Writers on Samoan Language Week

Justin LatifLocal Democracy Reporter, wrote a piece for last week’s Samoan Language Week in New Zealand titled, “Rekindling Memories and Righting Wrongs: Writers on Samoan Language Week,” which was about how Sāmoan authors believe that their language was more than just a means of communication, but also a way to build confidence among their fellow youth.

For one children’s author, using her Sāmoan language is an act of decolonisation. For another group of Sāmoan writers, it’s a means to reconnect to home. It’s Sāmoan language week and for Reina Vaai just the simple act of speaking her mother tongue has powerful ramifications. “When our parents first migrated here, they were trying to assimilate – so speaking Sāmoan was not a good thing,” she said.

“But now there’s a huge revival from second-generation Sāmoans wanting to reclaim their language, participating [in Sāmoan language week] is actually an act of decolonisation.”

The criminal barrister turned writer has four books for children to her name, all peppered with the Sāmoan language, colorful characters and her culture.

Parents often tell her the books, which she distributes in schools and libraries both in Auckland and back in Sāmoa, are helping their families rediscover a love for their language “It’s been amazing to see the messages from parents, who can’t speak Sāmoan but are really keen to give these books to their children, so they can reconnect.”

Being proficient in the language has helped her work out her own identity in a western context, she said. “Growing up I wasn’t allowed to speak English at home, as my parents were huge on knowing my culture. And it’s really helped to guide me, as it’s been a foundation for my life as the language is a tool for me to better navigate different pressures as well as support my family.”

‘It gives you more confidence’

For a group of 10 student authors at Tangaroa College in Ōtara, sharing stories of home in a soon-to-be-released bi-lingual book has helped to rekindle memories of families back in Sāmoa, while encouraging New Zealand-born Sāmoan peers to persevere with their language skills.

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Tangaroa College students, from left, Petala Nanai, Fipule Tanavasa, and Togisau Chan Sau, with their English teacher Debbie Riley holding the cover of their book- photo by http://www.rnz.co.nz

Local Democracy Reporting spoke with Fipule Tanavasa, Togisa Chan Sau and Petala Nanai about their experiences writing La’u Penina Tautele My Pearl of Great Price.

The trio all came to New Zealand for secondary school but have not seen their parents and younger siblings since the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in travel restrictions being imposed between the two nations.

Tanavasu, 16, said it had been hard not seeing her parents for such a long time, but contributing to the book had been a special way to recall life back home and it inspired her to want to write a second book about her family. “I know that English is our second language, but it’s important to keep our culture active and because our language is so important to us,” she said.

Nanai, 15, said being strong in her language gave her more confidence. “It’s important for our young people not to be shy to share our culture. I know we have to learn English because that’s how we’ll get jobs, but you have to know your first language, because then it’s easier to learn your second language. And it also gives you more confidence.”

Togisau Chan Sau’s message to his fellow Sāmoan peers was clear: “with the Sāmoan language and culture, you can be anything you want”.

Auckland councillor Fa’anana Efeso Collins grew up in Ōtara at a time when speaking only English was encouraged, so seeing the opportunities available to students at his old school was “inspiring”. He said, “I went to school at a time when kids were being told not to speak their native tongue at home. But language is a key pillar of one’s culture so learning and maintaining your home language is pivotal to your identity. As a semi proficient speaker of Sāmoan I take any opportunity to speak the language, however embarrassed I feel in certain contexts.”

The students wrote the book as part of an Auckland Council-funded project, which councillor Alf Filipaina said was to increase the Pacific language and te reo Māori content in libraries.

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Study Finds That Early Polynesians Mingled in Asia Before Migration

An interesting article written by Radio New Zealand journalist, Mariner Fagaiava-Muller, showed how research found that the first Polynesians were likely to have arrived in the South Pacific from a range of routes through islands of Southeast Asia.

A University of Auckland study analysed the carbon-dates on ceramics dating back to the Neolithic period (10,000 to 4,500 BCE), concluding that early Polynesian populations “mixed and mingled” as they moved closer to the Pacific.

