Ko Te Tuhi Paia - The Holy Bible
The Gospel first came to the small Pacific Island of Tokelau in the early 19th century. It was brought from Samoa by missionaries. Because of this, Tokelauans began using the Samoan Bible as there was no Bible available in their language. In the 1970s, some tentative translation work was carried out but it was not until the 1990s that a long-term project was begun in New Zealand which was facilitated by Bible Society.
In early 1996, Bible Society New Zealand hosted a translators workshop attended by up to 70 people including representatives from Tokelau. From this, three translators were chosen. The project was officially launched at an inter-denominational church service held at PIC Porirua in June 1996. In 1999 the Gospel of Mark was published and three Gospels were published in 2003. Thirteen years after the launch of the project, Ko Te Feagaiga Fou (The New Testament) was published by Bible Society.
The full Tokelauan Bible was scheduled for publication in 2021 but like many projects, was impacted by the global Covid pandemic.
Source: NZ Bible Society
Launch of New Testament
"For the 160 years that Christianity has been in Tokelau we have had no Bible. But God has been very good and gracious and today we give heartfelt thanks that we have the New Testament in our heart language". These emotion-charged words from Ioane Teao, the secretary of the Tokelau Bible Translation Committee (TBTC), at the dedication service of the New Testament translation in Porirua, near Wellington in 2009.
The Final Verse
Thirteen years after the New Testament was launched, and after 23 years and one month of work, head translator Ioane Teao (pictured left) and Bible Society Translations Director Dr Stephen Pattemore performed the final check of the final verse of the brand-new Tokelau Bible translation in 2019.
“We’re very pleased we’ve come to this part of the project! Yes, we had some fun – we celebrated with some sandwiches, a date scone and some bananas and oranges,” Ioane said.
Ioane Teao (left) and Dr Stephen Pattemore checking the Tokelau translation using the Paratext Bible translation software tool.
The project, which has been a joint effort of all Tokelau churches and community groups, had its genesis nearly 30 years ago.
Ioane and others consulted with the wider Tokelauan community for six years before the project could officially start. Ioane was the secretary of the team trying to get the project off the ground and support whoever would do the job. To Ioane’s surprise, it was he who would be asked to spend more than 23 years of his life working on the translation.
"One of the interesting things is that the Tokelau language never used to be a written language,” Stephen says. “Ioane’s generation were never taught at school how to write the language. They were taught English grammar, but not Tokelauan grammar.”
Ioane recalls having to learn how to write down the oral language before the translation work could begin. “I remember struggling to put a paragraph together in Tokelauan. In English, I had no problem, but it was a struggle to write in Tokelauan.” Ioane spent hours writing short columns in Tokelauan for a local Porirua newspaper to practice.
Initially reluctant to do the job, Ioane now recalls some farewell words his father said to him as Ioane left Tokelau for New Zealand when he was a boy. “As I was leaving Tokelau, my Dad was still talking to me as the boat was moving. He was saying to me, ‘You know you are going away to school. You must remember, you’re not going for yourself. You’re not going for your family. You’re going for the people. You’re going for Tokelau. Whatever you learn, you’re going to use to benefit the people of Tokelau.’ Those were his lasting words that I keep hearing everyday!”
When the first ever Bible in Tokelauan is published, it will be a major benchmark not just for Tokelauan Christians, but for the Tokelau language as well.
“I think this book will be the foundation of the language. As in many cultures, the Bible became the mainstay for the language. I think it’s going to be quite valuable for Tokelau, not only from the point of the spiritual life of the people but also for sustaining the language,” Ioane explains.
There is still more work to do though. The whole Bible must be checked for style and consistency, a glossary produced and maps for the back of the book translated. Once these are done, the lengthy typesetting and publishing process will begin, which could take up to a year.
Ioane says he keeps praying that God will give him one more day. “This is all I live for, to finish this job.”
Source: NZ Bible Society
Saving The Language
Today only about one-third of Tokelauans speak the Tokelauan language fluently, the Bible translation project has been an important initiative to help preserve and maintain the language.
Pictured above are some of the translators and elders who have been involved in the 23-year project.
As a result of their work, not only does it mean Tokelauans can read the Bible in their own tongue but it will also lead to the preservation of their language and, as part of that, our culture.
The completion of the Tokelauan Bible next year will be end of a 23-year project for head translator Ionae Teao. Ioane has dedicated his life to this project, which was initiated by the Tokelauan Society for the Translation of the Bible and supported by Bible Society New Zealand.
The Lord's Prayer in Tokelauan
To matou Tamana ite lagi,
Ke tapu to igoa.
Ke pa mai to malō,
Ke faia to loto ite lalolagi.
Evē kote faiga ite lagi,
Ke kē foki maia ite lagi.
A matou mea ke kai e tatau mana aho takitahi,
Ma fakamalago mai a matou agahala.
E vē ko ki matou na fakamalago atu kia teki latou
Na fai kino mai kia teki matou.
Nahe kē tukua ko ki matou kite fakaoho'ohoga,
Kae laveaki ki matou mai te kino.
Auā eō koe te malō,
Te mana mate vikiga.
Nei manā aho uma lele,
Listen to Dr Stephen Pattemore speaking on Radio New Zealand about the Tokelauan translation project (click on track below)
The Tokelauan New Testament was launched in June in 2009 with great celebrations and accolades.
Buying the New Testament
Source: NZ Bible Society & Various
Dream of Reading Tokelauan
In celebration of Te vaiaho o te Gagana Tokelau 2021, on the Radio 531pi show "Pacific Mornings", Presbyterian Minister Linda-Teleo Hope shares a devotion, talks about her 27 years in the ministry and her current Masters of Ministry studies at Otago University, then also talks about the importance of the Tokelau bible project at 15:44 mins. (English audio)