Uike Lea Faka-Tonga 2023 | Tonga Language Week 2023

Mālō e lelei kaungāme’a, and welcome to Uike Lea Faka-Tonga 2023 | Tonga Language Week 2023! The Tongan language is spoken by nearly 190,000 people around the world — including about 100,000 across the 45 inhabited islands of Tonga, and over 35,000 here in Aotearoa! Tongan people are a very important part of our whānau in Aotearoa, with over 82,000 people of Tongan descent living here, nearly 3,300 of whom live here in Wellington. (Source: 2018 Census)

This year, the theme for Uike Lea Faka-Tonga is:

‘E tu’uloa ‘a e Lea faka-Tonga ‘o ka lea-aki ‘i ‘api, siasi (lotu), mo e nofo-‘a-kāinga | The Tongan Language will be sustainable if used at home, church and in the wider community

Help us celebrate this special time for the community by learning more about the unique culture, language and history of Tonga and the Tongan people through the books and other resources below!

Celebrating the Life of Emeli Sione

A photo of Emeli Sione wearing a floral headdress, holding the English and Tongan versions of her book 'A New Dawn.' Above is the following text: "Emeli Loulu Aholelei Sione. Sunrise 01.07.74. Sunset 22.08.23."

Image courtesy of Dahlia Malaeulu, Mila’s Books.

Before we share our wonderful pukapuka in the lea faka-Tonga with you all, we wanted to take a moment to celebrate the life of Emeli Sione, who passed away in August 2023. Emeli was the bestselling author of A New Dawn (in lea faka-Tonga, Ko e Pongipongi Fo’ou), which was shortlisted for the Elsie Locke Non-fiction Award at this year’s Children’s Book Awards, and has also been shortlisted in the Ngaio Marsh Book Awards, but she also acted as author, editor, translator, advisor, and advocate for many other books in the Tongan language and about Tongan people and culture.

Emeli was a founding member of Mila’s Books based in Moera, Lower Hutt, one of the most significant publishers of children’s books in Pasifika languages in Aotearoa, and the only publishing company in New Zealand that works with an all-Pasifika team of authors, illustrators and editors. Through her work as an author and editor at Mila’s Books, and previously with the Ministry of Education, Emeli’s contribution to Pasifika literature, and Tongan children’s books in particular, can’t be overstated. This month, Mila’s Books are releasing 12 books in Tongan that Emeli worked on as part of the Tongan My Pasifika series — we can’t wait to have these books in our libraries for everyone to enjoy!

A New Dawn by Emeli Sione, published by Mila’s Books

Ko e Pongipongi Fo’ou by Emeli Sione, published by Mila’s Books

Lea Faka-Tonga at the Library

Check out some of our favourite books from the children’s section from and about Tonga, and in lea faka-Tonga:

Tonga / Toumu’a, Ruth
“The islands of Tonga are full of rich history and culture. Describes the history, customs, geography, and culture of the people who live there, and provides authentic vocabulary words for an immersive experience. Includes a glossary, index, and bibliography for further reading.”– Provided by publisher.” (Catalogue)

Tongan heroes / Riley, David
“Tongan heroes presents inspirational stories of achievers who have Tongan ancestry. It includes: Legends like Aho’eitu, Hina and Seketoa, historical figures such as Queen Salote Tupou III, Pita Vi and Professor Futa Helu, contemporary heroes like Jonah Lomu, Captain Kamelia Zarka, Filipe Tohi, The Jets, Manu Vatuvei, Dr Viliami Tangi and Valerie Adams. Readers will be inspired as they discover the challenges these figures faced and overcame, to become some of the world’s best in their chosen fields.” (Catalogue)

The worm and the whale / Halapua, Lisala
“Worms, yams and humpback whales tangle in a heart warming Tongan fable”–Back cover.” (Catalogue)

How Tonga got its name = Ko e founga hono ma’u ‘e Tonga ‘a hono hingoa / Riley, David
“Maui threw his line and hook into the ocean. He felt the hook catch onto something huge and heavy. “Wow, it’s beautiful!” Maui said. What amazing sight did Maui see in the ocean that day?” (Catalogue)