Archaeologist Associate Professor Ethan Cochrane said, “We looked at almost 200 archaeological assemblages and their dates, we used new data analysis techniques to look at this whole suite of data and we’re able to determine that actually neither of these hypotheses are correct”.

“It looks as if the earliest that are highly related to Polynesians moved into island Southeast Asia around five to eight thousand years ago, but from the west and from the north, mixed around a lot in Asia and then maybe several groups made it out into the Pacific.”

“The story is not one of a single migration of people from Taiwan out into Polynesia, but rather lots of populations mixing and moving around and then some coming out into the islands.”

However, he said this information merges with traditional understandings of Pacific migration rather than replaces it entirely. “As we generate more accurate and precise dates, we can begin to explore the implications of this new way of thinking about early human movement around the Earth, which has shaped continuous variation in past populations and might also change how contemporary Polynesian people think about their own origins.”

Dr Cochrane said the period involves the most mixing of populations around the region in entire human pre-history. “Our data supports the idea that people moved in all directions at a range of times, as there are pieces of this earliest pottery from exactly the same era deposited in both western Borneo and the northern Philippines, for example, which couldn’t be the case if the existing theories are correct.”

The study, the first quantitative assessment of radiocarbon chronologies for initial pottery in Island Southeast Asia supports multi-directional Neolithic dispersal, has been published in the journal PLOS One.

Dr Cochrane now plans to present his research to Pasifika communities.

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Celebrating Samoan Language Week with Oka

Last week Radio New Zealand Pacific journalist Mariner Fagaiava-Muller and his Papa, Faasootauloa Fepuleai Galo Fagaiava, sat down together to make oka to celebrate Samoa Language Week.

Oka i’a is a Samoan dish consisting of raw fish, usually fresh tuna that is marinated in lemon juice and coconut cream, then served in chunks with onions. The combination of these ingredients makes for an extremely healthy, flavorful, and unique fish salad. There are numerous variations on the dish. Some people like to add chopped chili peppers, coriander, parsley, and even lemon slices into the salad.

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Bowl of oka. Photo from http://www.thebreeze.co.nz

“I’m my Papa’s namesake and we’re similar in many ways. But I’m nowhere near the Michelin star chef that he is. Whether it’s Christmas, or Easter – he’s throwin’ it down in the kitchen as I’m sure every Pacific family is for their to’ona’i. There’s something about my Papa’s cooking especially though, or maybe it’s his charm that comes as the side dish, that draws in grumbling Samoan appetites all the time.

“Faasootauloa Fepuleai Galo Fagaiava is his name. He’s the most patriotic Samoan that I know and that says a lot, because we’re a hearty bunch. 685 to the oki, Samoa Mo Samoa etc.

“He’s not only my reference point for cooking like as you’ll see in the video, but everything to do with fa’a Samoa. His number one tip for anyone trying to become closer with their culture: take baby steps. It’s this nature of understanding that makes me proud to be his grandson. I admire the stories behind every step of the cooking process, even the witty criticisms of when my “valu le popo” game isn’t to scratch. When we’ve finished in the kitchen, it’s his guiding wisdom that keeps me grounded in this crazy world.

“Ia manuia lava le vaiaso o le Gagana Samoa! Happy Samoan Language Week. Take note as my Papa takes me and you at home, through the process of making oka.”

To view the video click here.

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Samoan Language Week 2021

This is Samoan Language Week in New Zealand and journalist Anric Sitanilei wrote a piece about the meaning of the theme for Radio New Zealand. He wrote the article in English and Samoan. I will relate the English version, but if you want to view the Samoan parts, simply click here.

This week is a week where people prioritize Samoan culture and language. The theme for this year’s Samoan Language Week has been penned “Strengthen the posts of your house, for all to thrive.” But what exactly does this mean? Where is this phrase getting at?

