Last month an interesting article written by Radio New Zealand (RNZ) Pacific Journalist, Sara Vui-Talitu, was published on the RNZ Website. The article was about the efforts to revitalize the culture and language of Rotuma. I find articles such as this one very important to share with intention of reaching different people in different parts of the world who have an interest in The Pacific Islands region but not have the opportunity to keep up with Radio New Zealand’s posts. Enjoy the post!
A Diaspora Rallies to Reawaken the Language of Rotuma
By Sara Vui-Talitu:
It’s a small island of only about 2000 people partway between Fiji’s main islands and Tuvalu, but despite its size the Fiji dependency of Rotuma has its own unique language and culture, more like that of the Polynesian islands to the east than the rest of Fiji.
Like many others in the region, that culture and language has struggled in recent decades, with the number of speakers dwindling as thousands lose connections to their homelands. But, also like many others, that has sparked a drive among descendants to rekindle and preserve it.
While few people live on Rotuma and its surrounding islets, it’s estimated it has a disapora of about 50,000 people, many of whom have settled in Auckland. This week, some of them gathered to mark the inaugural Rotuman Language Week, which made its debut on the official roster of Pacific languages celebrated in New Zealand.
Among them was film maker and former pop singer Ngaire Fuata, who grew up in the Bay of Plenty town of Whakatāne thinking she was Māori. In her 2011 film, “Salat Se Rotuma,” or “Passage to Rotuma”, she documented her return to her father’s Pacific homeland with her eight-year-old daughter.
In the film, she explained that her father, Fu, had long given up explaining where Rotuma was, but she sought her ties when her beloved father took ill. Ms Fuata last visited Rotuma at Christmas with her father’s ashes, which she said evoked strong emotions and sentiments for both her and the community.
“It’s amazing ‘cos as a producer on Tagata Pasifika for like 25 years, we have always covered language weeks for the larger groups so to have a language week for Rotuma is just amazing,” she said at the event.
“Rotumans have their own culture and language and to bring it and share it with the rest of New Zealand is incredible.”
A Rotuman pastor, Ravai Mosese, has been in New Zealand just shy of a decade. In that short time though, he said he had seen the culture and language slipping further. He said he wanted to rally the elders to do their part and use it in the home, as well as support its usage through technology and social media.
“With the help of media and government members they said we should do this in an effort to renew our culture and teach the next generation who are coming up to take our place,” he said.
Pastor Mosese said he liked Rotuman proverbs because they taught people about life using indigenous everyday things. One of his favourite speaks about what happens when one leans on a rotten pole.
“So for example, when you trust someone like, say, an accountant to look after your money – and we thought he was smart – but then we did not know what happened. But then in the end, his book is still there but the accountant has gone and left you with nothing,” he said with a wide tooth grin.
The New Zealand Rugby Sevens player, Rocky Khan, was also happily there, and pleased to see the recognition for an often overlooked culture.
“I was driving the other week and heard other languages being brought up but then I heard about Rotuman language week and almost crashed my car as you don’t tend to hear that on the radio,” he said.
“Rotumans have their own unique culture and language that separates us from Fiji but a lot of Rotumans do live in Fiji.”
Mr Khan said that as a young person who does not speak the language, he is motivated to learn more about his cultural identity as a Rotuman and Fiji-Indian.
The chair of the Auckland Rotuma Fellowship Group, Faga Fasala, said they made the decision to have Rotuma Language Week from May 6-9 – the anniversary of the island’s cession to the United Kingdom in 1881.
“We pay tribute to all our elders and leaders, who for the last 30 years, have continued to celebrate our culture in New Zealand and keep our customs and traditions relevant.”
They also created a language chart to help the younger generations as well as those new to the language, and shared grand displays of song, dance and cultural celebrations.