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Sharing culture is second nature for To'a Award recipient

Sharing culture is second nature for To'a Award recipient

  • 31 May 2021
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  • Rotuma
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Sopapelu Samisoni received a To'a Award from Minister for Pacific Peoples Hon Aupito William Sio and Secretary for Pacific Peoples Laulu Mac Leauanae.

Sopapelu (pictured) is no stranger to the concept of sharing.

Growing up in Rotuma as the tenth child of 14, Sopapelu says life on the island was not easy, but in a family as big as his, you learnt to get along and get on with things.

“We were taught to work hard and learn to understand our traditional culture, language and skilled work,” Sopapelu says. 

Sopapelu was born in 1959, and he says in the years following, the Rotuman language was widely spoken on the island, while English was only used sometimes at a few schools. 

As a teenager, Sopapelu moved to Fiji to find work to earn money for his family, and eventually he started work in the meat processing industry, where he says he was able to prove his early learning experience on Rotuma, while holding onto the teaching of love, determination and perseverance. 

During this time, he attended various festivals throughout the Pacific as a member of the Rotuma Cultural and Dance Group – including the Commonwealth Arts Festival in Brisbane, in 1982, and the Pacific Arts Festival in Palau 2004. 

After 24 years working in Fiji, Sopapelu took up a job with Aussie Butcher New Zealand and he is still working with the company today – that is, when he is not sharing his love of his culture with the vibrant Rotuman community in Aotearoa. 

“Since arriving in New Zealand, I have worked with Rotuman communities and churches in the Auckland region, and have been involved with youth activities, hoping to help our Rotumans, especially the younger generation with whatever I can offer them.” 

Sopapelu has been a strong cultural advisor, as well as providing leadership in the community, and more recently, he has been actively involved in the Rotuman translation work for COVID-19 with the Ministry for Pacific Peoples, as well as other government agencies.

He is also a member of Kainaga Health and Fitness Group, and is recognised as a knowledge holder of Rotuman culture, and for his willingness to share it with whoever he crosses paths with.

At the recent conclusion of Rotuman Language Week 2021, Sopapelu was presented with the Fāat (Male) To’a Award – part of MPP’s new Language Champion Honours initiative it is implementing this year as part of the Pacific Language Weeks series. 

The award is recognition of the many years he has invested into his language and culture, and into the Rotuman community of Aotearoa.

 “I thank the Almighty God who has been my strength and wisdom, and to all the sponsors for the To’a Award,” Sopapelu says. 

“They have entrusted me with responsibilities, for which I am today encouraged to hold onto, and continue serving my people, the Rotumans, and everyone around me.”  

See Pacific Language Week resources and information