Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

Social Space and Cultural Identity: The Faikava as a Supplementary Site for Maintaining Tongan Identity in New Zealand

Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

Social Space and Cultural Identity: The Faikava as a Supplementary Site for Maintaining Tongan Identity in New Zealand

Article excerpt


Both previous research and anecdotal evidence have found the commonplace activity of kava-drinking to be 'a recreational activity for older males' and a complete 'waste of time'. This paper presents a summary of my Master's research1, an exploratory study of the experiences and perceptions of a group of NZ-born Tongan males living in Auckland and their participation in the Tongan cultural practice known as the faikava. Further, it is hoped that their lived-experiences of the faikava and how they value this cultural practice generate and reinforce feelings of identity and security for other New Zealand-born Tongan males today and in the future. A methodological framework combining phenomenology and talanoa was employed. Twelve members of faikava clubs in the Auckland region were selected as research participants. The clubs they belonged to were mainly linked to churches, villages and old boys' associations. The talanoa was conducted in Tongan and English, and was recorded. Findings suggest that faikava plays a significant role in teaching, reinforcing and maintaining the Tongan culture and language for this group. Moreover, they referred to the faikava environment as a cultural classroom in which debates, songs and music rejuvenated and maintained Tongan culture and language. It can be said that the faikava is valued as an identity marker for New Zealand-born Tongan males in Auckland, New Zealand.


There is a significant amount of research that indicates constant and consistent work is being carried out by our Pacific families, churches and communities to ensure that our Pacific children and youth, especially Tongan youth, receive guidance about and protection from the social and economic challenges that they face in New Zealand today (Morton, 1998; Fairbairn-Dunlop, 2013). Further, families, churches and cultural activities and practices are the heart of our Pacific peoples in New Zealand. Indeed, these are perceived by many Tongan peoples in New Zealand, especially New Zealand born Tongans, as a place where the nurturing, reinforcing and maintaining of the Tongan identity, culture, language and traditional values and beliefs are seen to be the important protective elements in lives of our Tongan youth. In a Pacific Youth Meeting in Wellington, New Zealand, Brenda Heather-Latu (2007) put forward a challenge to our Pacific families, churches and communities in regard to how these protective elements can be fostered and reinforced in New Zealand:

We as Pacific Islanders must take the time to understand today's economic and social reforms, the roller coaster of technology, the market and globalisation. We must understand the influence of the media, especially television on our lives and those of our children and what the supports are that our children need ... Our Pacific Island leaders must appreciate these changing times and guide us through them, leaving our identities intact, our uniqueness unique and our spirits alive (p. 42).

There is a considerable amount of research and anecdotal evidence on the role of cultural practices and spaces in reinforcing and maintaining a sense of cultural identity in a multicultural country like New Zealand. However, what has not been so well explored and understood is the role that particular cultural practices, such as the faikava2, can play in nurturing, securing and maintaining a sense of Tongan identity, especially for those born and raised in New Zealand. The faikava is a well-known ceremonial cultural practice that in recent times has been adapted as an informal and recreational activity embedded in the church and other social activities in Tonga and in Tongan migrant communities in New Zealand, Australia and the United States of America (USA). Predominantly a male cultural practice, the heart of the faikava is found in the social bonding, fostering of camaraderie, the establishing and re-affirming of networks and relationships, the exchange of stories, knowledge and life-experiences, whilst drinking the narcotic beverage of kava. …

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