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Le Fetuao Samoan Language Center in Honolulu hosts Gagana Samoa Symposium

Le Fetuao Art Teacher Sau Ueligitone shares some of the lesson plans that he uses to teach art and Samoan language. These lessons are a part of the curriculum that Le Fetuao compiled and is sharing to help encourage other communities to start their own Āʻoga Samoa.  [Courtesy Photo]
Source: Le Fetuao Samoan Langague Center media release

HONOLULU —More than 150 community leaders, presenters, Samoan community members, Le Fetuao teachers, students, and parents gathered for the inaugural Fono o le Gāgana Samoa (2016 Samoan Language Symposium) hosted by Le Fetuao Samoan Language Center on August 12 and 13.

Featured speakers from American Samoa, New Zealand, Guam, Utah, and Hawai‘i and symposium participants were welcomed to the Kamakakūokalani Hawaiian Studies Center at UH Mānoa with a traditional Hawaiian oli presented by Dr. Jon Osorio, followed by the ʻava o le feiloaiga, a traditional Samoan welcoming ceremony.

“The symposium was a wonderful way to bring like-minded people together to discuss the maintenance and growth of Samoan language and culture,” said Elisapeta Tuʻupo-Alaimaleata, Le Fetuao Samoan Language Center Executive Director and Founder.  “Educators working in language programs from across the Pacific and U.S. presented methodologies that when infused with culture can lead to successful models of language and academic growth.”

Fereni Pepe ‘Ete, keynote speaker from Wellington New Zealand, opened the symposium with a speech highlighting language as an integral communication tool for spiritual wellness. Ete, a decorated Samoan faletua (minister’s wife) founded New Zealand’s first Samoan language and culture preschool, Ᾱʻoga Amata in 1987. Her school then became a training ground helping to build additional Āʻoga Amata in New Zealand. She presented a model for Le Fetuao and other symposium participants to replicate.

Presentations on Friday followed the theme Teaching Language Through Culture, Art, and Technology. Led by teachers of Le Fetuao and leaders of community schools, the presenters showed how they conduct instruction via a variety of mediums.

Pioneer in indigenous language revitalization Dr. Kū Kahakalau presented a mobile, online tool for learners of Hawaiian culture and language called Basic Hawaiian.

UH Mānoa doctoral linguistics student and Le Fetuao Performing Arts Director Grant Muāgututi‘a presented strategies to teach Gāgana Samoa via performance using traditional Samoan musical instruments and songs.

Gwen To‘omalātai presented on improving the literacy of students by incorporating visual aids of Samoan traditional arts and crafts. 

In addition to being a source for information rich presentations, the symposium was an audio and visual treat.

During breaks and lunch, Miriama Samuelu of the famous Anivas band played alongside Ken Sataraka Aiono of Taupou Productions. Their performances delighted symposium goers who frequently showed their joyful appreciation of old Samoan music and for the faʻafiafiaga (entertainment) by singing along and jumping up in spontaneous siva (dance).

Le Fetuao 2015-2016 Teacher of the Year Grant Muāgututiʻa plays the rarely seen Samoan selo during his presentation on using instruments, music and dance to teach gāgana Samoa. [Courtesy Photo]  

Putting together the beautiful Mataisau Art Exhibit that surrounded them and the meeting venue was a family effort by the Ueligitones. The exhibit showcased a progression of art pieces from Le Fetuao student work to the work of Mataisau (master artists): Margaret Ueligitone Hall, Brandon Avegalio, Albert Ueligitone, Tanya Masaniai Ibara, and Le Fetuao Art Teacher Sau Ueligitone. 

In her plenary presentations Okenaisa Fauolo, shared some of the language maintenance work being done by the Samoan Studies Institute at the American Samoa Community College, which she directs. This includes compiling the legends of American Samoa and video stories on Rose Atoll also called Muliava. She also expressed the need for our students to be more familiar with the efforts of Samoan leaders such as Lauaki Namulauʻulu Mamoe, a renowned orator chief and one of the first leaders of the Mau, resistance movement in Samoa

The second day of the symposium began with Keynote Speaker Tapaʻau Dr. Daniel Aga whose paper “Suʻesuʻega Lautele: Tulaga o le Gāgana Samoa i Amerika Samoa 2000 (with updates)” included research findings on the status of the Samoan language, as well as the threats to the continuation of Gāgana  Samoa.

