Sign of the time in Niue

This week New Zealand celebrates Niuean Language Week. Chief Librarian, Chris Szekely was in Niue recently and shares a personal glimpse on signs of the time.

Update: These images have been deposited into the Alexander Turnbull Library collections and are available here: Ref: PADL-001340

Img 3826No! Don’t throw it! It’s bad & you know it! Makefu Village.

This year I travelled to Niue twice for a few days leave; two long weekends, first in June and then September. At a stretch, those months generally mark the start and finish of Niue’s whale-watch season (August especially). It takes three and a half hours to fly to Niue from Auckland, three and a half hours to somewhere warm.

I timed the first trip to coincide with the release of Margaret Pointer’s book Niue 1774-1974: two hundred years of contact and change. Margaret is a familiar face in the Turnbull reading rooms. In 2013 she gave a presentation to staff on her research, and two years later launched her book at the library. The Wellington launch was a lively event, with Damon Salesa as guest speaker, a large turnout from the local Niuean community, and the presence of the Niuean Premier, Hon. Toke Talagi.

11200926 363101410548559 7177194148498445811 ODr Damon Salesa launches Niue 1774 – 1974: 200 years of contact and change by Margaret Pointer at the National Library in April 2015.

Two months later, on June 15th, Margaret took the book to Niue for a launch hosted by the country’s museum and archive institution, Taoga Niue. Speakers included the Niuean Premier, Hon. Toke Talagi, the former Premier, Young Vivian, the museum director Moira Enetama, and Rachel Scott from Otago University Press. Copies of the book were presented to a number of people who had supported the publication, and several dignitaries. Niue 1774-1974: two hundred years of contact and change was home.

Left to right: Hon. Toke Talagi, Young Vivan, Margaret Pointer at Taoga Nuie, 15 June 2015.Left to right: Hon. Toke Talagi, Young Vivan, Margaret Pointer at Taoga Nuie, 15 June 2015.

After the launch I drove around the island’s ring road, a distance of perhaps 60 kilometres, with regular stops to explore the sea tracks and take photographs. There were no whales to be seen, but something that did catch my eye was the distinctive roadside signage. I captured a few keepsake snaps.

My return trip in September was purely personal, a chance to catch-up on reading, do some writing, and maybe even swim with a whale. The roadside signs caught my attention again and this time led to a sign-snapping safari. The brightly coloured, mostly-locally made signs are in a mix of English and Niuean with a variety of styles and messages.

Here are a few examples, taken from a set comprising around 30 images (Ref: PADL-001340):

Tumau ke fakamea</em>, Avatele Village.Tumau ke fakamea, Avatele Village.

Come & enjoy fineone Hakupu-atua, Hakupu Village.Come & enjoy fineone Hakupu-atua, Hakupu Village.

POPS, Vaiea Village.POPS, Vaiea Village.

Caring for the environment is a standout theme on the billboards. Niue initiated a POPs (persistent organic pollutants) project over a decade ago with support from the United Nations Development Programme, and several signs promote messages aimed at reducing chemical pollutants. Other signs carry anti-litter slogans such as: “Stop! Don’t throw it! It’s bad you know it!” and “How much you throw shows how much you know.”

Welcome to Tuapa smokefree village, Tuapa Village.Welcome to Tuapa smokefree village, Tuapa Village.

Anti-smoking is another theme. Tuapa Village made international headlines in 2008 when it declared itself smoke free as part of nationwide campaign to reduce smoking in Niue. A number of signs carry this message.

The signs work hard in a tropical climate. Hot days, high humidity and seasonal cyclones take their toll on the wooden hoardings and paint. It’s unlikely the same set of billboards will be on show in the same condition in a few years time, so I’m glad to have a modest record of their presence and place in 2015.

And what about the whales – did I see any, and did I swim with them? Yes and yes. Niue well deserves its reputation as a place that is warm and wonderful.

By Chris Szekely

Chris Szekely is Chief Librarian of the Alexander Turnbull Library.

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Anna Tiaki October 13th at 8:36AM

Fakaalofa lahi atu Chris

Thank you for your blog, It's wonderful that a small pacific island can make a huge impact on the environment and it's people.

Maggie Murphy October 18th at 4:18PM

It looks beautiful - I want to go there now.