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Book Presentation at SIT Library Puts Spotlight on Tongan Sports, Culture and Community

Sep 28, 2020
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Rise of The To’a! co-author Alisi Tatafu wants to celebrate Tongan culture and achievements with her Tongan community, and all New Zealanders as well. Miss Tatafu was in Invercargill on Thursday October 1st to present a copy of her book to the SIT Library, spreading the message of being connected to community, and celebrating culture.

The most successful Tongan sports team in history is the national rugby league team – Kau To’a. Mate Ma’a Tonga. Miss Tatafu’s connection to the team was through her role as MC for all the team’s events, and she wanted to find a way to record and share their phenomenal successes, which is how the original idea for the book was formed.

“This was the only way to capture and celebrate their achievements”.

Miss Tatafu said in her role as a secondary school educator, the other need for the book was birthed from a lack of teachable material on Tongan culture. Both she and fellow teacher/co-author David Riley, find they struggle with limited resources for Pasifika.

Now with the idea and the need for the book established, the high school teacher by day became an author over lockdown to produce the story with Mr Riley.

“I wrote the book in the first two weeks of lockdown. My deadline was just before Good Friday and I got first draft to David just in time, and it was ready to go to the printers by May. The first copies of the book reached NZ shores in July”.

In order for Miss Tatafu to be comfortable with writing the book, she went through a robust cultural consultation process with the Tongan community from December to March 2020.

“Tonga has a stratified society. I sought advice from the Lord Chamberlain of Tonga, and Tongan consulates from NZ, USA and Australia. It was important I listened to all our Tongans and this took me about four months”.

Miss Tatafu said this is a story for the whole Tongan community, but also one for all New Zealanders to embrace.

“It’s about being connected and celebrating your culture”.

She said Tongans come to NZ as immigrants and are living here, but they retain their culture, their values and their heritage. This book is another way for them to maintain and tap into that connectedness.

Although Miss Tatafu lives in Auckland, she has good connections with the Tongan community throughout NZ, and said she’s coming to Invercargill to present her book because of her friendship with Fuai’api Fiefia Fifita, who is in her first year of studying a Bachelor of Sport and Exercise at SIT. Miss Tatafu attended a Tongan rugby league game in Christchurch in 2017 and met Mrs Fifita there, they’ve stayed in touch ever since.

“There’s only 5% of Tongans in the whole of the South Island, but they all went to this game, they all wanted to celebrate Tongans”.

Miss Tatafu’s visit to Invercargill is a useful way to connect with the wider Tongan community; she’s looking forward to utilising the trip to have a get-together with Southland’s community, and put into practice some of the celebration and connection the book focuses on.

“We’re really grateful for the Tongan community leaders in the regions. We listen to them, they know their communities well, we want to add value to those connections”.

‘Rise of the To’a!’ tells the story of how the Tongan National Rugby League team beat New Zealand, Great Britain and Australia in a three-year period of awesomeness. How the players overcame personal challenges in their lives to achieve things others thought impossible. How they united the worldwide kingdom of Tonga, and how they inspired people of all ages to dream big.

Miss Tatafu says it’s much more than a book about rugby league. It’s a book about faith, culture and family.

“It’s a children’s book but it’s for all ages, parents and grandparents are also reading it. The message is to be proud and happy of their culture”.

Her hopes for the book to bring people together is assured, with plans already to translate the book into Tongan as well, giving it another life and creating another resource in the process.

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