Pacific Languages and Culture Threatened

I came across an interesting article from the Samoa Observer the other day that I would like to share. Dr. Cresantia Frances Koya Vaka’uta, Associate Dean Research and Internationalization from the University of the South Pacific Suva Fiji, told the Pacific Islands University Research Network (P.I.U.R.N) conference at the National University of Samoa (N.U.S) that Pacific languages are threatened and cultures are being raided and even stolen by foreign interests.“At least 50% of the world’s languages are at risk and about 90% of the languages may be replaced by dominant languages by the end of the 21st Century,” she said.

She adds that internal forces including a community’s negative attitude towards its own language. Dr. Vaka’uta uses New Zealand as an example explaining that the state of pacific languages in this country matters because of the large numbers of Pacific people residing there. She states, “The 2006 NZ census showed an estimated 91% of all Niueans live in NZ, as do, 73% of all Cook Islanders, 44% of Tongans and 74% of Samoans.”

Her findings led to the call for Pacific Languages Week, now an established annual event, and the Pacific Languages Commission in NZ. “In 2006 alone, the NZ government devoted about NZ$600,000 [US$437,958] to the preservation of Pacific Island Languages,” Dr. Vaka’uta said. Despite these efforts, she said that the 2013 Census data on Pasifika communities showed all Pacific languages spoken by NZ born populations continued to decline.

Dr. Vaka’uta explained that Pacific Universities should prioritize cultural heritage and sustainability through knowledge and research on contextualized learning experiences in particular Pacific pedagogues. “Encourage focused research and research funding for culture, the arts and languages,” she said.“Contributing to policy and legislature particularly in the areas of national language, Cultural and Educational policies.”

“Knowledge creation and sharing to often academic research only resides in technical reports, academic papers in international journals and publications, or in University library collections.” She also adds,“A lot of that has been done is not widely accessible or presented in easy to consume, non academic or technical language. We could also engage more purpose fully with cultural communities and art practitioners.”

A language revitalization is currently underway in the Cook islands between USP and government, but Dr. Vaka’uta thinks that this has problems. One issue raised was that while NZ efforts are commendable, they focus on conversational Cook Island Maori while the national interest is in safeguarding the depth and proficiency of the full language. Other areas that could be supported through integration of courses and programs included Pacific Literatures, Pacific Art and Culture, Heritage Management, Cultural Statistics, and Heritage & Contemporary Arts.

Dr. Vaka’uta believes that investment is key and there will need to be national support to ensure continued viability of Islands linguistic and artistic offerings. She concludes, “The Pacific Future we seek is one in which we will grow a movement of Pacific Island thinkers, researchers, leaders – who are agents of change and who will continue to hold the land and our people, firmly and safely in their care.”


Village girls making mats, Solomon Islands

About islandculturearchivalsupport

Island Culture Archival Support (ICAS) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of records pertaining to the cultural identity of island peoples in Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia whose national and public archives, libraries, cultural centers, and business organizations are underprivileged, underfunded, and understaffed. The specific purpose for which this nonprofit corporation was formed is to support the needs of these South Pacific cultural heritage institutions by helping to preserve and make accessible records created for business, accountability or cultural purposes. The organization will endeavor to add value by providing resources or volunteers to advise, train, and work among island residents to support their efforts in building their future and preserving their collective memory through the use of modern archival techniques.
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