Rachel and her cousins before her Tau'olunga at an 80th celebration

Mālo e lelei ‘āe kāinga kotoa pē ōku mōu me’a māī!

Kō hoku hingoa kō Rachel Palatavake Lata-i-viena Vai Helu

Ōku ou lele māī mei Kolomotu’a mo Fasi moe Afi.

Greetings everyone, my name is Rachel Helu and I hail from the beautiful Kingdom of Tōngā.

To celebrate Tongan language week, I thought I would give a glimpse into my life as a Ta’ahine Tonga living in Aotearoa. The theme for this year is ‘Kē Tū’uloa ‘a e lea faka-Tōngā ‘I Aotearoa’ meaning to sustain the Tongan language in New Zealand. The term ‘Tū’uloa’ means to continuously grow, nurture, and preserve a valued idea, event or memory. So I thought it fitting to highlight some values and memories that I have sustained in life.

I was named after my Dad’s oldest and only sister Rachel Lesieli Helu. A Tongan custom would be that the Fahu (older sister on your fathers’ side) would have the right to name the children and so I was named Rachel. She had moved when I was young and so I finally got to visit her in Malaysia not too long ago where she has been for the past 27+ years.

Rachel and her namesake in Kuala Lumpar, Malaysia

My middle name, “Palatavake Lata-i-viena Vai” also given to me by my Aunt. It is a bit of a mouthful and sometimes when my friends would ask me to say it out loud, I felt like it was a party trick. So I would tell little white lies and say that it meant, among other things "pretty", "water lily" or "beautiful butterfly".

It wasn’t until I went to university and in doing some research discovered ‘Palatavake’ was the name of the headdress that had been made for chiefs and visitors by my ancestors. I was fortunate enough to visit the ‘Palatavake’ in the Museo de America, Madrid when I went to watch the Tongan National Rugby team play against Spain. It was such a surreal experience to still make these connections to my culture, although I was far from home.

The Palatavake Headdress in Museo de America, Madrid
Piutau Family supporting Ikale Tahi Rugby Team in Madrid

‘Feveitokai’āki (Sharing, cooperating) & Lototoo (generosity) are core values for the Tongan community and so one thing for certain is that Tongans do not do anything half-halfheartedly. Whether it be supporting our rugby league team, or providing a spread to family and friends, the term ‘extra’ is always taken to the extreme.

2017 RLWC MMT vs England

Over my years working in the National Library, having the Tongan Royal Family visit was a highlight. To see them interact with items and memories that have been preserved in our collections was amazing. It just highlights the importance of protection and sustainable preservation, and then providing access to people to see these items. It was also really amazing to see the pride in the Tongan staff and the traditional aspects of these objects and records that were kept regardless of them being so far from their original environment was really touching.

DIA Tonga Language Week Wrap up

Ko e ‘Otua mo Tōngā kō hoku Tofi’a means God and Tōngā are my inheritance. I was always taught to keep God and family at the centre of my life. These lay the foundation to who I am as a proud Tongan. I know the the week is called "Tongan Language Week", but my identity isn’t rooted in language alone. I have been brought up with the core values and traditions of respect, loyalty, sharing and humility and that is what I hope to sustain and maintain in life.

Rachels Family celebrating Tongan Language Week

Welcome and warm Pasifik greetings

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