17 Mar 2021

How kilikiti is helping keep the Samoan culture alive in NZ

From Champions of the Pacific, 6:08 am on 17 March 2021

It's one of the most popular pastimes in Samoa and Aotearoa's Pasifika communities are following suit in their passion for the game, but kilikiti is proving to be more than just a sport for Auckland's Samoan community.

Women were invited to compete in the Church of Origin kilikiti tournament for the first time this year.

Women were invited to compete in the Church of Origin kilikiti tournament for the first time this year. Photo: RNZ / Talei Anderson

The Counties Manukau Kilikiti Association, in partnership with Tau i Tua & Eagles Sports & Cultural Collective, is using kilikiti and church connections to keep the Samoan culture alive. 

The Church of Origin tournament, a kilikiti competition between Samoan churches, took place in Auckland earlier this year. 

Lead member of the organising committee, Tanoa'i Reupena Michael Tanoa'i, said he was hopeful that community engagement through kilikiti would help strengthen cultural practices for New Zealand born Samoan for generations to come. 

"It's just an opportunity for us to find ways to keep our beautiful culture alive through this sport," he said.  

"It's also used to anchor the Fa'a-Samoa culture in everything that we do. The way we walk, talk and present ourselves, (ie. tu, savali, tautala), the way we do things as Samoans and to use it in the sport and just to make sure that we carry it on for the next generation."

"Fa'amanuaiaga (blessings) from the elders, was one of the cultural practices carried throughout the day, where teams line up in front of the church fale'ie, tents, before and after each game - win or lose.

Tanoa'i said fa'amanuaiaga (blessing) was a sacred part of life.

Fa'amanuaiaga, blessings from the elders, is one of the cultural practices carried throughout the day.

Fa'amanuaiaga, blessings from the elders, is one of the cultural practices carried throughout the day. Photo: Counties Manukau Kilikiti Association

"The tapua'iga, support from our families and church family, is very important. It's a sacred part of our lives and not just in sport."

"[Looking back] our ancestors would go to war and the elders would stay home and pray for them and tautalo. Once they return home from the battle field our elders would be like 'fa'afetai, thank god they've made it home safely' and it's the same thing here with kilikiki."

"We go out on the field, battle, then we come back off and we thank them for their tapua'iga. They give us advice, they give us fautuaga, they give us their blessings to go out there and to represent them."

Samoan Methodist, EFKS and PIPC branches in Auckland were optimistic tournaments like these would engage with youth and bring them back to their traditional churches. 

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Photo: RNZ / Talei Anderson

"A lot of our generation have sort of moved away from the traditional churches for whatever reasons, a lot of us are still involved however we thought that this would be a great opportunity for our great players to inspire the younger ones."

"We want to connect them back to their churches, and to their traditional churches." 

Kilikiki, kirikiki or kilikiti are all names for Pacific Islands cricket. The english version was introduced by missionaries in the early 19th century, before locals modified the game to make it more exciting. 

Former captain of the Samoan cricket team, Ben Mailata, said the Samoan version allows the entire family, or village, to get involved.

The Samoan version of kilikiki allows the entire family, or village, to get involved.

The Samoan version of kilikiki allows the entire family, or village, to get involved. Photo: Counties Manukau Kilikiti Association

"The biggest difference is the amount of players that are playing at one time, and also the equipment, more so the bats that we use are a bit different and there's a lot of chanting and a lot of celebrating when we get wickets and that sort of stuff," he said. 

"The Church of Origin is playing by another modified version of kilikiki where usually there's no time, whereas today we're using 60 balls per team, 15-a-side, and the boundaries are twos and fours."

That right-handed batsman was part of the Te Atatu South Methodist team, Tama o le Meko, who for the third time since its inception were crowned the 2021 Church of Origin champions. 

The 36-year-old said kilikiti was a beautiful and fun way to keep youth connected to their traditions and values. 

Right-handed batsman of the Samoan cricket team Ben Mailata.

Right-handed batsman of the Samoan cricket team Ben Mailata. Photo: RNZ / Talei Anderson

"I think a lot of the values have sort of fallen away I guess over the last 10-15 years and I think playing kilikiki is a way for us to stay connected to our culture and values."

Women were also invited to compete for the first time this year. 

Lilomaiava Yvonne Timaloa said it took some convincing, but after a few words to their husbands, they can share their love of the game by playing as well. 

"Even though they don't see us, we're actually pulling the strings, we're keeping scores and we're making the games happen," she said.

"The guys might not have been open at first, but it only took a few women to have a few words to their husbands and here we are, it's awesome. Just to be part of the day and not just behind the scenes, but actually playing the sport is great." 

Lilomaiava said although churches competing are from different denominations, it's been special to see a community of faith come together to express their Samoan heritage. 

"We are all from different denominations but we come together as a community of faith, and because we are all Samoans we can all engage and have that fellowship."

"For me it's actually more than the sport, the sport is great, but I think kilikiti is an expression of our cultural heritage. It's this New Zealand-born generation that are trying to maintain their cultural links, and through sports, it enables this generation to pass it to the younger generations that are coming through."

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Photo: Counties Manukau Kilikiti Association

Tanoa'i said the Church of Origin tournament was also an opportunity to give back to their community, teaming up with the Society of St Vincent de Paul, to help those in need. 

"It's important for us to never forget where we came from, the struggles our parents had when they migrated for the first time. There were times when they needed food, there were times when they struggled when they first migrated and so it's important that we sort of step into their shoes and give back," he said. 

"There's a lot of people struggling because of Covid-19, and so we had about a hundred of us come together to prepare a thousand food hampers for our homeless and for our families that are in need."

"It was beautiful because all the churches were involved. It wasn't a catholic event, it wasn't an EFKS event, it was an ecumenical event bringing our different churches together as one body of Christ."