As an advocate for Niue, its people and culture, 28-year-old Monty Lakatani (pictured) is urging his generation to visit and speak with elders, to absorb all the stories and knowledge they can.
“Our matua tupuna will not be with us forever, so make time to go and speak with them,” Monty says.
“Ask them about their memories of home or learn about your family and village - they hold the knowledge that is not written about our people and islands.”
At the conclusion of the recent Faahi tapu he Vagahau Niue – Niue Language Week, part of the Ministry for Pacific Peoples Pacific Language Weeks series, Monty was awarded the Niuean Language Champion Honours in the Youth Male category.
Language Champion Honours have been awarded for every Pacific Language Week this year, to recognise the incredible work individuals and groups do in the community to promote and nurture their language and culture.
A Library Assistant in Auckland, Monty is also heavily involved in his community, and is a returning student at the University of Auckland.
When it comes to his Niuean identity, Monty’s background has always been based on serving his people through Pasifika arts; music, dance and handicraft.
“My parents took leadership roles within the Newton PIC church in the times when the late Reverend Manatoa Tavelia was the head of the Ekalesia Niue,” he explains.
“As a toddler saw my father compose and teach music for Sundays, would also see him teach the youth Niuean dance and my mum was always by his side making costumes and singing in the back.
“Polyfest back in its early days was a busy part of the Lakatani fale, who tutored for Tamaki and Avondale College in the 1990s.”
Currently, Monty is a Member and Tutor for the Hakupu Village Youth Group, based in Auckland.
He has been part of the working committee for the Niue Youth Network, facilitating workshops for youth, focusing on Vagahau Niue.
“Recently I had the honour to work with the Niue Ki Mua communications team for COVID-19 vaccination drives - sharing information on social media for our people.
“I am one of the tutors for Tupumaiaga a Niue Trust – teaching different koli Niue and Niue handicraft workshops during the school holidays.”
Monty says it is a true honour to be awarded a Language Champion award and recognised for what he has done for his Niuean community.
“I am humbled I was even nominated knowing there are others who work and promote Aga fakamotu mo e Vagahau Niue.
“It means I am doing the right things for my people – this award wouldn't be mine if it were not for the people I have served and served with.”
The award has spurred Monty on to continue his work in his various roles promoting Niue’s language and culture.
He says he would love to see the normalising of the Vagahau and Aga fakamotu of Niue in New Zealand.
“To me, this means hearing and seeing it on all social media platforms from everybody and using some or more of the Vagahau in daily speech - at home and at work.
“It also means using it every day and not just on calendared events like during Niue Language Week.
“This way we will see our language and culture transform and be stronger.”