Celebrating Rotuma Day 2019

Earlier this week Radio New Zealand posted a very nice article that I would like to share. It was written by Rotuman, Christine Rovoi, about why islanders celebrate Rotuma Day…

“Noaia e mauri se aus atakoa”

It’s that time of the year when, if you’re Rotuman like me, you feel special wherever you are.

Attending this week’s (May 13) Rotuma Day celebrations in Auckland – seeing familiar faces and making new connections – has left me happy and proud.

It has been humbling that I have the opportunity as a Rotuman and a journalist to witness the occasion – beautiful and rich in history – and to share in the joy of knowing that my language and culture is alive, despite a listing on UNESCO’s endangered languages list.

Rotuma is a Fijian dependency but closer to Tuvalu than to Suva and, while it’s influenced by Melanesian Fiji, the Rotuman culture is a little similar 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.

Rotuman language tutor, Nataniela Amato-Ali, said he hopes a re-enactment of the island’s cession to Queen Victoria in 1881 will help people understand why May 13 means a lot to Rotumans. Mr Amato-Ali said ‘Rotuma 1881’, performed by the New Zealand Rotuman Fellowship Group (NZRFG) in the South Auckland suburb of Mangere, was a response to a request from the young people for a more inclusive, active and fun way to commemorate the day.

The show was also a response to “a lot of misinformation, or lack of it” about what actually happened on May 13, 1881, he said. “A lot of Rotumans either have a skewed story or a misinformed story. Some of them don’t even know why we celebrate this day every year,” he said.


So, what does May 13 mean to Rotumans?

“We celebrate it because it’s the day on which we became part of the British Empire – when Rotuma was ceded to Great Britain,” Mr Amato-Ali said. “Rotumans consider the time under Britain – the time under Queen Victoria as a golden age for us. And that is why Rotumans look back to that day and say, Oh, that’s when all the good things happened to us. There’ll be people who may not hold that view but nonetheless they celebrate this day because it is the day that we all, as a community, globally decide to celebrate.”

Mr Amato-Ali said they were able to acquire some video footage from the island which brought the story alive on Monday night. “The youth have come together and put this production together and learned their lines and so we’ve used their skills with technology,” he said. “As with all youth these days, they’re very tech-savvy. So, we’ve used that skill set to produce this. We’ve got imagery from the island. We’ve done our research. And so, a lot of it is based on what is written about the events leading up to and the actual cession of Rotuma to Great Britain,” Mr Amato-Ali said.

The NZRF group also held a youth night ‘Rotuma – te is ‘otomis haharagi’ at Auckland University and a three-day free camp from Friday with a show ‘Nga Kakano: Rotuma – Journeys of Identity in Aotearoa & Beyond’ at the Auckland Museum in the evening. Also on Monday night, members of the Auckland Rotuman Fellowship Group (ARFG) celebrated with traditional dances and feasting at Western Springs. They also held an arts and crafts exhibition and for the first time in NZ, guests sat on the floor to ‘A te fak Rotuma – eat in the Rotuman way.

Organiser Jioji Vai said they were happy with the turnout and looked forward to seeing more Rotumans come out to celebrate their language and culture this week – only the second year Rotuman Language Week has been held. “And from then we’ve just built on a new program and something that’s engaging, and informative, but also new for our people,” Mr Vai said.

Rotuma Day is when the islanders come together to celebrate “our culture, our identity, our people – it’s just about getting together,” he said. “And that’s something we want to continue. Fiji does it very well. And it’s happening all across the world. And it’s something we have done every year here. Celebrating culture and people.”

To read the full article simply click here.

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