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Ko e Kahoa Fai‘aho

by Lesieli Kupu MacIntyre

Ko e Kahoa Fai‘aho supports the following units from Faufaua!

  • Unit 15 Ko e Taimi' mo e ngaahi Feitu‘u' / time and places
  • Unit 17 Ko e Ngaohi ha ‘ū Me‘a / making things

Text features

Language features

The language features of this story include:

  • use of terms that once had specific meanings in lea faka-Tonga and are now used with more generalised meanings in different contexts – for example, vaka traditionally referred to boats but is now used in combination with other words to express the concept of a “carrier of people” (vakapuna/aeroplane; he vaka ʻEa Nuʻu Sila / on an Air New Zealand flight) and malaʻe / meeting place has broadened its meaning to be able to be used in contexts such as malaʻe vakapuna / airport
  • use of prepositions to express direction, for example, ‘i he hahake / in the east; ‘i mala‘e vakapuna / at the airport; ki Tonga / to Tonga
  • use of prepositions expressing time, for example, hengihengi/early in the morning (around the crack of dawn); pongipongia / early in the morning (for example, around 7 a.m.); ‘i he efiafi' / in the evening
  • use of the prefix faka- to change a noun into a verb, for example, kahoa/garland and fakakahoa / to place a garland round someone’s neck
  • the words for family members, for example, mehikitanga/aunt (specifically, father’s sister); fanga tokoua / cousins; fāmili/family
  • the different meanings of the word lahi according to context; for example, in Ko ʻApi' ko hoku tokoua lahi ia ʻe taha / ‘Api is one of my older cousins, lahi means “older”, while in Fakamālō lahi atu ʻaupito / thank you all very much, lahi carries the meaning of “very much” or “a lot” 
  • use of words that indicate a sequence of actions or steps, for example, ‘uluaki'/first; hoko'/next; hokohoko / one after another, continue; ‘osi ia' / after that
  • use of the singular verb form to indicate one action and the plural verb form to indicate repetition of that action, for example, hoko'/the next action and hokohoko/the next series of actions
  • use of words that have cognates (related words) in other languages, for example, lo‘imata/tear, which is a cognate with te reo Māori roimata (tear).

Cultural features

The cultural features in this story include:

  • making a kahoa heilala for a girl’s twenty-first birthday, which highlights the important anga faka-Tonga values of fakaʻapaʻapa/respect, ʻofa/affection, and fevahevahe‘aki/sharing, which includes the idea of fetokoni‘aki/helping one another, for example, the girls working together to collect the flowers, then all three being taught how to make the kahoa heilala by the narrator’s mehikitanga (see below for more information on heilala)
  • the importance of particular birthdays in Tongan culture. Traditionally, Tongans celebrated only the first birthday (see also the storybook Ko e Ta‘u Taha ‘o Tomi') and a girl’s twenty-first birthday. While such traditions are changing, this story highlights the importance that is still placed on a girl’s twenty-first birthday, as suggested in the preparation of special kahoa and the fine clothing worn by all guests at the party
  • the kie (fine mat wrapped around the waist) worn by guests at the birthday celebration, made from a special type of pandanus called la‘i kie. La‘i kie are bleached in the sea for a few days before being dried in the sun to make them whiter and softer
  • the kato (woven baskets commonly made from pandanus leaves) used to hold the heilala flowers that the girls collect (in Tonga, it is usual for women and girls to weave kato before going out to gather flowers for kahoa)
  • the central role of the mehikitanga in the story. The mehikitanga / paternal aunt is the woman with the highest status in a family. She is the head of any special occasion for her brothers’ children, for example, birthday, funeral, wedding, christening, holy communion, graduation, and headstone unveiling, and the family gives her the biggest gifts at these occasions. In return, she may give some gifts to the mothers of her brothers’ children as a sign of her appreciation for their generosity towards her
  • the use of the term fāmili, which has the same meaning as the English term “family”. Kāinga is the lea faka-Tonga term for extended family. Traditionally, Tongan kāinga lived together in houses on the ‘api / family land. This practice is not so common now. The term ‘api not only refers to the piece of land where houses are grouped but also more generally to those who live on that land, and this is how the term is applied in this story when the narrator says … ‘o mau fa‘o ia he ‘ū kato ‘o ‘omai ki ‘api/[we] put them in baskets, and take them home.


