Hunger for cultural knowledge

posted: 9:00 am - 29th November 2018
RYNZ group at the Pasifika Festival in March 2018.

(Picture caption: Rotuman Youth of New Zealand perform at Pasifika Festival in March 2018.)

Spurred on by her children’s hunger to learn about their culture, Maria Fuata is doing everything she can to ensure the survival of the Rotuman language.

Listed as “vulnerable” on UNESCO’s list of endangered languages, Rotuman is spoken by approximately a third of the 15,000 Rotumans scattered around the world.

A self-employed Accountant and mother of seven children, aged from nine to 24, Maria is an executive member of the New Zealand Rotuman Fellowship Incorporated and leader of the Auckland group Mairani.  

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The idea of losing the Rotuman language completely is disheartening, Maria (pictured left) says.

Her renewed interest in the language and the Rotuman community stems from her children’s desire to learn all they can about their Rotuman culture and identity.

Three of Maria’s children were born in Fiji, and the other four were born in New Zealand.

“They have been twice removed, from Fiji and Rotuma…our children are so far removed from their home, it ignites that hunger and craving to learn about where they come from.”

Maria shares how her mother Tuifurau Pesamino, 70, is a wonderful Rotuman musical composer, following in the footsteps of her father and grandfather.

“They passed down these unique composition skills using the Rotuman knowledge and language to the next generation and to my mother.

“It skipped a generation with me and my siblings - no one was interested to learn - but one of my daughters is learning these skills from her nana and I am doing everything to support this.”

Approximately 5,000 Rotumans live in New Zealand, and while only small, the community is proactive and dedicated to saving their language from extinction.

With a “need to start somewhere”, the New Zealand Rotuman Fellowship Incorporated has organised a community language initiative, which will start in February 2019. 

This has been a carefully planned and prepared programme, which launched with the Rotuman cultural performances and workshops at the Rotuman Kato’aga at Labour weekend in October, with a strong focus on our youth and the Rotuman Youth of New Zealand. 

Different groups within the New Zealand Rotuman Fellowship will begin “language nests”, where people can learn to speak and interact in Rotuman together, as a family.

To ensure the language and knowledge being taught within these language nests is consistent, the Rotuman Community has enlisted the advice of sub-chief and elder Gagaj Taimanav Taukave from Rotuma, as well as other language experts in Fiji and Rotuma.

“With a dying language, it is good to maintain the integrity of it – we need to teach the right thing, and that’s why we engaged an advisor.

“Gagaj Taimanav says a good starting point to learn the Rotuman language is a Rotuman Bible; Rotuman Dictionary and to listen to our Mapigas – our mamas and papas,” Maria says.

Language, culture and identity is a key priority for the Ministry for Pacific Peoples (MPP) work with communities in New Zealand, and throughout 2018 the Rotuman Community met to speak about their endangered language, and ways to save it.

“The Ministry agrees language is key to identity and is very supportive of our initiative and it is advising our Community on how to lead the planning of a Rotuman language week in May 2019.”

The NZ Rotuman Fellowship is also working closely with Pasifika Education Centre and its Rotuman language class led by Fesaitu Solomone.

Saving a language from extinction is a group effort that cannot be done by individuals alone, Maria adds.

“We have realised we cannot do everything on our own and we are grateful for the support.”

Visit Mairani Group NZ and Rotuman Youth of NZ (RYNZ) for more information.