Before you set out to make and settle into your home, you first have to take a deep look at how the house is built; not only does it have to be strong and stable, safe and also aesthetically pleasing, it also needs to serve a purpose to the household, making it suitable to cater to whatever the needs of the family.

When it comes to a traditional Samoan house, there are two main parts, the foundation and the roofing; but the connection between a stable foundation and a strong roofing, is the posts. Because of this, we can use a traditional ‘Fale Samoa’ as a metaphor to further emphasise observing the importance and significance of our culture, for the progression and development and happiness of a family.

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Traditional Samoan Fale, photo from ICAS

One important post for any Samoan family, is that of language. To better reach a mutual understanding in a family, there must be an emphasis on Samoan Language, to provide compassion and empathy – which in turn brings about open communication, interdependence and mutual reliance. To facilitate a setting where care and protection is given and received in a family, one must take heed of the saying,E tupu le faatuatua i le taulogologo’ (Faith is birthed from awareness). Language is also the medium through which guidance, assistance, prompts, and advice is conveyed, which results in peaceful conduct and contentment in a family dynamic. ‘O le gagana, e a’oa’o ai, a’oa’i ai, e faatonu ma faapoto ai’ (Language can teach, discipline, guide and make one wise).

But the spirit of cooperation to advance a Samoan household is a post most vital, so that no one person or group is placed highly above the other. This is not to undermine the importance of the rankings of the people in the household, but to help facilitate peace. But a reminder for us when we come across troubled waters can be taken from the Bible, “A gentle answer turns away wrath”, and “… but if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also”.

Another important aspect of the Samoan family dynamic can be summarized with the saying, “ia fesili Mulimai ia Muamai” (Let those who came last seek guidance from those who came before), and it goes hand in hand with the sentiment that the respect one has for their elders will grant them many favourable years. This can be a definition for another post in a Fale Samoa: respect. Within the dynamic of a Samoan family, the parents and elders are the leaders of their children, similarly, Matai (village chiefs) are leaders of the extended family. The heads of these relationships are responsible for steering their family to success and prosperity, because as another Samoan saying goes, ‘E afua mai mauga manuia o nuu’ (prosperity and opulence flow from the mountaintops).

Strengthening the posts of our Fale is not a one-time job, nor is it a job for just one person. Instead, it takes many hands, hands of the entire household, with responsibilities extending to our mothers, our daughters, and our sons. But it is up to the leaders of the household to guide and pilot the household to happiness, wealth and prosperity, staying away from the ideology of ‘Do as I say, not as I do.”

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When using language as a means to strengthen the posts of your house, keep in mind this one last Samoan saying, “O upu e faasa’oina ai, o upu foi e faasesēina ai” (Words can guide you, but words can also misguide you).

Ia manuia le fa’amanatuina o le Vaiaso o le Gagana Samoa!

Happy Samoan Language Week!

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Otintaai – Kiribati Warrior Armor Costume

Earlier this month Radio New Zealand posted a fascinating article written by Koroi Hawkins about a female warrior costume that was created by master iKiribati weavers and makers Kaetaeta Watson and Louisa Humphry. They called their costume, Otintaai, which is Kiribati for sunrise. 

Made originally for the Ā Mua:New Lineages of Making exhibition at The Dowse Art Museum, which ran from June to October last year, Otintaai was formally handed over to its new custodians, Te Papa Museum.

Kaetaeta and Louisa refer to their creation as an actual entity standing tall in the face of rising seas and warning of the perils of climate change, overfishing and polluting our oceans with plastic. “We called her Otintaai, which is the rising sun, because we don’t want to be completely negative about fighting the people that are maybe contributing to all the troubles,” explained Louisa Humphry.

“We want to know that she stands there to pre-warn and pass that message on to our young people,” she said. But they say “she” is also a symbol of hope. “The sun rises every morning, so we have got to stay positive that our earth is still giving us this beautiful sun to rise to every morning,” Kaetaeta said.

