Recently the Pacific Cultures team at Te Papa were informed of the passing of one our elders and leaders, Tufuga Holoatu Lagatule. She was born in Niue and came to New Zealand as a teenager in 1957. She became an important figure among the Pacific communities living in Christchurch, in New Zealand’s South Island, where she worked tirelessly for the community. Tufuga looked out for the welfare of many groups of people, tending to the needs of new arrivals, young families and the elderly. She was acknowledged for her work with a Queen’s Service Medal in 1988 and was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2008.
In 2007, we interviewed Tufuga for the exhibition Tangata o le Moana: the story of Pacific people in New Zealand, which is currently on at Te Papa. She brought a wonderful energy and warmth to her interview, where she talked about the growth of the Christchurch Pacific community in the 1950s and 1960s. In this extract, she remembers the arrival of tussock workers, many of them men from Fiji who came to clear land in Cheviot, just north of Christchurch
Fakaalofa lahi atu
My name is Tufuga Lagatule, I am a Niuean I am 62 years old. When I came down here in 1957, there were hardly any Pacific Island people. If I saw a Pacific Island person in the street it’ll be a Christmas present given to you. It was a total strange land it was a land where you don’t see your family you don’t see friends you don’t see the familiar things that you were used to, you only learn how to speak a basic “Thank you”, “yes”, “hello”, “welcome”, “no, I don’t” – those phrases.
When the Pacific Island men came they were contracted to clean the tussocks in Cheviot. They were isolated. They were on their own, cold and they didn’t really know what to do to keep themselves warm. The community went out with me and we got all these things from these beautiful people of Christchurch. We took the sacks of all the beautiful warm clothes, pots and goodness knows what else to Cheviot. They were overwhelmed. They didn’t realise what we had done and what we were bringing them. There were cries of joy and excitement and we celebrated before we left. We came together as a community of Christchurch to help one another.
The other thing that happened at that time is that the late Louisa Crawley felt that it was time for Pacific voices to be heard in Christchurch. So we came together a few of us and put a proposal through to establish what we called a Pacific Island Advisory Council and that was the call for Pacific people to take responsibility…and we did. From there on we thrived and for the first time Christchurch realised that we exist.
Today, you can see Pacific Island services all over the place. We have taken care of our own. We have taken care of the things we should be responsible to. But at the same time we are still mindful of, I am mindful, of the fact that we still live under one law, one government, and one people. But when we do things we need to identify ourselves as the Pacific people from the Pacific nations who have a stream of all sorts of things we brought with us– our culture, our language, our sense of identity, our heritage. Goodness me there’s a lot of things that we can offer New Zealand as a country and we contribute to it too.
(Recorded in 2007)