Rise of the To’a / Tatafu, ‘Alisi
“Describes the culture behind the Tongan national rugby league team, Kau To’a, Mate Ma’a Tonga, MMT, and features profiles on each of the players. Also tells the fictional story of Toko, who overcomes his fears and grows in self confidence.” (Catalogue)

Learning Tongan through bathtime / Sanerivi, Deborah
“Follow along with these children as their mother names each of their amazing body parts after fun in the mud. Join them as they go through their bath and bed time routines. Sentences are written in Tongan with their English translations.” (Publisher description)

The eleventh sheep = ko e sipi hono tahataha / Mewburn, Kyle
“When the eleventh sheep falls out of Sian’s dreams and into the real world, Sian is excited to have a new friend. Every day they play together, and at night Sian falls straight asleep with her arms around her woolly friend. But she can tell the eleventh sheep is homesick”–Publisher’s description.” (Catalogue)

Ko fé ho ihu? = where is your nose / Piliu, Annabel
“An early learning primer for the Tongan language.” (Catalogue)

‘Oku ou lava ‘o tohi : I can write / Lovatt Davis, F. M.
“Photographs and text introduce a range of places where children can write.” (Catalogue)

Also, visit this link to find even more books in lea faka-Tonga at your local library.

More Resources

Check out the following websites to learn more about the islands of Tonga and this beautiful country’s culture, language and history:

Uike Kātoanga’i ‘o e lea faka-Tonga: Tonga Language week 2022

Tonga Language Week Poster. Tongan girl in traditional dress

Mālō e lelei!

We are excited to tell you this week is Uike Kātoanga’i ‘o e lea faka-Tonga, Tonga Language Week, from Sunday 4th September to Saturday 10th September.

This year, the theme is Ke Tu’uloa ‘a e lea faka-Tönga ‘i Aotearoa, Sustaining the Tonga Language in Aotearoa.

A series of activities and events will be running for the whole week. To find out more click the button below:


About Tonga

The Kingdom of Tonga has more than 170 islands! Some of the islands are the peaks of undersea volcanoes! Other Tongan islands are atolls, or islands in which coral reefs surround a shallow pool of water. Only 36 of the islands have people living on them.

The population in Tonga is around 100,000 people, 70% of whom reside on the main island, Tongatapu.

The islands are divided into three main groups: Tongatapu in the south, Ha‘apai in the center, and Vava‘u in the north. There are also isolated islands in the far north (the Niuas island group) and in the far south (‘Ata).

There are two official languages, Tonga and English.

The distance between New Zealand and Tonga is around 2,382km and it takes about three and a half hours to fly there.

At the 2018 census, 82,389 people living in Aotearoa NZ identified themselves as being part of the Tongan ethnic group.  Head over to Te Ara Encyclopedia to learn more about Tonga identities and cultural contributions in Aotearoa!

Basic Tonga Greetings

Mālō e lelei – Greetings / Hello

Mālō e lelei – Greetings Everyone

‘Okú ke fēfē hake? – How are you (singular)?

‘Oku ou sai pē, mālō – I am fine, thank you

New FREE Tonga Language Learning App 

Check out this new app ‘MA’AU: Learn through Bathtime’. You can learn Tonga, Gāgāna Sāmoa and Fijian languages. There are songs, quizzes and colouring!

Picture of tongan boy with soap bubbles and the word bathtime above

Learning Tongan Language through bathtime

If you want to learn more about them you can visit their website. https://maau.co.nz/

You can also read the book; Learning Tongan through bathtime.


Visit your local library and have a look at our amazing books to learn more about Tonga cultures and practice the language in the  Tonga collection for kids. All our branch libraries have children’s collections in Tonga language.

If you don’t have a library card, you can sign up for free!