The red-blossomed heilala is a flower that signifies high ranking in anga faka-Tonga and is the national flower of the Kingdom of Tonga. The heilala is the royal flower because it is used to make the kahoa that are presented to the King, and there are specific ways of stringing the heilala that were traditionally only worn by people of ‘eiki (chiefly) rank. Because of its status, a kahoa ve‘eve‘e heilala appears on the covers of Ko e Fakahinohino ki he Lea Faka-Tonga: The Tongan Language Guidelines and Faufaua! An Introduction to Tongan.

Uike Heilala (Heilala Week) is a contemporary Tongan week-long festival held in July, when the heilala flower is in bloom. Many events take place during the festival, including music contests, marching, parades, and a beauty contest, with the winner being crowned Miss Heilala.

Kakala is a generic term for the fragrant plants used in kahoa. It’s also used to scent coconut oil. Kakala is commonly referred to in Tongan legends, songs, dance, and poetry as a symbol of fakaʻapaʻapa and ʻofa. The heilala is one of the kakala plants.

Links to the New Zealand Curriculum

Key competencies

Reading and working with Ko e Kahoa Fai‘aho could help students develop key competencies set out in the New Zealand Curriculum: Key Competencies.


The story illustrates many values that relate to the New Zealand Curriculum: Values and are fundamental to Tongan culture, including the importance of community, faka‘apa‘apa (respect), fevahevahe‘aki (sharing), and fetokoni‘aki (helping one another).

Cross-curricular links

Learners who are working at levels 1–2 in lea faka-Tonga may be working at higher curriculum levels in other learning areas. You will need to consider this in order to make effective cross-curricular links. Here are two examples of cross-curricular achievement objectives that could be linked to this story:

The arts, visual arts, level 4

Understanding Visual Arts in Context

Students will:

  • Investigate the purpose of objects and images from past and present cultures and identify the contexts in which they were or are made, viewed, and valued.

Social sciences, level 4

Students will gain knowledge, skills, and experience to:

  • Understand how people pass on and sustain culture and heritage for different reasons and that this has consequences for people.

Learning languages: Achievement objectives

Students will:

(Communication strand, relating to selected linguistic and sociocultural contexts)

  • receive and produce information
  • produce and respond to questions and requests
  • show social awareness when interacting with others.

(Language knowledge strand)

  • recognise that the target language is organised in particular ways
  • make connections with their own language(s).

(Cultural knowledge strand)

  • recognise that the target culture is organised in particular ways
  • make connections with known culture(s).

Ko e Fakahinohino ki he Lea Faka-Tonga: The Tongan Language Guidelines, levels 1 and 2

Students should be able to:

  • give and respond to greetings, farewells, and introductions (1.1)
  • recognise and express number, time, and location (1.4)
  • use language, positioning, and movement to show respect (1.8)
  • communicate about people, places, and things (2.1)
  • make requests, give instructions, and respond to requests and instructions (2.4).

Learning outcomes

Below are some possible learning outcomes for reading this story. Select from and adapt these to meet the needs of your students and share the outcomes with them.

After reading and working with this story, I will be able to:

  • read the story aloud reasonably fluently, pronouncing all words clearly
  • write texts for particular purposes with appropriate use of macrons, glottal stops, and the definitive accent
  • follow simple instructions in lea faka-Tonga to create my own heilala and use simple instructions in lea faka-Tonga to direct others in creating heilala
  • recognise and use simple Tongan expressions of time and place in descriptions
  • link heilala and kie to their contexts of use and identify their importance to the people of Tonga.