This week marks the first ever Rotuman Langguage Week in New Zealand celebrating the language of Rotuma. Radio New Zealand ran an interesting article about the week.
You won’t hear New Zealand’s Rotuman community complaining about the unique environment in which they are having to celebrate the country’s first official language week, they are grateful and happy for the platform.
Rotuma is a Fijian dependency with about 2000 people living on island and at least another 10,000 more on mainland Fiji, while thousands of others are scattered across the world.
Rotuman has been added to the Ministry of Pacific People’s nine languages promoted during the course of the year, with the inaugural week kicking off this past weekend.
Like a number of Pacific tongues, it was a language earmarked as under threat by the United Nations agency, UNESCO. The theme for this week was “Putua ‘os fäega ma ‘os ag fak Rotuma” or “Nurturing our Rotuman identity through language and culture.”
An Auckland-based Rotuman said having their language recognised and celebrated in such a way was “an awesome milestone”. Lisa Tai said for the small Rotuman community in Aotearoa, (which numbered just over 783 in the 2013 census), it was amazing. She said they had always celebrated their language and culture but now they could take it to another level. “The support of the Ministry means that, yes we’re celebrating one week in the year, but we also need to keep up the momentum and have the support throughout the year and, sort of, carry on with our programmes,” Ms Tai said.
Having an an official language week also allowed Rotumans to showcase their culture to a wider audience, according to Ms Tai. She said, previously, cultural gatherings were simply a chance to meet with other Rothmans. “But now it sort-of opens up the conversation and provides us with an opportunity to educate others about our culture, which I think is the bit that I’m really excited about. So, the fact that we’re even talking about Rotuma now is, you know, awesome.”
Celebrations during Covid-19 Alert
Despite the excitement, Ms Tai and her fellow Rotumans were launching their week amid Covid-19 restrictions, meaning many of the events had been shifted online.
However organisers said this was tempered by the fact the week kicked off on Mother’s Day, so they could honour their loved ones, who often taught them their language.
Language tutor Fesaitu Solomone said despite Covid-19, celebrations were going ahead, albeit from a distance. She said, “What we planned initially was to have a public gathering of our community…but unfortunately due to Covid-19, we are unable to do that. So the celebrations have been moved onto a virtual platform.”
She said the New Zealand Rotuman Fellowship Group had planned it activities – via the internet – with Pacific Peoples Minister Aupito William Sio hosting an online launch on Saturday, a special church service set for today, and language learning assemblies, fitness classes and a panel discussions scheduled for the week.
Auckland Museum marking historic occasion
The Auckland Museum was also getting in on the act.
It was celebrating Gasav Ne Fäeag Rotuạm – Rotuman Language Week online with features of Rotuman items from their collection and by lighting up the iconic building in the colours of Rotuma.
Fesaitu Solomone, who recently joined the museum’s Pacific Advisory Group, was also set to speak.
Auckland Museum had scheduled a long read about Tales of a Lonely Island (1939); an early twentieth century collection of Rotuman legends and an image and information about the Jea – Polynesian Triller (Lalage maculosa rotumae).
Over the course of the week there would also be zoom discussions with a special panel of guests showcasing selected Rotuman treasures.
In another post we’ll look at the question: Why Rotuman is an unique Pacific language? Can’t wait!