Tuvalu communities in Aotearoa

A starting point for building your understanding of Tuvalu culture. It includes some common concepts, terms and phrases that families in Aotearoa might use and value. Read it alongside the related page Pacific peoples and cultures in Aotearoa.

Land and people

Tuvalu is one of the smallest countries in the world, and consists of nine islands. The bond with one’s island is often more significant than being known as a person from Tuvalu.

People from Tuvalu value their land as an asset and a symbol of status. Land is customarily passed on through the eldest son. All families live on their inherited lands. 

Tuvalu has become one of the most endangered countries in the world due to rising sea levels. The contamination and loss of homeland has implications for Tuvalu culture, identity and spirituality.

Tuvalu has three main languages – Te Gana Tuvalu (Tuvalu language), English and I-Kiribati. There are also many similarities between the languages of Tuvalu, Tokelau and Samoa.

Most Tuvalu (families) in Aotearoa are first and second generation New Zealanders and speak Te Gana Tuvalu, but newer generations born here do not always speak it. With migration, intercultural relationships are common, and this is also affecting use of the language.

Culture and values

Tuvalu (children) are valued and precious to kaiga, because they are blessings from God. Their safety and wellbeing is sacred. This makes the love, care and protection of tamaliki the priority for (parents), the family and the surrounding community.

Lalaga a te Epa Faliki mo fakanofo a te tamaliki mo ona ola puipui.

The weaving of the Sacred Mat is for the wellbeing and protection of the child.

The Epa Faliki is a special mat specifically made for a baby in preparation for their birth. ‘Faliki’ means sacred, and is derived from the word ‘Aliki’ which means God. The Epa Faliki symbolises the strong foundation from which tamaliki develop. It is where they lie when resting, being fed, taught, and cared for by their parents and kaiga. Every tamaliki has their own Epa Faliki, and each mat carries with it the child’s genealogy, identity, hopes and dreams for their future.

Family roles

Traditional social structure

Traditional social structure
Traditional social structure

Women contribute equally with men in discussions, but men are usually the decision-makers in kaiga.

The first, second and third  cousin relationships, between a female and her male first cousins or a male and his female first cousins, is in Tuvalu culture and can be more significant than a brother-sister relationship. These relationships can take the lead in the support, care and protection of children.

Family terms

Tuvalu English
mokopu great grandchild
mother, parent
pui kaiga extended family
tupuga ancestors
sologa (or) gafa genealogy

Common greetings and phrases

Tuvalu English
Greetings (formal, only verbalised during a speech)
Greetings, hello
Welcome, come in
Ea mai koe? How are you?
Au e 'lei fafetai, kae ea mai koe? I’m fine thanks, and you?
(or) Thank you
Excuse me
I’m sorry

Working with Pacific peoples: Va'aifetū

Most of the information in this article comes from Va'aifetū, the Oranga Tamariki cultural practice tool for working with Pacific children and their families. Read it to find out more about Pacific cultures and building relationships with Pacific peoples.

Working with Pacific peoples: Va'aifetū | Practice Centre(external link)