A couple of months ago Radio New Zealand posted an article about how a new Fijian meke or traditional dance aims to encourage the islanders to embrace their identity and help them cope with the changes around them.
The director of Fijian dance at the Pasifika Arts Center in Auckland, Alipate Traill, said the new meke will be launched in Auckland this weekend. He said the dance tells the story of Fijians in New Zealand and the impacts of change on their lives.
This past October Fijians across New Zealand celebrated: It’s Macawa Ni Vosa Vakaviti – their language week. The theme is Na Noqu Vosa – Ai Takele Ni Noqui Tovo or My language anchors my culture. During the same week the islanders also marked 49 years of independence from Britain.
Alipate Traill said this year’s theme is fitting because it reminds Fijians of the importance of knowing their culture and language. He said he has been happy with the children who have spent months learning the new meke dance. “The meke emphasizes the need to hold on to each of our yavu or our foundation – the Māori call it tūrangawaewae. Everyday we wake up, there’s something changing – whether it’s through social media, through information or through the system that we live in. And the meke is a call-out to our people – not only in New Zealand but on home soil back in Fiji.”
In 2013, Fijians made up 4.6 percent (14,445) of the Pasifika population in New Zealand and less than half of the islanders speak the language. Mr Traill said young Fijians must find the balance between their culture and the influences of the West. “The Ministry of iTaukei Affairs carried out a survey a couple of months ago and they found that a lot of our young people don’t even know the basics of their oral history – of certain customs and protocol. Find that balance, find your footing in your foundation. And that provides you a secure platform to handle life’s challenges.”
Fijian academic Raman Subramani warns the indigenous iTaukei and Fiji Hindi languages face extinction. The professor in languages and literature at the University of Fiji is calling for the recruitment and training of indigenous language activists to save the country’s vernacular languages. “Simply because there is no writing in the language. I’m concerned that the indigenous iTaukei language is not being enriched by writing. And when the language is not enriched by writing, it is not recorded in writing. Then there’s a gradual demise of the language,” he said. Mr Subramani said it’s a very serious issue that many Fijians don’t speak their mother tongue.
Alipate Traill says he was greatly influenced by his grandmother growing up in Fiji. “It’s to her that I attribute all my knowledge even the spoken Fijian (Vosa Vakaviti). She only spoke Fijian in the home and as much as we only spoke English, I had no choice but to learn to respond to her in Fijian. Didn’t realize that over the years as I left Fiji, everything she taught me started to come back and I’m so so grateful indeed.”
Mr Traill is urging Fijian parents to continue to encourage and teach their children their culture and language.