grandmother’s work has inspired her to speak her language in New Zealand at every opportunity.

“The best way to promote the language is by dancing and singing our songs as this encourages our people to speak it.”

She likes the fact that the Tokelau language is very similar to the Samoan language, which is where her husband, Tauaefa Jeffata, comes from. They can understand each other whenever they have conversations where Tauaefe speaks Samoan and she speaks Tokelau.

“I can understand Samoan just by knowing how to speak Tokelauan. It shows how closely connected we are as a Pacific people.

We need to retain our languages as best as we can. It’s part of who we are.”

Melania’s favourite Tokelau proverb is also the theme of this year’s language week: Apoapo tau whoe, I na tawhea I te galuta. Ke mau mai, ke mau mai

“In English it means never give up hope, even amidst chaos and much uncertainty, stay calm, united and strong.

I like this proverb because it’s also relevant to what we have been through during Covid-19 – we must stay strong, even amidst the chaos.”


Date: Wednesday 28 April 2020