According to Rako Pasefika Artistic Director Letila Mitchell, New Zealand’s commitment to the Rotuman language is unique.
The Suva-based creative collective provides a platform for artists to come together, perform, and tour around the world while showcasing Rotuma’s culture, its music and language.
This year, the Ministry for Pacific Peoples (MPP) included Rotuman Language Week in the official Pacific Language Weeks series for the first time.
Rako Pasefika already has a great relationship with the New Zealand Rotuman Fellowship.
Letila explains it had been working towards conducting a tour to New Zealand to coincide with Rotuman Language Week which concluded on May 16.
“Unfortunately because of COVID 19 and border restrictions, we were unable to travel as planned and so engaged as much as we could by running online classes, providing our music for Rotuma language week organisers to use, photos and any other creative support they needed throughout the week,” she says.
The opportunity to engage in Rotuman Language Week helps Rako Pasefika’s artists to feel valued.
“In Fiji, where most of the members are based there is limited support and so a lot of the time, we work on our own to create programmes for our youth.
“Having a platform that is well supported means our artists can connect with Rotuman community in New Zealand and show how we have been able to integrate language into our creative own creative programmes.”
The cultural exchange between Rako Pasefika and its Rotuman counterparts in New Zealand is ongoing and it ensures the revival of language as well as creative practice which has almost completely diminished.
“Many Rotumans grow up without the Rotuman language,” she says.
“It is an endangered language and so in Rako, we provide the first steps of learning language through dance, music, design and other creative collaborations.
“Sometimes learning a language can be intimidating and most of our people do not have an avenue to learn the language without being criticised so we hope to provide a safe way to learn the language.”
The way Rotuman Language Week has engaged all Rotumans regardless of where they live, whether they grew up with the language or not, is developing a community based around positivity and inclusiveness, Letila continues.
“Our young people are encouraged and inspired to engage which is not how it has always been – it has been a wonderful experience for many people to engage with what's happening in New Zealand.”
Rako Pasefika has been hit hard by COVID-19 and has had to cancel four international tours already this year, which has impacted the artists’ livelihoods.
“However, we are resilient and so we have moved all our classes online which has been incredible as it has opened our work up to so many people around the world which has been positive,” Letila says.
The group has turned its focus to two research projects, which concentrate on revitalising creative practices - many of which are lost, as well as creating its third album.
It also hopes to release a new fashion collection over the next few months and have other projects in the pipeline which will take us through to the end of the year such as digital story books, a lullaby album project, and potentially some documentary projects.
Visit MPP for Rotuman language information and resources.