Afioga ia Tapa’au Dr. Daniel ‘Aga represented American Samoa Government as the keynote speaker of Le Fetuao Samoan Language Center’s inaugural symposium held at the University of Hawai’i, Manoa. [Courtesy Photo]

Among his recommendations for strengthening the Samoan language: “We need more readers/children's books and we need more creative writings in the Samoan language.” 

On Saturday, community and church-based language programs were highlighted.

Rev. Ioane Tauanuʻu, Sea of Sinoti Ekalesia Metotisi in Hawaiʻi presented a paper entitled “A sema manu, e moʻomia le galulue faʻatasi” which emphasized the importance of working together.

Dr. Faye Untalan presented the Chamorro Curriculum she developed in Guam, while Dr. Betty Ickes presented her experience in establishing a Community-based Tokelau Language School in Hawaiʻi.

Jacob Fitisemanu presented on efforts in Utah to develop the Sāmoana Integrated Language Initiative (SAILI). Commissioner Fitisemanu also represents as President Obama’s Advisory Commission on Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI). Fereni ‘Ete.

Leautulī Sauvao presented on the interactive techniques they use to engage and teach their preschool students at government funded Ᾱʻoga Amata, in New Zealand.

Le Fetuao provided symposium participants with a copy of its first Samoan Language Curriculum that compiles lessons developed by its staff.The development of the curriculum as well as the symposium was funded by grants from the Administration for Native Americans. 

A congratulatory letter was received from Commissioner Lillian Sparks in Washington DC and other government leaders to congratulate Le Fetuao SLC and the Samoan community in general.

 “Samoan churches and community organizations are welcome to request a copy of Le Fetuao’s Samoan language curriculum as a resource guide to help develop more Aʻoga Samoa in the U.S.,” said Fepuleaʻi Lāsei John Mayer Le Fetuao Principal Investigator and founder of the Samoan language program at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa.

The symposium culminated with an evening banquet where Le Fetuao’s siva class shared songs and dances based on the theme “Faʻalelegapepe”, a traditional showcase celebrating the completion of Samoan measina (treasures), such as siapo and fine mats.

Taupou Alizaysha Sopi, the eldest daughter of Lynelle Sopi whose four daughters all attend Le Fetuao, performed the taualuga.

The banquet also provided Le Fetuao an opportunity to acknowledge those who have contributed to their success during the 2015 to 2016 school year at the award’s presentation.

Grant Muāgututiʻa received the Samoan Language Teacher of the Year Award.

For exemplary service and contributions Alice Malepeai Silbanuz was presented the Malagamafaleupolu Tausaga Selesele Tuʻupo TAUTUA Award named after Le Fetuao founder’s late father.

Barbara Ueligitone received Le Fetuao’s service award for her contribution to the taʻiala (curriculum).

Le Fetuao leaders also received gifts from the Aoteroa delegation that attended the symposium.

Feedback from the symposium’s attendance agreed that the 2016 Samoan Language Symposium was long overdue and an important component to the maintenance of our culture and language. Everyone rejoiced in the opportunities and knowledge that they gained during this two-day event that marked the starting point of a new chapter in efforts to revitalize Samoan language and culture across the globe.

In a "Forge Ahead" session Le Fetuao generated an international Samoan committee consisting of volunteers from different locations that will take up the task to develop the first Samoan Children's Dictionary. The goal is to continue the work by presenting an update at next year's Gagana Samoa symposium. Those interested in contributing to this effort may contact Le Fetuao at Look for updates on the 2017 Fono o le Gāgana Samoa to be uploaded to, as well as Gagana Samoa presentations, curriculum resource materials, power points and abstracts.

About Le Fetuao Samoan Language Center

Established in 2008, Le Fetuao located in Salt Lake, Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi, provides free Samoan language classes to children in pre-school to high school, as well as parents and community members. The culture preservation program thrives through community collaborations and the efforts of staff dedicated to teaching Samoan language and culture. For more information, please visit