As part of the handover Te Papa hosted the two charismatic creators, along with members of their family and community, in a public demonstration of raranga (weaving), bibiri (plaiting) and taeriri – techniques used in making mats and baskets, floral head pieces and dancing costumes.

Otintaai, meaning sunrise, is a costume created for a female Kiribati warrior facing rising sea levels caused by climate change, overfishing and plastic pollution. Photo by Shaun Matthews/The Dowse Art Museum

This passing on and preservation of cultural knowledge is big part of the journey Kaetaeta Watson and Louisa Humphry are on. Both were born and raised in Kiribati, Louisa comes from Kuria Island and Kaetaeta from Tabiteuea Island.

They both married Englishmen and were among the first iKiribati to migrate to New Zealand in the 70s and so their families have always been close. But they said weaving and creating together came later. “We thought of our own children that are growing up in New Zealand…and we as people from Kiribati wanted them to know their roots from Kiribati.” Louisa said.

“And as far as weaving goes you are also promoting that language because you are calling things the names of how we used to do them and just conversation around the weaving,” she said.

But Kaetaeta said the way they are passing on the knowledge in New Zealand is very different from the way they were taught in Kiribati. “I grew up with that idea, you have got to do things that make sense, functional things. Therefore, you learn without realizing. That thatch or leaf there you turn it into a mat or a bag or something…it has got to be useful,” explained Kaetaeta.

“Now we are a bit more open, we do flowers and all sorts, and we often say if mum or grandma were here they would say ‘what a waste of time!’,” she said.

Kaetaeta and Louisa are well known within the iKiribati community in New Zealand and are often invited to run workshops with different groups around the country. They said they would like to do more but there are cultural considerations they must take into account. “Because in our culture you don’t go around saying ‘I am a weaver, I can help you’. You have got to be invited. because it’s like boasting and I think it goes with being humble,” Louisa explained.

“It’s quite a complex mentality,” Kaetaeta chimes in.

She explained that while the basics of raranga are widely shared within the community the more intricate and refined patterns and designs are more like heirlooms, carefully guarded and handed down only to immediate family members or very close friends. “So, you as an interested person might go and ask, ‘how do you really do it?’ but if they are that closed family that really don’t want to share that knowledge, they’ll keep it,” Kaetaeta said.

She said the downside of this was if younger members of the family did not take an interest in raranga then that knowledge died with the elders.

Kaetaeta and Louisa said they were both quite surprised when they made Otintaai which is inspired by Te Otanga, or men’s armour in Kiribati, that there were requests for the piece to be taken to Kiribati to be put on show. “We become really sad when we hear that because then we know that the knowledge is almost gone,” said Kaetaeta.

Between the two of them Louisa and Kaetaeta have over a century’s worth of cultural knowledge and expertise and they are on a mission to ensure that knowledge is preserved for future generations of iKiribati.

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The Two Brothers- American Samoa

Our next Pacific legend comes from American Samoa. There are two large mountain peaks on Tutuila Island of American Samoa, the tall stately Matafao, and the imposing Mt. Pioa, also known as “Rainmaker.” They preside over the island and face each other across Pago Pago harbor.

This is the story of how they came to be. The English version by Bryon Birdsall, Samoan version by Mua S. Lutu. A printed version of this story was made by Transpac Corporation, Pago Pago, American Samoa. Enjoy!

The Two Brothers

Once there was a very old man. He had two sons named Pioa and Matafao. They quarreled night and day.

When the old man felt he was going to die he said to Pioa and Matafao, “I am unhappy that you do not love each other. I shall divide the island, and Pioa shall live in the east, and Matafao shall live in the west.” Then the old man said, “He who starts another quarrel shall be turned into a rock in the very place he stands.”

And the old man died.

For a long time Pioa and Matafao grieved over their father’s death. The brothers were so sad that they forgot to eat. At last they decided to have a big feast.

Full of food, Matafao stood on a cliff to view his land. A bird flew over and dropped a rock on his head. Matafao was angry. He thought Pioa had thrown the rock. So he threw a rock at Pioa.

