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Taonga on display for Tongan Language Week

By Quin Tauetau, RNZ social media journalist and is republished with permission

Tongan textile treasures were on display at the Auckland War Memorial Museum this week in celebration of Tongan Language Week.

Visitors were given the chance to learn more about the history and acquisition of the pieces in private viewings.

The collection ranged from bark cloth mats and handwoven fans, to colourful elaborate kiekies (waist ornaments), skillfully woven with both traditional and modern, unconventional materials.

Tongan crafts

Kiekie made from VHS tape. Photo: Quin Tauetau

Tongan crafts

Kiekie made from plant materials. Photo: Quin Tauetau

Tongan crafts

Tongan ngatu with horse illustration. Photo: Quin Tauetau

Tongan crafts

Woven baskets on display during Tongan Language Week. Photo: Quin Tauetau

Tongan crafts

A Tongan fan made of feathers and thread. Photo: Quin Tauetau

The Eternal Thread – Te Aho Mutunga Kore centre community navigator Jasmine Tuiā said the community drop-in was a first for the textile and fibre knowledge exchange centre.

“The event is a crucial one for our communities to share this experience … especially highlighting our Tonga fibre and textile koloa.”

A ngatu (tapa cloth) was for sale in the museum’s gift shop in the 1970s – before proper identification revealed the item’s true worth.

The cloth was then properly preserved and stored.

Tongan crafts

Two ngatu (bark cloth) on display. Photo: Quin Tauetau

Tongan crafts

Ngatu with animals. Photo: Quin Tauetau

Tongan crafts

A toddler’s dress made from tapa cloth. Photo: RNZ / Quin Tauetau

The exhibition also showcased a baby’s dress made with the same material, and was adorned with the Kingdom of Tonga’s coat of arms.

Museum patron Veisinia Moalapau’u Ah Kiau was elated to see the taonga.

”Our koloa faka-Tonga are pieces of our home and heritage, so seeing this display as a Tongan from the diaspora is a way for us to feel connected,” she said.

“It is important to us so that we ‘pukepuke fonua’ (hold on tight to our connection with our land).”

The museum plans to hold similar drop-in sessions during future Pacific language weeks.