a little girl holding a pointer stick in front of a board

Te Vaiaho o te Gagana Tokelau 2020

Ko te gagana Tokelau, the Tokelauan language, is a most valuable thing, notes lexicographer Ropati Simona in his introduction to the Tokelau Dictionary. A gift from the tupuna, which binds the people of Tokelau together, to be cared for and nurtured so that ‘its beauty, elegance and usefulness remain unimpaired’.1 

The Tokelau Dictionary, published by the Office of Tokelau affairs in 1986, was a collaborative project involving Tokelauans, both in Tokelau and New Zealand, the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the University of Auckland. The project spanned ten years and built upon earlier vocabularies and dictionaries including the Tokelau-English Dictionary by Hosea Kirifi and J.H. Webster which was printed on a school duplicating machine in Tokelau in 1975.

Close up of pages from annotated Tokelau Dictionary

Image: Annotated proof of the Tokelau Dictionary

The papers of one of the University of Auckland academics involved in the project, Dr Judith Huntsman, are held in Special Collections. The collection includes bound proofs of the 1986 dictionary that were circulated among Tokelauans during the project for feedback. The handwritten annotations in the proofs include corrections and suggestions for words to add to the dictionary with notes on their meaning and examples of their use.2 They reflect the community’s involvement in the project and their regard for gagana Tokelau.

These proofs and other items from Judith Huntsman’s extensive collection of research papers on Tokelau can be viewed in the Special Collections’ Reading Room upon request. A copy of the dictionary is available in the General Library or you can consult the Tokelau Dictionary online.

Learn more


Katherine Pawley, Special Collections


Featured image: Child in classroom, Fakaofo, Tokelau. Photograph by Marti Friedlander, 1971. Anthropology Photographic Archive, record number 553172.

1 Tokelau Dictionary (1986) Office of Tokelau Affairs http://www.thebookshelf.auckland.ac.nz/document.php?action=null&wid=1137

2 Annotated proof of the Tokelau Dictionary. Judith Huntsman papers. MSS & Archives 2012/13, item 8/2/2. https://archives.library.auckland.ac.nz/repositories/2/archival_objects/105820