Samoan Language Week

Talofa Lava and welcome to Vaiaso o le Gagana Samoa (Samoan Language Week)! To mark this week, which runs from 28th May to 3rd June this year, the Language Learning Centre is launching a new website full of Samoan songs and stories.

During the 1980s and 1990s Learning Media, a division of the Ministry of Education, developed numerous high-quality cassette recordings which accompanied beautifully illustrated readers telling stories in Samoan. There are schools and early childhood centres all over New Zealand which still hold on to these unique resources, but sadly the cassettes, if still around, are starting to deteriorate as they are now quite old.

At Victoria University of Wellington's Language Learning Centre, Senior Administrator Balint Koller realised the value of this resource and in late 2015, together with then Language Technology Specialist Edith Paillat, started digitising and tracking down the original writers and narrators to obtain their permission to make this content available for a new generation. “It was born out of a determination to save some valuable stories and songs trapped on ageing cassette tapes in our library and make them more accessible for everyone to enjoy” says Balint. The Rays of Sound website was really a project done on the side of the Centre’s main work, which is supporting students and staff learning and teaching the 10 languages offered by Victoria.

The Wellington region is home to a vibrant Samoan community and students of both Samoan and non-Samoan heritage take their Samoan tutorials in the Centre. Since resources for languages such as Samoan are much harder to find than those for the ‘blockbuster’ European and Asian languages, the Centre was keen to preserve these Kiwi produced songs and stories. It enlisted the help of others also enthusiastic about the aims of the project. Some of the stories on the website were read by volunteers passionate about the language such as Samoan Studies lecturer Niusila Faamanatu-Eteuati from the university’s school of Pacific studies Va'aomanu Pasifika. These allow the original readers that were missing recordings to come alive.

“The whole idea of favouring audio is that language is mostly spoken and we’d like to support that or spread the spoken word, the oral language, if possible…. At the Language Learning Centre, we’re trying to expose people to as much audio, as much spoken language as we can because that’s where real language takes place. The written word is important but there’s sometimes all too much emphasis on written and printed and not enough on spoken, and we just wanted to promote the sounds of the language, and a space online that accommodates the sounds of that language and keeps it alive” explains Balint.

The stories include characters such as Fatu who makes a traditional dish ‘palusami’ from taro leaves baked with fresh coconut as well as a story explaining some of the meanings of the designs used in ‘siapo’ the fine cloth made from the paper mulberry tree. There is also Uncle Timi who falls asleep on the beach and does not wake up until the tide washes over him and Sina who makes an eel her pet, not knowing that the eel is really the King of Fiji in disguise.

Try out the website. The website also features stories in Te Reo Māori as well as new recordings made by Balint Koller with members of the Cook Islands community in Lower Hutt during 2016.

Rays of Sound Samoan