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NZ supported handicraft project set to empower Tongans


Pacific Scoop internship editor Daniel Drageset participated in a focus group about Tongan handicrafts recently. He subsequently interviewed Monalisa Palu and Elizabeth Latham about the project.

Pacific Scoop:
Report – By Shilo Kino and Daniel Drageset

A programme that develops handicrafts in Tonga will change people’s livelihoods and improve cultural tourism, says the project manager.

Monalisa Palu is the national coordinator for the cultural tourism support programme in Tonga. The handicrafts and cultural tourism support programme was launched in 2012.

The NZAID funded programme is collaborating with Langafonua handicrafts centre and will improve the quality and marketing of handicrafts as well as contributing to cultural tourism.

“By the end of the programme we hope to have given more opportunity for people to ensure their livelihoods are enhanced through their handicraft work,” Palu told Pacific Scoop in an exclusive interview.

“Cultural tourism is also important especially for Tongans because of their rich culture and I hope that can be shared with visitors and tourists.” Monalisa said the programme was aimed at helping people and ensuring an income.

‘Grassroots’ approach 
By 2015, the programme will come up with a draft of a financially sustainable model for the handicrafts sector in Tonga.

“The project is important because they employ those who are directly at the grass roots,” Palu said.

“We have women who have had no education. We have men who solely support their families through the sale of the handicrafts…so I think this project needs to continue to be supported and we thank NZAID for helping with that.”

Tourism advisor of the project Elizabeth Latham said the main message from focus groups was the demand for authenticity and wanting things that were “real”.

“Understanding the provenance and stories behind the products are important to people. It’s a real opportunity for us and for Tonga to deliver on this expectation and make it accessible for visitors,” she told Pacific Scoop.

Monalisa said there is a lack of knowledge when it about Tongan culture.

“Tonga is a beautiful place, so rich in history and culture and yet so many people don’t know about it. Hopefully it will translate for more tourism receipts for our Tongans.”

Training locals 
The “core” focus of the programme was training, Palu said, and mentioned business and marketing training of local Tongans.

Palu, who herself is Tongan, also said she hoped to publicise the work and participate in festivals.

“By 2015, the programme hopes to have the beneficiaries continue on with their work with new innovative ideas, but at the same time preserving traditional knowledge and also having the capacity and the capability to make sure that their work actually translates to income that would help their families.

“We hope that by the end of this programme tourists are able to have a richer experience and understand more about our culture,” Palu said.

She also said she hoped those who participated in the programme would share the knowledge and teach others how to properly communicate the values behind the crafts and artists.

This story was written by Shilo Kino, a Graduate Diploma in Pacific Journalism student at AUT University writing for Pacific Scoop. Listen to the interview with Monalisa Palu and Elizabeth Latham by Pacific Scoop internship editor Daniel Drageset. Read transcript