It was 35 years ago that the pioneers of the Atafu community in Wellington became the first Pacific group in Aotearoa-New Zealand to build their own gathering place that wasn't church-based.
The vision of the early pioneers of the Atafu community was celebrated this week, as the community marked 35 years since the Matauala Hall was built in Porirua - the first Pacific community in New Zealand to build a cultural facility that wasn't church-based.
The theme of the celebration on 27 October 2022, was "Healoa na Tugavae i te One", commemorating the "Footprints in the Sand" - referring to the indelible legacy our pioneering and founding fathers and mothers have left for us.
President of the Atafu Tokelau Community Group Les (Lehi) Atoni says the celebration was about appreciating the foundations that have been laid by our tupuna.
The event was a journey or timeline through the history of the group and the hall, using photos, videos, memorabilia and stories.
"It was about acknowledging our tupuna who founded the society, who had the vision for creating a gathering space for our Atafu community in Wellington," says Les. "It was the first Pacific group in Aotearoa-New Zealand to build such a hall that wasn't connected with a church."
Les says the founding members of the group were made up of early Atafu migrants starting from the late 1950s, who were mostly based in Wellington. They brought out other family and as houses became available in Porirua, many began to relocate to base themselves there.
The number of Atafu migrants in New Zealand increased significantly from 1963 when a government-assisted scheme helped Tokelauans, especially unmarried people, migrate to New Zealand to work as domestics and in hospitals and hostels.
Three years later, the programme was formalised as the Tokelau Islands Resettlement Scheme, and it brought over more Tokelauans, including families.
At the time there were concerns about the over-population of Tokelau given its limited resources, with 1,575 living there. By 1975, some 528 had been resettled in New Zealand, according to a 1979 United Nations paper on decolonization.
The Wellington Atafu group fundraised in order to buy land, through holding dances, fruit-picking around the lower North Island and other initiatives. By 1978, the group was able to purchase land in Cannons Creek, Porirua.
They broke ground in 1981, the same year the Atafu Tokelau Community Group became a formally registered Incorporated Society.
After more fundraising the hall began to take shape, which was named Matauala (another name for Atafu). The hall was officially opened in 1987 by the then Mayor of Porirua John Burke on 18 April 1987.
Les says he still marvels at the courage of our tupuna to relocate to a new land and then build a base they could call their own.
"The elders of our community talk about bringing the spirit of our tupuna from home in Atafu to Aotearoa," says Les. "It's that spirit that enabled them, and gave them the motivation, to carry on with the work and to build this place."
"It's that spirit and courage that we celebrated and commemorated, 35 years after the Matauala Hall was built."
More photos of the 35th Celebration Event are available on the Matauala website at this link.