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“The Two Brothers,” illustration by Tara Bonvillain, copyright 2021.

Pioa and Matafao began to fight again, and their legs turned to stone, just as their father said. Matafao knew the fighting was wrong and apologized. But Pioa only threw more rocks at Matafao.

Matafao warned Pioa to stop, but he would not listen. Finally, Matafao hurled an enormous rock at Pioa and knocked off the top of his head. One huge piece plunged into the sea and still lies there as a small island rock.

Thus, ends the story of Tutuila’s mountains, the tall Matafao, and Pioa, the Rainmaker over which a cloud broods every day where the top of his head used to be, and the island rock in the ocean that was once Pioa’s head.

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Preventing Covid-19 Cultural Catastrophe

In early March of 2021 a UN expert warned that COVID-19 may lead to a global “cultural catastrophe” with severe, long-lasting consequences for human rights if urgent measures, such as establishing a global cultural fund, are not implemented.

Karima Bennoune, UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, said in a report to the Human Rights Council that culture sectors have been among those hit hardest by the pandemic crisis. “The cultural rights commitments of states under international law require them to take action so as to avoid catastrophe but also to lead to cultural renewal as an essential component of any efforts to build back better,” Bennoune said.

Arts workers and cultural practitioners are among those most affected by pandemic-related unemployment crises worldwide. An entire generation of young artists may be forced to turn elsewhere for jobs, diminishing cultural life for years to come, the expert said.

“This is not the time for cuts in culture funding but for increases,” the Special Rapporteur said. “Culture and arts funding should be integrated into all COVID-19 relief and stimulus packages, with the specific nature of cultural and artistic work accounted for. Additionally, adequate, direct support for cultural workers is critical now, including full consideration of vulnerable sectors such as young artists. The creation of a global culture fund to save the cultural life of humanity should be considered.”

Bennoune said the pandemic has had a grave impact on women’s participation in cultural life and urged that responses to the current crisis must fully consider the cultural rights of women.

The expert also expressed concern that some governments had exploited emergency powers to censor and criminalise artists with dissenting views. “I call for all those imprisoned for their artistic or cultural work to be immediately released, such as Ahmed Kabir Kishore, a Bangladeshi cartoonist, and Nigerian singer Yahaya Sharif Aminu.”

The Special Rapporteur cautioned that as important as digital cultural life may have become during the pandemic, it is a complement, not an alternative, to a shared public cultural life in physical public spaces. States must commit to the full renaissance of such a public cultural life. when that becomes safe again.

“Future generations must not lose the opportunity to go to the cinema, to the theatre or to browse in a bookshop. If they do, the pandemic will have not only killed and impoverished millions but have also destroyed some of the best tools we have for imagining a better future,” Bennoune said.

To read the report click here.

Ms. Karima Bennoune was appointed as Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights by the United Nations Human Rights Council in October 2015. Ms Bennoune, grew up in Algeria and the United States. She is Professor of Law and Martin Luther King, Jr. Hall Research Scholar at the University of California-Davis School of Law where she teaches courses on human rights and international law. Her research and writing, including on cultural rights issues, has been widely published in leading journals and periodicals. Her mandate covers all countries and has been renewed by Human Rights Council resolution 37/12.

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Womens’ Expo, Suva, Fiji-2018. Photo by ICAS.

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Using Natural Skills to Grow Own Food in Fiji

Radio New Zealand has been posting articles on their “Just Kai” series that features farmers and food producers in the Pacific Islands. 

There was a recent post about how more people have turned to growing their own food in Fiji to survive the pandemic. People “are on the brink”, according to one local charity, but desperate times have also sparked innovation and enterprise in the food sector.

Crisply labelled homemade chutneys, coconut flour and herbal teas line the shelves at FRIEND’s headquarters near Lautoka, on Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu.

The charity (its full name is Foundation for Rural Integrated Enterprises & Development- FRIEND) works on alleviating poverty in the country, helping people to believe in themselves using their natural skills and resources, according to founder Sashi Kiran.

