There is a growing amount of literatures and researches examining key factors that contribute to the vulnerability of Pacific youth, especially suicide. In 2011, there was a spike in the number of young Tongans in New Zealand who lost their lives to this epidemic and this number continued to increase significantly. One of the main concerns that came out during the public meetings and initiatives to remedy the aforementioned issue was communication. The discussions touched on lack of communication, miscommunication, failure to initiate communication in relation to culture and intergenerational differences. If communication is a major contributing factor to the cause of the problem, can directly addressing communication issues help forge a solution to youth vulnerability to suicide?
As a result of these discussions, it became evident that there was a lack of understanding in terms of what communication really mean to Tongan youth. This thesis aims to explore Tongan youths’ understandings of communication, their preferred ways of communicating, what hindered, encouraged and/or influenced this and whether their perceptions were influenced by Tongan cultural values, beliefs and practices. These can be explored through the use of individual interviews (tālanoa). To capture youth’s views, a qualitative research methodology namely phenomenology was used along with tālanoa as the cultural research method as well as the Kakala research framework to carry out the research. Sessions of tālanoa were carried out with 12 participants aged between 16 to 24 years. The partcipants were recruited from South Auckland using a snowball approach. The participants consist of seven females, four males and one fakaleitī (transsexual male). Talanoa sessions were audio recorded and transcribed.
An Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis was used to analyse the transcribed data so as to remain as faithful as possible to the participants’ voices. Findings highlighted the importance of a strong preference for face to face communication to this group especially during vulnerable times. Participants defined communication as more than just words. There was strong recognition of the power of non-verbal cues and also the intangible elements within communication such as fātongia (roles and responsibilities). Even though participants comprised of Tongan-born and New Zealand-born, only one of them speaks fluent Tongan. However, they all identified very clearly with being Tongan and very much aware of the culturally defined communication behaviours such as the fevahevahe’aki (sharing), fakafekau’aki (connecting with) and tauhi vā (nurturing relationships).
Although it was not the intention of the study to directly find out if they attempted suicide, eleven of the twelve participants emotionally shared that they had attempted suicide largely as a result of their inability to communicate during times of stress. It is hoped that findings from this exploratory study would add to the body of knowledge that can become the basis for planning intervention strategies for vulnerable Pacific and Tongan youth. Furthermore, findings from this study would be a great starting point for further research and discussion about communication behaviours within families (parenting), youth, and community levels. It also informs the practice of those working with vulnerable youth, such as health professionals, mental health services and policy makers.