Le Fetuao Samoan Language Center in Honolulu hosts Gagana Samoa Symposium

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Malaga Deon Alaimaleata, WHIAAPI Commissioner Jacob Fitisemanu from Utah, taupou Valasi Lei Alaimaleata & Elisapeta Tu‘upo-Alaimaleata following the welcoming ‘ava ceremony at the 2016 Samoan Language Symposium

HONOLULU (August 28, 2016) – More than 150 community leaders, presenters, Samoan community members, Le Fetuao teachers, students, and parents gathered for the inaugural Fono o le Gagana Samoa (2016 Samoan Language Symposium) hosted by Le Fetuao Samoan Language Center on August 12 and 13. Featured speakers from American Samoa, New Zealand, Guam, Utah, and Hawai‘i and symposium participants were welcomed to the Kamakakuokalani Hawaiian Studies Center at UH Manoa with a traditional Hawaiian oli presented by Dr. Jon Osorio, followed by the ‘ava o le feiloaiga, a traditional Samoan welcoming ceremony.

The symposium was a wonderful way to bring like-minded people together to discuss the maintenance and growth of Samoan language and culture, said Elisapeta Tu‘upo-Alaimaleata, Le Fetuao Samoan Language Center Executive Director and Founder.  Educators working in language programs from across the Pacific and U.S. presented methodologies that when infused with culture can lead to successful models of language and academic growth.

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Fereni Pepe ‘Ete, keynote speaker from Wellington New Zealand

Fereni Pepe Ete, keynote speaker from Wellington New Zealand, opened the symposium with a speech highlighting language as an integral communication tool for spiritual wellness. Ete, a decorated Samoan faletua (minister’s wife) founded New Zealand’s first Samoan language and culture preschool, aoga Amata in 1987.  Her school then became a training ground helping to build additional aoga Amata in New Zealand. She presented a model for Le Fetuao and other symposium participants to replicate.

Presentations on Friday followed the theme Teaching Language Through Culture, Art, and Technology.  Led by teachers of Le Fetuao and leaders of community schools, the presenters showed how they conduct instruction via a variety of mediums. Pioneer in indigenous language revitalization Dr. Ku Kahakalau presented a mobile, online tool for learners of Hawaiian culture and language called Basic Hawaiian. UH Manoa doctoral linguistics student and Le Fetuao Performing Arts Director Grant Muagututia presented strategies to teach Gagana Samoa via performance using traditional Samoan musical instruments and songs. Gwen To‘omalatai’s presented on improving the literacy of middle school students by incorporating Samoan traditional arts and crafts. 

In addition to being a source for information rich presentations, the symposium was an audio and visual treat. During breaks and lunch, Miriama Samuelu of the famous Anivas band played alongside Ken Sataraka Aiono of Taupou Productions. Their performances delighted symposium goers who frequently showed their joyful appreciation of old Samoan music and for the fa‘afiafiaga (entertainment) by singing along and jumping up in spontaneous siva (dance). Putting together the beautiful Mataisau Art Exhibit that surrounded the meeting venue was a family effort for the Ueligitone faimly family. The exhibit showcased a progression of art pieces from Le Fetuao student work to the work of Mataisau (master artists): Margaret Ueligitone Hall, Brandon Avegalio, Albert Ueligitone, Tanya Masaniai Ibara, and Le Fetuao Art Teacher Sau Ueligitone.

In her plenary presentations Okenaisa Fauolo, shared some of the language maintenance work being done by the Samoan Studies Institute at the American Samoa Community College which she directs. This includes compiling the legends of American Samoa and video stories on Rose Atoll also called Muliava. She also expressed the need for our students to be more familiar with the efforts of Samoan leaders such as Lauaki Namulau‘ulu Mamoe, a renowned orator chief and one of the the first leaders of the Mau resistance movement in Samoa

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Keynote Speaker Tapaʻau Dr. Daniel Aga

The second day of the symposium began with Keynote Speaker Tapa‘au Dr. Daniel Aga whose paper Su‘esu‘ega Lautele: Tulaga o le Gagana Samoa i Amerika Samoa 2000 (with updates) included research findings on the status of the Samoan language, aswell as the threats to the continuation of Gagana Samoa. Among his recommendations for strengthening the Samoan language: We need more readers/children’s books and we need more creative writings in the Samoan language.

On Saturday, community and church-based language programs were highlighted. Rev. Ioane Tauanu‘u, Sea of Sinoti Ekalesia Metotisi in Hawai‘i presented a paper entitled aA sema manu, e mo‘omia le galulue fa‘atasi which emphasized the importance of working together.

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Rev. Ioane Tauanuʻu, Sea of Sinoti Ekalesia Metotisi in Hawaiʻi

Dr. Faye Untalan presented the Chamorro Curriculum she developed in Guam, while Dr. Betty Ickes presented her experience in establishing a Community-based Tokelau Language School in Hawai‘i. Jacob Fitisemanu presented on efforts in Utah to develop the Samoan Integrated Language Initiative (SAILI). Fereni Ete and Leautula Sauvao presented on the interactive techniques they use to engage and teach their preschool students at government funded Aoga Amata in New Zealand.

Le Fetuao provided symposium participants with a copy of its first Samoan Language Curriculum that compiles lessons developed by its staff. The development of the curriculum as well as the symposium was funded by grants from the Administration for Native Americans.

Samoan churches and community organizations are welcome to request a copy of Le Fetuao’s Samoan language curriculum as a resource guide to help develop more Aoga Samoa in the U.S., said Fepulea’i Lasei John Mayer Le Fetuao Principal Investigator and founder of the Samoan language program at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.

The symposium culminated with an evening banquet where Le Fetuao’s siva class shared songs and dances based on the theme Fa‘alelegapepe, a traditional showcase celebrating the completion of Samoan measina (treasures), such as siapo and fine mats. The taualuga was performed by Taupou Alizaysha Sopi, the eldest daughter of Lynelle Sopi whose four daughters all attend Le Fetuao.

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Grant Muāgututiʻa plays the selo

The banquet also provided Le Fetuao an opportunity to acknowledge those who have contributed to their success during the 2015-2016 school year at a presentation of awards. Grant Muagututi‘a received the Samoan Language Teacher of the Year Award.

For exemplary service and contributions Alice Malepeai Silbanuz was presented the with Malagamafaleupolu Selesele Tu‘upo Tautua Awards named after Le Fetuao founder’s late father. Barbara Ueligitone received Le Fetuao’s service award for her contribution to the ta‘iala (curriculum). Le Fetuao leaders also received gifts from the Aoteroa delegation that attended the symposium.

Feedback from the symposium’s attendance agreed that the 2016 Samoan Language Symposium was overdue and an important component to the maintenance of our culture and language.  Everyone rejoiced in the opportunities and knowledge that they gained during this two-day event that marked the starting point of a new chapter in efforts to revitalize Samoan language and culture across the globe.

In a “Forge Ahead” session Le Fetuao generated an international Samoan committee consisting of volunteers from different locations that will take up the task to develop the first a Samoan Children’s Dictionary.  The goal is to continue the work by presenting an update at next year’s Gagana Samoa symposium. Those interested in contributing to this effort may contact Le Fetuao at admin@lefetuao.com. Look for updates on the 2017 Fono o le Gagana Samoa to be uploaded to www.lefetuao.com, as well as Gagana Samoa presentations, power points and abstracts.

Samoa News article

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