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Language week signals a milestone for the Rotuman community

Language week signals a milestone for the Rotuman community

  • 03 May 2020
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Growing up in the small Waikato town of Te Aroha never stopped Tieri Carswell’s parents from immersing her and her younger brother in Rotuman tradition and culture.   

Born in Hamilton in 1988 to a Rotuman mother and Kiwi father, Ema and Paul Carswell, Tieri says her family would visit Auckland regularly for hafa (traditional dance) practice and cultural events as her mother was a purotu (dance teacher).   

“Making these trips and being around our Rotuman community instilled the importance of being proud of your heritage from a young age,” Tieri says. 

With her parents' links to the New Zealand Rotuman Fellowship (NZRF) as one of the founding members, the importance of her culture has continued throughout Tieri’s life. 

She is an integral member of the Rotuman community, wearing many hats including being a hafa tutor for Waikato’s Rotuman community, as well as being part of the communications team for the NZRF. 

Her passion for community has helped keep her grounded. 

Based in Hamilton, Tieri has been involved in the planning of this month’s Rotuman Language Week, which for the first time, is part of the Ministry for Pacific Peoples Pacific Language Week series. 

It is a proud milestone for the Rotuman people, she says.       

“Within the Pacific community, we have small numbers in New Zealand compared to our Polynesian brothers and sisters, experiencing the same challenges around identity, culture and language. 

“Yet in a smaller community like ours, the impact of these challenges has a slightly greater impact because we have fewer people to teach, fewer people to learn and fewer people to pass on that knowledge.” 

The Rotuman language is listed on the UNESCO list of endangered languages as "vulnerable" and throughout the years, New Zealand’s Rotuman community has tried to promote awareness about how the language is close to being lost. 

As the only national community group, NZRF, together with the Canterbury Rotuman Group and Kainaga Fitness and Health Group, are championing the language and culture within Aotearoa, while helping prepare for Rotuman Language Week, an opportunity Tieri is immensely proud of. 

“The launch of Rotuman Language Week means that MPP recognises the need for our language to be supported and they choose to support this undertaking as an active partner. 

“The Ministry has joined us on this mission to keep the language and culture alive for our people and we are so grateful for the help – it has connected us with a network of people who want to support the vision and share the great work already happening within the Rotuman community initiatives, a platform we value so much.” 

In recent weeks, COVID-19 messages from the Government have been translated into Rotuman and circulated on Facebook and on the MPP website. 

“To help the government prepare messages of safety for our community and have our language spoken in a mainstream forum is recognition our language is important to not only to our people, but to the Pacific community and the Government, and we are hugely proud of this.” 

 One of the biggest challenges has been bringing all of the community and online events together, due to COVID-19 restrictions.

It has meant a lot more communication, coordinating, planning, scripting and editing has gone on in the background, Tieri explains. 

Rotuman Language Week runs from May 10-16 celebrating the theme for 2020 - Nurturing our Rotuman identity through language and culture (Putua ‘os fäega ma ‘os ag fak Rotuma); the importance of teaching the Rotuman language and culture to the next generation. 

“Rotuman Language Week is our time as a community to showcase our Rotuman language and culture to New Zealand and hopefully to inspire a new generation to get involved in their community or learn the language.” 

Keep an eye on MPP for more language information and resources.