Rise of the To’a / Tatafu, ‘Alisi
“Describes the culture behind the Tongan national rugby league team, Kau To’a, Mate Ma’a Tonga, MMT, and features profiles on each of the players. Also tells the fictional story of Toko, who overcomes his fears and grows in self confidence.” (Catalogue)


How Tonga got its name = Ko e founga hono ma’u ‘e Tonga ‘a hono hingoa / Riley, David
“Maui threw his line and hook into the ocean. He felt the hook catch onto something huge and heavy. “Wow, it’s beautiful!” Maui said. What amazing sight did Maui see in the ocean that day?” (Catalogue)


Fish for mufti day : a story from the Islands of Tonga / MacGregor, Jill
“To raise money for the Mufti Day donation Siokatame and his friends collect seafood and sell it to people in their village.” (Catalogue)
The Secret Cave by David RileyThe secret cave = Koe ‘ana fakapulipulí / Riley, David
“Naua was an expert fisherman who found an underwater cave. Naua had a feeling his cave would be helpful one day. And so it did. Find out what happened in The Secret Cave – Koe ‘Ana Fakapulupuli, a Tongan legend retold by David Riley”–Back cover.” (Catalogue)

Of Course You Can! Io Te' Ke Lava

Of course you can! = ‘Io te′ ke lava / Hinge, Karen
“Jeremy is starting at a new school. He’s not too sure about how he will fit in. But the other students make him welcome and every time he thinks he can’t do something they say … “Of course you can!” That is until the day they go to the swimming pool.”–Back cover” (Catalogue)

That’s a wrap! Let’s enjoy the Tonga Language Week 2022 together! Mālō ‘aupito.

Malo e lelei!

Celebrate Tongan Language Week 30th August – 5th September 2015.


Click to enlarge

This year’s theme is Fakakaloa Aotearoa ‘aki ‘a e faiva ‘a e Tonga – Enriching Aotearoa with Tongan arts. This celebration provides an opportunity to celebrate through music, song, dance, food, crafts and language.

Did you know…? There are more Tongan people born in New Zealand than there are in Tonga, giving lea faka-Tonga (the Tonga language) and anga faka-Tonga (Tonga culture) a special place here.

Have a go a Lea Faka-Tonga.

The basic level of counting in Tongan is easier then you think. All you have to do is learn the numbers 0-10 then you can count from 1-99. Follow these simple rules.

Counting 1-99 in Tongan

  • numbers 0-9 noa, taha, ua, tolu, fā, nima, ono, fitu, valu, hiva
  • the number for 10 is hongofulu (hoh-ngoh-foo-loo)
  • the number for 100 is teau (teh-ah-oo)
  • every other number is literally the words 0-9 combined: twenty becomes two zero – ua noa
  • three exceptions to the rule 22, 55 and 99 words shortened to uo ua, nime nima, hive hiva

Example: How do you say the following numbers in Tongan?

  1. 19 (nineteen) – taha hiva
  2. 44 (fourty four) – fā fā
  3. 99 (ninety nine) – hive hiva
  4. 87 (eighty seven) – valu fitu

Test: Can you saying the following numbers in Tongan?

  1. 15 (fifthteen)
  2. 33 (thirtythree)
  3. 50 (fifty)
  4. 11 (eleven)

Here are some fun online learning games for Tongan, and a simple guide to the language for beginners.

 Or try a book!


Tongan Language Week 1-8 September

Mālō e lelei! This week is Tongan Language Week – Uike Kātoanga’i ‘o e Lea Faka-Tonga

Did you know…

  • At the time of the last census (which was in 2006), there were 50,000 Tongans in New Zealand
  • They were the third largest Pacific group, after Samoans (131,000) and Cook Islanders (58,000), and the fastest growing group
  • Tongans born in New Zealand account for 56% of the total world-wide Tongan population. this means there are more Tongans born in NZ then there are in Tonga.
  • Just over 60% of Tongans speak the Tongan language, but only 40% of those born in New Zealand speak it.
Why not give the Tongan language a go this week? Here’s some great books to get you started:
And here’s a great website with some useful phrases. See if you can you figure out what this means: Hoku vakapuna tētē ‘i ‘olunga fono ‘i he toke

Toki sio!