New Fijian Book Celebrates Language and Culture

Last month Radio New Zealand posted an article about how the Fijian community in Wellington, New Zealand, gathered to launch a unique book celebrating their language and culture as part of Fijian Language Week this week.

The book, Voqa ni Veisemati: Vola Italanoa ni Viti e Aotearoa, contains a collection of stories and poems in both Fijian and English.

The chair of the Wellington Fijian language committee, and one of the co-editors Sai Lealea, said the book captures Fiji through the lens of each writer. “People wrote about experiences when they last visited Fiji, one family wrote about their first experience in being told that they were coming to NZ, and some of them wrote about myths and legends that was shared to them by their Grandparents, and about life in the village.”

Lealea said many of the community still have a strong connection to the homelands which is reflected in the books title Voqa ni Veisemati, in English, Echoes of Connection.

“The context of New Zealand and what we are going through in New Zealand provided them with a background to take a pause and think about where they are now, and where they have come from, and of course, stories they captured sort of made that connection and that’s reflected in the title.”

The book is the result of a series of creative writing workshops led by author and storyteller Moira Wairama and facilitated by Sai Lealea and Losalini Tuwere with support from the Ministry of Education and Read NZ Te Pou Muramura.

It’s part of Read NZ Te Pou Muramura’s Writers in Communities programme, which aims to nurture new readers and writers within a community and help share their stories widely.

The youngest member of the book is 5 year-old David Cecil Kua who wrote ‘Traffic in Fiji’ and he also included his own illustrations. His Mum, Jocelyn Kua, said David attends the Fiji language class, and this project was a good next step for him on his language journey. “Helping cement the love of the language, the understanding of the cultural ways especially a young Fijian boy who also carries other ethnicity’s groups, so this is a wonderful experience.”

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14 year-old Sakaraia Nasau was another writer, whose poem was about going to his village in Fiji to visit his Dad’s grave. “What it means to go there is, I learn more about traditional knowledge that has been passed down my family. So my role in the village is warrior, and it’s pretty important for me to know my history,” he said. Nasau said he felt extremely proud to be part of the project, and that people get to see how well Fijian young people can write.

Losalini Tuwere, who is also another co-editor, said all those who were invited really enjoyed being part of the project. “We were invited as families to come and participate so for example in my family, it’s like three generations my in-laws, I’m writing and our daughter is writing and we are all writing about different things.” She said this is the first time ever she has written in Fijian and to have it published in her own mother tongue.

Tuwere said it has been an absolute blessing to have been part of this project working together as a community to write our stories in both Fijian and English. She and a colleague also run a Fijian language class for children every Tuesday during school terms, she said class has been going for three years. “We actually started from our church cell group, which was about 10 children but now it has grown to about 40 children coming from Porirua, all the way to Haitaitai, Johnsonville, Churton Park and Newlands,” she said.

The younger members of the project were also given a copy of the book to gift to their local school.

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