Its role is all the more important now with tourism at a standstill because of the Covid-19 pandemic. “When tourism went, something like 150,000 people lost their jobs,” Kiran said. About half of the population has been impacted when you take into account their dependants. Tropical cyclones and flooding have worsened the situation further.

FRIEND has kicked into higher gear in recent months to help people grow food to survive, especially with the prevalence of malnutrition and diseases like diabetes.The once-thriving tourism sector, bringing in 40 percent of the country’s income, meant generations had not had to get their hands dirty, Kiran said.

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Sashi Kiran at FREIND headquarters in Fiji. Photo by http://www.fijivillage.com

“To get into replanting needed a different mindset and while most people went into root crops which was easier we had to keep focusing on a diverse range of nutritious vegetables to make sure the family is eating enough,” she said. “We are basically trying to bring traditional recipes back onto the shelves. While we do that we work on health empowerment because NCDs (are) quite rife, malnutrition is rife.”

As breadwinners started to lose their jobs, people who had access to land moved back and went into high gear planting vegetables, she said. The downturn brought families together finding places to garden and exchanging seeds.

Kiran said, “Now there’s an abundance of tapioca and cassava. We’ve been evolving a whole range of value addition from there and working with people on how they could make roti or wraps and make flour out of it, make instant noodles out of it, make biscuits out of it, so we are trying to assist people, increase the range of products that they could evolve from manioc. And it’s gluten-free which is amazing because normally it would just be boiled or put in the lovo (ground oven) or traded or sold.”

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Traditional Fijian food. Photo by http://www.tangonews.fr

She said good things have come out of the need to turn to the land. “There is enough interest for export and from New Zealand on sourcing organic vegetables and spices and herbs from Fiji. “So that’s given additional impetus and encouragement for people to actually work on it commercially to be able to sell it.”

People have also turned to less traditional and fast-growing crops like mushrooms, with help from the charity. “Mushrooms are so quick and easy to grow and it requires such little space, so for Nadi in particular … the uptake has been good and people are very excited. There’s a lot of interest now in cooking mushrooms and value-adding and being able to sell it.”

Kiran said people had been coping but it was an “extreme struggle”. “What we’ve seen is much more innovation. People who are skilled have turned to innovation and created a lot of little enterprises so they are able to support the family but it has been a very difficult journey especially with continuous rain this year which has damaged the crops. “Families are resilient but it is really at the brink. People are running out of their savings …. so it’s not easy.”

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Celebrating Rotuman Day in New Zealand

Radio New Zealand journalist, Christine Rovoi, continued her coverage of the Rotuman Language Week festivities in New Zealand. Although an outbreak of Covid-19 in Fiji has forced Rotumans there to cancel this year’s Rotuma Day celebrations, the pandemic has failed to dampen the islanders’ spirits in New Zealand.

Fiji recorded its fourth covid death yesterday as the Suva and Nausori corridor, home to three towns and one-third of the population, goes into a lockdown from 11pm tonight to 4am Wednesday morning.

Fijian President Jioje Konrote, who hails from Rotuma, said the world was hit with this deadly virus and Fiji was no exception. In his Rotuma Day message, Konrote said while he was relieved the coronavirus had not reached his island home, the effects on Fiji’s main island Viti Levu were devastating.

Last year, Rotumans in New Zealand were forced to take their language week celebrations online because of the pandemic. It was their first on the government’s Pacific language weeks.

Last night, Rotumans were able to gather together in Wellington to mark 140 years of the island’s cession to Britain. The Museum of NZ’s Te Papa Tongarewa hosted the event. However among the smiles, singing and dancing, one thing was evident: New Zealand Rotumans are fighting to keep their endangered Pacific language alive.

The language, with only about 15,000 speakers in the world, is listed on the UNESCO List of Endangered Languages as ‘definitely endangered’. The language is distinct from other Pacific languages and from Rotuma, a Fijian dependency of tiny islands about 650 kilometres northwest of Fiji’s capital Suva.

