University of Auckland: Celebrating Sāmoan Wayfinders

Vaiaso o le Gagana Sāmoa is a time to celebrate not only Gagana Samoa but also the people who are guardians of the language.

This year the theme of Vaiaso o le Gagana Sāmoa is, Fa’aāuāu le Folauga i le Va’a o Tautai – Continue the Voyage with Competent Wayfinders of the Ocean. In celebration of this year’s theme we share talanoa of two very competent wayfinders, Sāmoan staff members at the University, Sili-Mireta Pita and Hollyanna Ainea.

Sili-Mireta Pita’s gafa extends across the villages of Leauva’a, Lufilufi and Lalomanu. Sili is the Pacific Strategy Advisor for the university and works from within the Pro Vice-Chancellor Pacific office.


Sili-Mireta Pita
Vaiaso o le gagana Sāmoa for Sili represents two things: the first being the revitalisation and maintenance of the language for NZ-born Sāmoans and the second is connection to gafa. Sili, who also holds a masters degree in Pacific Studies, describes the joy her aiga finds in knowledge sharing with the younger generations.

“It is always beautiful to hear our young ones asking things like, what is the name of Dad’s village and where does Papa come from again? Those little conversations we have during language weeks when our younger siblings are celebrating in their schools, those are integral parts of reconnection with our gafa. Especially for those born in the diaspora.”


Sometimes we put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect and even though I am what some would consider ‘fluent’ I am always still learning.
Sili-Mireta Pita
Pacific strategy adviser, Office of the Pro Vice-Chancellor Pacific
Sili, who was raised by her grandparents, has the privilege of being fluent in her gagana and is acutely aware that many Pacific peoples within the diaspora don’t have the same privilege and so language weeks become a great way to encourage ‘giving it a go’. Sili explains that for some people fluency is not, and should not, always be the number one goal.

“You know sometimes we put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect and even though I am what some would consider ‘fluent’ I am always still learning. There is joy to be had in that. There is joy in the acquisition of our gagana and you do not have to be fluent to enjoy our words and the way in which we put them together, it truly is beautiful.”




Ministry For Pacific Peoples Official Theme
Her passion for her gagana means that Sili truly enjoys passing on her knowledge to others. The tie between language and identity can be a difficult space to traverse for Sāmoans born in the diaspora. Sili is adamant that no matter what, if you have Sāmoan blood in your veins you are Sāmoan and that is enough. Language and identity debates have gone on for years, she says.

It is a frustrating argument and I completely disagree that having your language makes you ‘more’ Sāmoan.
Sili-Mireta Pita
“Pacific people are fiercly protective of our cultures and this can be reflected in our beliefs. These beliefs are wide ranging and Pacific peoples definitely do not all feel the same way about being speakers of our gagana.

“It is a frustrating argument and I completely disagree that having your language makes you ‘more’ Sāmoan. You do not have to have the language, have a Matai title or own land in Sāmoa. What makes you Sāmoan is your heart and that is all that truly matters.”

Sili is a proud Sāmoan woman living in the diaspora, representing the beautiful Saute Aukilagi and shares with us all her favourite Sāmoan proverb for vaiaso o le gagana Sāmoa:

“E lele le toloa ae ma’au i le auvai – The toloa bird flies far away from home but will always return to its home.”

Similarly to Samoans who live outside of Samoa: wherever in this world we may live and build our lives, we will always identify and strongly connect with Samoa as it is our home.

A truly fitting proverb for the many Sāmoans across the diaspora who are celebrating their gagana and connection with their gafa this week.



Hollyanna Ainea
Hollyanna Ainea’s gafa extends across the villages of Fa’ala Palauli, Tulaele, Siumu and Faleu. Holly is a graduate teaching assistant in Pacific Studies, currently working on the Pacific 100 paper ‘Introduction to Pacific Studies’ while finishing her masters.

You know I was mocked at school for being an FOB because of my accent.
Hollyanna Ainea
Graduate teaching assistant, Pacific Studies
Holly is a product of migration to New Zealand and is one of the many NZ-born Sāmoans who are navigating their Pacific identity in a global world. Holly remembers having her gagana at a young age and the struggles that came with that as a child.

“You know I was mocked at school for being an FOB because of my accent. That was due to having my language but people didn’t really appreciate it then. School can be tough when you’re bilingual and your language has an accent attached to it that isn’t white Kiwi.”

This had a tremendous effect on her language maintenance. She slowly lost fluency. As she has grown into adulthood, she has started to regain her gagana. Holly believes her gagana helps sustain and express the values she holds most dear; love and care.

She has seen the language weeks grow from just one week of hype to a more sustained movement where the Pacific diaspora have started to embrace language acquisition and the reconnection to gafa.




The term ‘plastic’ gets thrown around a lot by our people and it really is a point of trauma.
Hollyanna Ainea
Much like her colleague Sili, Holly has a deep belief in gafa being all a person needs to show that they are Sāmoan.

“The term ‘plastic’ gets thrown around a lot by our people and it really is a point of trauma. These colonial notions of what it is to be ‘enough’ when identifying as an ethnicity do nothing but create trauma for our people. Measurements in one’s identity should not exist and we are enough just by being Sāmoan.”

Holly shares her joy in seeing gagana Sāmoa being used as a mechanism for strengthening relationships. The way in which people joke using gagana Sāmoa and colloquial hybrid NZ language also has a unique way of bringing people together. You only have to skim through NZ Tik Tok trends and find ‘Ia Gale’ videos to see the humour and connection.

Social media connection is another point of joy for Holly as a Sāmoan woman in the diaspora. Seeing other Sāmoan’s using gagana and their Sāmoan heritage to stand on within socials brings pride and connection. Women like Tik Tok sensation Sāmoan Drew Afualo inspire her to be proud of where she comes from.

Holly’s hope is for all Sāmoan women in the diaspora to flourish unapologetically and proudly identify as Sāmoan.

Her favourite Sāmoan proverb she shares for vaiaso o le gagana Sāmoa, is “E mamae le tava’e i ona fulu – The tava’e bird takes pride in its feathers”. It can be translated into cultural pride and security in identity, which is what this language week and competent wayfinding is all about.



Comments are closed.