Every year New Zealand highlights languages from the Pacific Islands during week-long festivals that typically run from May to October. This year the lineup will include two new languages from Kiribati and Rotuma, respectively. Hopefully, the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus will not have too much of an impact on the planning and that the festivities will still run in some shape or form.
Recently, journalist Christine Rovoi wrote an interesting article for Radio New Zealand about how members of the Kiribati and Rotuman communities in New Zealand have welcomed their inclusion in the country’s Pacific language weeks lineup.
The government said the 2020 lineup was the beginning of a new decade of magnifying the value and competitive advantage that Pacific languages and bilingualism brought to Aotearoa New Zealand. The Pacific Language Weeks first started in 2010 with Samoa Language Week and grown from there. Last year’s celebrations were part of the United Nations’ International Year of Indigenous Languages.
For Kiribati tutor Taeang Erika it had been a long time coming but she was happy it would finally be recognized as an official language week in New Zealand. “I am so glad that we are having it and we’ve got a day and date because at that time or on that date, we are going to use mostly our language,” she said. “We are going to make sure our language is alive and it is spoken throughout. Also we can practise our culture too.”
Minister for Pacific Peoples Aupito William Sio said the language weeks illuminated the value of the languages and cultures of indigenous peoples across the world.
Aupito said it also boosted the confidence of Pacific youth who proudly stood and showed they too treasured their legacy of diverse languages and cultures in New Zealand. “Rotuma language obviously is identified by UNESCO as being vulnerable,” he said, “and of course what we’ve seen with Kiribati is there’s a decline in, a growing trend of fewer people picking up the languages. Pacific peoples must lead this work with confidence and use our cultural values such as collective action to also promote our languages – not just amongst Pacific communities but with all New Zealanders.”
The Pacific Language Weeks would be supported by the 2019 Wellbeing Budget allocation of $20 million over four years.
Mr. Sio said, “So the Ministry for Pacific Peoples can establish a new Pacific Language Unit, with a set of language support functions to help ensure the survival of Pacific languages.
This passion for Pacific languages and cultures will not grow on its own and the government’s Wellbeing Budget allows us to work in partnership with Pacific communities and the Ministry for Pacific Peoples to keep the fires burning so that our Pacific stories, which our languages carry, continue to be passed onto future generations to come.”
Rotuman tutor Fesaitu Solomone said it had always been the aim of her people to have their culture and language officially recognised in Aotearoa.
The relationship between heritage and language was critical for the voice of Rotumans to thrive and survive, she said.
“There’s visibility for our Rotuman people here. Our language and culture has been at the forefront for our people as well. It’s a huge step forward for everybody here in New Zealand.”
Ms Solomone said preparations were under way for this year’s celebrations, which would also mark Rotuma Day – when the island was ceded to the United Kingdom in 1881. “Our Rotuman community groups that has continued to work in this space specifically New Zealand Rotuman Fellowship Incorporated Group and also the Auckland Rotuman Fellowship as well,” she said.
Here’s the 2020 Lineup:
Rotuma: 10 May – 16 May
Samoa: 24 May – 30 May
Kiribati: 12 July – 18 July
Cook Islands: 2 August – 8 August
Tonga: 6 September – 12 September
Tuvalu: 27 September – 3 October
Fijian: 4 October – 10 October
Niue: 18 October – 24 October
Tokelau: 25 October – 31 October.