A month ago journalist, Christine Rovoi, wrote an article for Radio New Zealand about how people people from the Fijian dependency of Rotuma living in New Zealand are trying hard to keep the language alive with classes and engaging in the second ever Rotuman Language Week.
In the lead up to Rotuman Language Week more than fifty islanders attended a language class over the weekend in the Auckland suburb of Mt Roskill. One of the tutors, Tivao Mario, said the focus was encouraging more young Rotumans to learn the language. “We’ve got a bigger focus on our kids. We don’t want them to lose their identity – the Rotuman language which is very important to us. People will learn and know more about us and they can come and join. It is very nice to know the community can come together,” she said.
She said Rotuman language classes, which are held on Saturdays, began in February this year and would continue throughout the year – breaking only for the school holidays. “We’re putting in a lot more activities which I think is very interesting for the kids. And now our youth are beginning to come.”
Mrs Mario said she was happy with the turnout so far. “Parents are encouraged to get their young ones to join us. The numbers are improving and what they are learning. “It’s beginning to show when we meet and greet because our little ones are coming up and saying ‘noaia Aunty’ (hello Aunty).” She said non-Rotumans were also welcome to participate in the classes, which are free.
Rotuman elder and pastor Ravai Mosese lived most of his life on the island but now resides in New Zealand. The 85-year-old, who is also a tutor, said he had seen a decline in the language being used among young Rotumans. He said parents and grandparents must continue to teach their children the ways of Rotuma in their homes. Mr Mosese said the language classes also include sessions on learning the handicrafts, food preparation and dance.
Following the language classes on Saturday, the islanders held a dance practice in preparation for the Rotuma Day celebrations. Rotuman Language Week, which debuted last year, was held on 12-19 May this year and included the Rotuma Day celebrations on 13 May. It was organised by the Auckland Rotuman Fellowship Group Incorporated (ARFGI). The festival was free and included entertainment, food and craft stalls, children’s activities, dance and music.
A little about Rotuma…
Rotuma is a Polynesian island and is governed by Fiji and while it has been influenced alot by Melanesia Fiji, its culture closely resembles that of Tonga and Samoa. There are over 2000 people on Rotuma with more than 10,000 on mainland Fiji and tens of thousands around the world.
Rotuman culture more closely resembles that of the Polynesian islands to the east, most noticeably Tonga, Samoa, Futuna and Uvea. Because of their Polynesian appearance and distinctive language, Rotumans now constitute a recognizable minority group within the Republic of Fiji.
There are no hotels or resorts on Rotuma Island. Travellers must be invited to the island by locals and arrange homestays in advance. The Fiji Visitor Bureau in Nadi or Suva can provide the contact details of the Rotuman Island Council, who can advise you on accommodation options, as well as suggested levels of compensation for any family who choose to grant you with their hospitality for homestay options. Travelers can also post on the bulletin board of Rotuma’s online forum, which may lead to a homestay offer.