Engaging Fijians with Language and Culture

Radio New Zealand recently ran an article about how a Pacific community leader in New Zealand said while there’s been an increase in the local Fijian population he would like to hear more of them speaking the language.

This week is Fijian Language Week and nearly 20,000 of the islanders in New Zealand are expected to celebrate Fiji’s 50th independence on Saturday.

Auckland-based Fijian Nacanieli Yalimaiwai is also a director of Pacific charity trust The Fono. Yalimaiwai is calling for more participation of his people to ensure their language and culture is preserved for future generations. “About seven percent of NZ-born Fijians speak the Fijian language. That’s very low and should be worrying for our people,” Nacanieli Yalimaiwai said.

“Having the Fijian Language Week helps us to promote the language for our young people who are born and grow up in New Zealand. They are immersed in the mainstream English language and as a result learning Fijian becomes secondary or less important,” he said.

Yalimaiwai said studies have shown that people who are competent and well-versed in their mother tongue have become better at speaking English. He urged young Fijians to immerse themselves in their language and culture. “You then begin to understand who you are and where you’re from and you will feel pride in knowing your identity,” Yalimaiwai said. “This helps you become a more confident person outwardly to be able to relate to not only people from your own ethnic group but others around you in the workplace or school.”

Yalimaiwai said there is much work to be done and a collective effort is needed by everyone. “We are also grateful to the Ministry of Pacific Peoples and the New Zealand government for giving us this platform to help our people learn their language and culture.”

Yalimaiwai said learning one’s language and culture is similar to wearing your lei or salusalu everyday. “The more you speak it, the better you become at it.”

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A Fijian Kava bowl- Suva, Fiji

Meanwhile, the Auckland Museum is revisiting Fijian stories to celebrate the language week. The museum is sharing Fijian items from its Natural History and Documentary Heritage collections. It will also feature a video of useful phrases in Fijian and a colouring-in sheet.

Fijian Annah Pickering from the museum’s Pacific Advisory Group will introduce the monumental Flora Vitiensis, which, when it was published, documented every known plant in Fiji. Pickering said the language week provided an opportunity to learn, speak and celebrate the various indigenous dialects of Fiji through traditional cultural experience of our way of life.

“As indigenous people, our heritage and the foundation where we come from is important to Fijians. “When I think of migration, I think about my own family who, like so many families, migrated to Aotearoa New Zealand and in many respects, we still feel like we are migrating and on a life long journey,” Annah Pickering said. “Our Vuvale (Family), Vanua (Land) and Ocean (Wasawasa) connect who we are.”

At Auckland Museum, you will be introduced to Fiji collections of kau, masi, tabua, tanoa and give you an insight to our ways of thinking, beliefs and traditional cultural practices, Pickering said.

She said the museum will also host a long read about the marvellous masiratu which features on everything from Fijian stamps to banknotes. “Learn about why this intricate, deep forest-dwelling plant is so iconic in Fiji.”

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