While fewer than 2,000 people live on the island, there are about 800 Rotumans in New Zealand, and many others reside in Fiji and around the world.

The Secretary and Chief Executive at the Ministry for Pacific Peoples, Laulu Mac Leauanae, was also at Te Papa and paid tribute to the elders and youth in the community for keeping the culture alive. “It was amazing. So many things, the language and all that but the singing, the singing of the hymns hearing the language, seeing so many Rotumans in the room – over 200, it felt like a 1000 when you hear the singing. But it was just the spirit in the room, was amazing.”

Laulu said one of the biggest elements of the ministry’s work was the importance of culture, language and identity. “We’ve been supporting all of the Pacific languages here in New Zealand and Rotuman is the first of many weeks of celebration of different languages.”Has he learnt any Rotuman words? “Noa’ia e mauri, which someone told me means hello,” Laulu replied.

This year’s theme for Gasav Ne Fäeag Rotuạm Ta – Rotuman Language Week – is Tutur häk ne måür lelei – the four pillars of life and wellbeing: spiritual, physical, psychological and social.

New Zealand’s Parliament also marked the occasion with the Rotuman community invited to the house where they presented tefui garlands to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, the Speaker Trevor Mallard and other MPs including National leader Judith Collins.

The prayer service was delivered in Rotuman by Labour’s Taieri MP Ingrid Leary, who had lived in Fiji and has links to the community. Leary said it was an opportunity for her to celebrate her children’s unique culture and language.” It felt like history was being made,” she said. “It was beautiful to see the community come in. We sat there in the Speaker’s lounge as the garlanding was going on, pinching ourselves and saying we never imagined in a million years that we would be standing in the NZ Parliament together celebrating Rotuman Language Week. And that I would be saying the prayer in the house which was a great honor.”

Leary said this week’s celebrations were also an important part of the revitalisation of a “beautiful and endangered language, an opportunity to celebrate the new wave of cultural leaders who have bravely stepped out to make Rotuman arts relevant in a modern context”. She said the islanders were honouring their traditional practices, but added it was also a great excuse for Rotumans everywhere to get together as a community and have fun.

The president of the New Zealand Rotuman Fellowship Group, Maria Fuata, agreed. “It makes us unique in terms of a Pasifika people in Aotearoa New Zealand. It’s also not about promoting and teaching the language, it’s actually about preparing for the next generation which is the majority of our population. But also connecting that to our elders and making sure we pass that on in a safe but in a authentic way – not missing any of our genuine Rotuman knowledge and culture.”

Fuata said there was also a huge responsibility for all Rotumans to step up together to take that on.

The Rotuman Language Week ends on Saturday.

Next in the series of New Zealand Pacific Language Weeks is Samoan. The Vaiaso O Le Gagana Samoa kicks off on Sunday 30 May and runs until Saturday 5 June and coincides with Samoa’s 60 years as an independent state this year.

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Celebrating the Rotuman Language and Culture Together

Pacific Islands Language Week have kicked-off in New Zealand, and the first language to be celebrated is the Rotuman language. Christine Rovoi, who is a Radio New Zealand journalist, is covering this week’s festivities and wrote an article about how Aotearoa’s Rotuman community is excited to celebrate their language and culture together this year after last year’s Rotuman language week, New Zealand’s third, was forced online because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This year’s theme for Gasav Ne Fäeag Rotuạm Ta – Rotuman Language Week – is Tutur häk ne måür lelei – the four pillars of life and wellbeing:

Måür Fak’ata (spiritual – a place of solace that gives meaning to life).

Måür Fakforo (physical – living life in all its fullness).

‘Os A’häe (psychological – steers our presence and place in life).

Hạikạinagaga (social – our connection with people).

According to Auckland-based Rotuman language tutor, Fesaitu Solomone, the traditional Rī Fak Rotuam is a thatched shelter or house which needs four strong pillars to hold the entire house together, “just like the four pillars for our wellbeing”.

