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Tau Koka‘anga faka-Nu‘u SilaF

by Lesieli Kupu MacIntyre

Tau Koka‘anga Faka-Nu‘u Sila supports the following units from Faufaua!

  • Unit 17 Ko e Ngaohi ha ‘ū me‘a / making things
  • Unit 18 Ko Hono fua' / measuring

Text features

Language features

The language features of this story include:

  • use of lea fakamatāpule (polite level of language) and lea tavale (everyday language), for example, lea fakamatāpule when the principal says Kātaki, mou ō mai ki he holo ‘o e ‘apiako'/please, come to the school hall; and lea tavale when the narrator tells the story from her point of view Tō tō atu! / far out!
  • use of words transliterated from English, for example, holo/hall; Nu‘u Sila / New Zealand; mita/metre
  • use of te as a future tense marker, for example, Te nau koka‘anga ha ngatu / they are going to make ngatu
  • use of possessive phrases to indicate ownership, for example, ‘o e ‘apiako' / of the school
  • descriptors placed after the word being described, for example, lotu fakaava/prayer opening (opening prayer); Ko e pongipongi Tokonaki eni / morning Saturday (It’s Saturday morning); Ko e ngāue lahi! / work lots (what a lot of work!)
  • use of formulaic expressions, for example, Mālō ho‘omou lelei! / greetings, everyone!; Faka‘ofo‘ofa! / It’s beautiful!
  • use of times of day in the names of meals, for example, … me‘akai pongipongi′, ho‘atā′, mo e kai efiafi … / the food for the early morning (breakfast), midday (lunch), and evening (dinner) ....
  • use of kuo as a tense marker, indicating a transition of tense from not being to being/not happening or doing to happening or doing, for example, Kuo nau maau ke kamata / they are ready to begin (all the preparations have been completed, and the people are ready to move on to the next stage).

Cultural features

The cultural features in this story include:

  • the making of ngatu (see below), following a process called koka‘anga
  • people working together as a community to make ngatu
  • the use of traditional forms of measurement as well as the modern international forms, for example, hanga/a hand span and mita/metres (see also Unit 18: Ko Hono Fua'/measuring)
  • the reciting of Lotu ‘a e ‘Eiki' / the Lord’s Prayer at the start of the occasion, indicating the importance of Christianity in the Tongan culture
  • the importance of showing faka‘apa‘apa/respect, for example, the respect that the principal shows in welcoming the parents and the respect the men show for Nena’s knowledge when they ask her ‘Oku tonu eni? / is this the right way?; fakaongoongo/self-restraint, which the narrator and her friends show as they politely watch before asking if they can join in; and talangofua/obedience, which the people demonstrate when they try to do things the right way, talking quietly as they all make the ngatu together
  • the importance of fevahevahe‘aki/sharing and fetokoni‘aki / helping one another, including feeding the workers
  • the celebratory clothes that the people wear for this special occasion: many are wearing kahoa/garlands, tupenu/lavalava,wraparound skirts, and ta‘avola / fine mats wrapped around the waist; Nena wears a kiekie / an ornamental string skirt girdle attached to a waistband and worn over a tupenu.


In lea faka-Tonga, ngatu is the name for a decorative cloth made from the bark of the hiapo (paper-mulberry tree). Tapa is the English term for bark cloth and is a name adapted from the Tahitian and the Cook Islands Māori term. In gagana Sāmoa, the same cloth is called siapo, and in the Niue language, it is called hiapo.

Ngatu are of great social importance to Tongan people and are often presented as gifts to mark special occasions.

To make ngatu, bark is pulled from the hiapo tree in strips that are about a hand span wide and can be as tall as a person. Once the outer bark is scraped off, the inner bark (called tutu or loututu) is dried in the sun before being soaked.

The tutu is then beaten with wooden mallets (called ike) into thin sheets about 25 centimetres wide. This phase of the work is called tutu or tutua. The ike are smooth on one side and have coarse and fine grooves on the other sides. The workers start by beating the tutu with the coarse side of the ike, then swap to using the smooth side when the tutu has become thinner. They beat the ike in a steady rhythm that often becomes a rhythmic concert.

When the tutu is thin enough, several strips are beaten together to form a large sheet in a process called ‘opo‘opo. Glue (called tou), made from starch from the kumala (sweet potato) or manioke (tapioca), may be used to help the strips stick together better.

Once two large sheets have been made, one sheet is laid out lengthwise and the second sheet is laid crosswise on top and glued in place. Such double layering makes the cloth very strong. At this stage, the cloth is called feta‘aki. The two layers have their own names: the top layer is called lau‘olunga, and the bottom layer is known as laulalo. Any rough edges from the two layers are trimmed away with a knife or mutu (sharp shell).

The feta‘aki becomes ngatu once the central area is painted (a strip along the outer edge of each side is left unpainted). In Tonga, the workers lay the feta‘aki over a wooden drum that is covered with carvings of patterned stencils called kupesi. Then they rub brown paint over the feta‘aki. This process is called ata‘i. When one section has been painted, the workers lift the feta‘aki and lay the next blank section over the kupesi for painting. When the whole feta‘aki has been painted, the workers spread it over the ground to complete final touch-up paintwork with brushes. They usually use brown paint (koka); black is not traditionally associated with ngatu in Tonga.

The blank outer edge on each side of the ngatu is known as the tapa. This area is used for recording the number of sections completed in the ngatu. The distance between each section of ngatu is called the langanga, and each langanga will be between 45 and 60 centimetres (1 to 2 feet) long. A length of 4 to 7 langanga is called a fola‘osi; a length of 8 to 10 langanga is called fātuua; and a length of 50 langanga is called a launima. A completed ngatu will be at least 50 langanga long (at least 15 metres) and can be about 3 metres wide.

Size is a key element in ngatu and relates to status – the larger the ngatu, the higher the status of the person to whom the ngatu is being presented.

In Tonga, often the women of a whole village work together to make a huge sheet of ngatu to gift to the church or their chief at an important occasion. By contrast, in New Zealand, men also may work on all stages of creating the ngatu.

The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa has a good collection of ngatu complete with information on their origins. See also Pacific Tapa by Roger Neich and Mick Pendergrast (2004, Auckland: David Bateman Books) for more details on making ngatu.

Links to the New Zealand Curriculum

Key competencies

Reading and working with Tau Koka‘anga Faka-Nu‘u Sila 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:

Technology, level 3

Technological products

Students will:

  • understand the relationship between the materials used and their performance properties in technological products.

Characteristics of technology

Students will:

  • understand how society and environments impact on and are influenced by technology in historical and contemporary contexts and that technological knowledge is validated by successful function.

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:

  • 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).

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
  • recognise and use Tongan expressions for numbers in measurements
  • explain, in English, the difference between making ngatu in Tonga and making ngatu the New Zealand way
  • retell information, in English, about important aspects of anga faka-Tonga presented in the story.