i) Cultural Bridge between Niue and Niue people abroad
Contact with the outside world and increased information lead Niuean’s towards different perceptions and aspirations. Merchants and traders followed on the heels of missionaries, bringing with them not only foreign goods and a new economic order of barter and money currency but also foreign values and expectations. Thus, under the influence of the missionaries, traders and merchants, the people of Niue became embroiled in a new order of spirituality and culture. Willingly, intentionally or otherwise the people of Niue were now confronted for the first time in their history with choices involving the traditional, the introduced, or both. The `palagi world’ had arrived to compete with the `traditional world’ as people had known it. From 1846 to about 1950 the people of Niue became a changed people. They became a people with new socioeconomic expectations and aspirations, adapted to new values and styles including a new language – English! Their traditional basis of spirituality and culture had changed taking on new forms and expectations.
By the middle of the 1950s some of the people had decided that their new expectations could not be realised in Niue. New Zealand, they perceived, was the place where greater opportunity existed for highly paid employment, higher education and a more exciting social lifestyle. So, acting on their citizenship right of free enter into New Zealand people started leaving in small numbers at first. The number that left at any one time was limited only by available passages on ships which at best called at Niue about ten times a year. Nevertheless, a chain migration had begun. It grew more rapidly from 1971 when commercial air services started operating with the opening of the airport. The migration process was by then irreversible and the decline in the population living permanently in Niue was inevitable. In 1965, the population was 5,400 but at the end of September 2004 the official count was 1,700. The 2001 Census in New Zealand showed over 20,000 people who registered themselves as Niuean. The number in Australia is not known for now, and although considerably less than in New Zealand the number is significant and increasing as Niuean New Zealanders move across the Tasman.
In summary, the threat emanates directly from:
- The fact that, as a direct consequence of outward migration, there remains at home only a small number of Niueans committed to sustaining Niue as a viable sovereign community.
- The influence and impact on Traditional Niuean culture of Christian spiritually, and an introduced order of social and economic lifestyle that has evolved over a period of 158 years.
Niue restored its sovereignty in 1974 by an act of self-determination to have self-governance in free association with New Zealand. The special arrangements under this free association with New Zealand give the people of Niue obvious advantages, such as guaranteed sovereignty, citizenship, economic support, and the choice of having two countries in which to live. Yet it is these very advantages that have created some challenging problems for Niue and for those committed to sustaining it. Of particular concern is the delicate balance upon which Niue’s future hangs. The small resident population places the people under considerable strain, even with the generous support from New Zealand. The future welfare of Niue’s sovereignty, along with the people’s culture and heritage, is not guaranteed unless an assertive effort is made now to sustain them and to have them secured. Such assertive effort will, if possible, include the participation of Niue people living permanently abroad. Although the primary responsibility and the task of facing this challenge rests squarely on the shoulders of those living on Niue, Niueans abroad also have vested interest in the viability of Niue and survival of its culture, for their ethnic identity is inherently rooted, in spirit if not body, in their original ancestral home.
Participation of Niue people abroad
The Government of Niue, when approving the establishment of Tāoga Niue, also acknowledge that the task of securing the future welfare of the culture and people of Niue would be greatly assisted by the support and participation of Niue people abroad. However, the Government recognised that whilst those abroad have a right to retain their ethnic identity, being able to do so could only be sustained through continued affiliation with their ancestral home. It is, therefore, of mutual concern and interest to develop an appropriate strategy that would best the interests of both Niue people abroad and Niue people at home. Developing a “cultural bridge” is the suggested strategy. The initial move towards end is:
- Firstly, to obtain confirmation that those abroad generally wish to retain their ethnic identity as a Niue person, by continuing cultural affiliation with their ancestral home.
- Secondly, that they agree to contribute to, and benefit from, the work of Tāoga Niue.
- Thirdly, to agree to the development, support and maintenance of a cultural bridge between those abroad and those at home, as part of Tāoga Niue.
ii) Cultural Bridge between Niueans Abroad and their Ancestral Home
Reflecting the Passage of Time
The freedom to move freely to New Zealand has contributed considerably to the decline in the resident population in Niue. The Government of Niue has deemed this a major problem and has been looking at strategies to encourage people to stay but have found this most difficult to achieve.
We understand the Governments concern as there are not enough people to contribute to sustainability and development of the country. Some views have been expressed in the Assembly about the development of closer ties between those who have left and those remaining at home.
Language indicates the identity of a person and it also identifies their country of birth wherever they go outside of their own country. Maintaining the language and securing its future is therefore very important. It must be promoted as the first language in the home and at community meetings or gatherings. But above all, it should be taught properly from the beginning of the education process of our children, as is being introduced at some of the pre-schools in New Zealand today. It would seem that Niue people find it quite easy to move away from the use of their own language to the English language because both languages have equal status, as is stated in the Niue Constitution. One Niuean is known to have said; “when you can get a university degree in the Niuean language, only then should it be taught to our children”. This learned individual is a senior Niuean and his children are Niuean. The comment is typical of the thinking of some of our people when the question of sustaining our own language is raised by those who are also interested in developing relationship bridging. That a Niuean can easily revert from his or her own Niuean language to English is without a doubt important. Very often the pronunciation and the types of words used, even though the supposedly Niuean media is a confused mixture that leaves one wondering about the use of the true Niuean language. This is probably one to the issues requiring serious consideration by the Government of Niue, particularly the Tāoga Niue, and also by Niuean communities abroad, because it is clear the language is progressively disappearing.
One way to help our situation is to support the teaching and encourage the use of our language to our small children (0-5 yearsold). There are two useful suggestions we can seriously consider from the experience of what the New Zealand Government has done to sustain the heritage languages of the Pacific peoples in New Zealand.
First, the Government of New Zealand provides grants to assist pre-schools, towards the remuneration of preschool teachers and also towards the care of young children for those parents who work full-time. Secondly, that use, be made of parents and young people who have difficult securing employment, to assist with the work carried out by pre-schools. The New Zealand Government takes very seriously the need for heritage language and the need to sustain those cultures. Again this is a `relationship bridging’ issue.
Customs, Traditions, Arts and Crafts
The home is the first place to teach the language, the customs and traditions of Niue, as well as other cultural forms and arts and crafts to both males and females (cooking, etc.). Increasingly, Niue people in New Zealand are buying other people’s craft items, such as tika heads and model canoes, instead of making their own. Although there are only a few who are producing traditional Niuean handcrafts, they have been able to meet market demands. One problem is the difficulty of obtaining proper timber or wood that is used for this purpose in Niue. Another trend has been the permeation of non-Niuean cultural forms, in particular in the performing arts. A considerable amount of music, including the lyrics, has become a blend of Niuean language terminology and Niuean language music with those, for example, of the Cook Islands and other Pacific Islands. This also applies to dances and chants. While it is true that these arts and cultures forms ate living ideas, and susceptible to the influence of other people’s concepts, an effort should nevertheless be made to apply and in that way sustain our own original forms.
This initiative that has been taken by the Government of Niue and the Tāoga Niue Committee is an opportunity for teaching and recording true Niuean customs and traditions, including all forms of arts and crafts. It is an excellent opportunity and we are most grateful for this new initiative. We are right behind the work to be pursued; for once again, these aspects fit the `bridging relationship’ process.