She said the theme also acknowledged and celebrated the strength and resilience of New Zealand’s Pacific communities during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Activities and events will be held through Aotearoa to showcase the richness of the Rotuman language, culture and traditions, Solomone said.

Minister for Pacific Peoples Aupito William Sio will launch tomorrow’s event during an Exclusive Viewing of Rotuman Collections at the Auckland Museum.

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Rotuman fui or lei. Photo from http://www.ms-starship.com

This year is extra special: Mario

Like a number of Pacific tongues, Rotuman was a language earmarked as under threat by the United Nations agency, UNESCO. The head of the Auckland Rotuman Fellowship Group, Rachael Mario, says this is a concern. It’s been a challenge to keep the language alive, Mario said. “Language is what makes us who we are and is part of our culture and identity. It is our duty to preserve this invaluable taonga. We invite all Kiwis to come and join us and celebrate being Rotuman. We pay tribute to our elders and leaders, who have, for the last 35 years, continued to celebrate our culture in New Zealand. We thank them for keeping our customs and traditions relevant,” she said.

Mario said a showcase at the Auckland War Memorial Museum next weekend is among the highlights for the week-long celebrations. The event is being hosted the New Zealand Rotuman Community Centre in the South Auckland suburb, Papatoetoe.

Mario said tomorrow also marked a special day for Rotumans. “It’s Mother’s Day so we are going to have a pink ribbon breakfast which is open to everyone to come and join us. We’ll provide the breakfast with the Kingsland Methodist congregation so it’s a combined effort with the Mt Albert United Church. As well the Showcase, the program will include Sunday’s Closing Church Service with the Ate Fak Rotuma (a traditional feast served on banana leaves, with people seated on the floor).”

Mario said following the Harmimia ‘Amah ‘Ne Haihanisiga or pink-ribbon breakfast, there will be singing of the popular Atumotu Helava. There will also be a combined church service led by the mothers. The theme focuses on the wellbeing of our nation and communities, Mario said. This would be followed by the launch of the Rotuman Language Week Theme Song, Solomone said. She also said the Gasav Ne Fäeag Rotuạm Ta events would be streamed live on the NZ Rotuman Language Week Facebook page.

Rotuma-Map_sml

Where is Rotuma? Map from http://www.fijimarinas.com

Rotumans go on air

A new radio program has been launched to mark Rotuman Language Week. From midnight to 2am on Saturdays the new weekly show, aired on Pacific Media Network’s 531pi station in Auckland, will feature narratives from the diaspora in Aotearoa.

Solomone, one of the show’s hosts, said they intend to include Rotumans from around the world to participate in the program. “Basically, it’s a bilingual program so our target audience we’re looking at all our community members and those who are interested in the Rotuman language. These include those who are not fluent, who can’t speak the language properly or to converse in full Rotuman. And for those who are wanting to learn the language. So this program is an opportunity for them to be a part of it.”

Solomone said people could share their views on issues that mattered to them including “things happening around the world in terms of our Rotuman community globally”.

“It is a program for our people, mainly for us in Aotearoa. But it’s going to expand to everyone internationally, she said.

Facts about Rotuma

Rotuma is located almost 650 kilometres northwest of Fiji’s capital Suva. The island is a Fijian dependency but closer to Tuvalu than to Suva and, while it’s influenced by Melanesian Fiji, Rotuma’s Polynesian culture is closer to that of Tonga and Samoa.

About 2000 people live on the island with 10,000 on mainland Fiji and thousands more, like me, around the world.

This year, on 13 May, also marks 140 years since Rotuman chiefs ceded the island to the United Kingdom.

Rotuman Language Week ends on Saturday 15 May.

Next in the series of New Zealand Pacific Languages Week is Samoan.

Vaiaso O Le Gagana Samoa kicks off on Sunday 30 May and runs until Saturday 5 June and coincides with Samoa’s independence day on 1 June. Samoa celebrates 60 years as an independent state this year.

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