To understand the diminishing language and culture of the Diasporas people of Tokelau, one must understand the history of this island group. Over 3,000 miles south of Hawaii lay the island group of Tokelau. It consists of Atafu, Nukunonu, and Fakaoka. According to Historian Betty Ickes, Tokelau traditionally included the Swains Islands or Olohega before becoming a territory of American Samoa in 1925 (Ickes 3). In the mid 1860's, along with other islands around the Pacific, the people of Tokelau were taken from their islands to become labor workers in Peru and at the same time, missionaries from the Protestant and Catholic churches arrived to spread their faith (Glenn 9). Much of these missionaries were recruited from Samoa to help overcome the language barrier, as it was presumed that it was similar (Glenn 9-10). The Tokelauan language had been exclusively oral, while Samoan was used as the written language (Hovdhaugen 54).
Due to the dwindling resources from natural causes in the mid twentieth century, the government encouraged its people to migrate to further their education (Glenn 10). It seemed natural to take advantage of the free association with New Zealand. Currently, the population of Tokelauans living in New Zealand is estimated at nearly 7,000 (Statistics New Zealand 2006), and Hawaii at "Some nearly one thousand" (Glenn 16), compared to the population living on the homeland at a little over 1,400 (Statistics New Zealand 2011), it is safe to assume this is one of the reasons why the language and its culture is in danger of being lost. .
The people of Tokelau set out to find a better life and extend their education, coupled with the invasion of the Samoan language, made them unaware that assimilating themselves to the outside influence would someday diminish the interest in their culture and identity. .
All hope is not lost though. On Saturday September 21st, I listened and watched as Te Lumanaki O Tokelau i Amelika (The Future of Tokelau in America) took center stage at Bishop Museum's Grand Unveiling of Pacific Hall event.