Taieri MP Ingrid Leary pays tribute to ‘brave new wave’ of Rotuman culture

Aupito William Sio (left) and Labour Party MP for Taieri Ingrid Leary
'Aupito William Sio and Labour Party MP for Taieri Ingrid Leary ... bringing visibility to the language and culture of Rotumans and to the communities." Image: PCF

Pacific Cooperation Foundation

The New Zealand Rotuman community is celebrating Rotuman Language Week 2021 this week until Saturday.

Ingrid Leary, MP for Taieri and an ex-Pacific journalist, media academic at the University of the South Pacific and former director of the British Council, shares her experience with the importance of maintaining the Rotuman language and culture for her children.

What does Rotuman language week mean personally to you?

Noa’ia e Mauri to our Rotuman communities in Aotearoa.

Rotuman Language Week is an opportunity for me to celebrate my teenage children’s unique culture and language. It’s an important part of the revitalisation of a beautiful and endangered language, an opportunity to celebrate the new wave of cultural leaders who have bravely stepped out to make Rotuman arts relevant in a modern context while honouring the traditional practices, and a great excuse for Rotumans everywhere to get together as communities and have fun.

What events … will you be attending during Rotuman language week?

I am discussing the marking of Rotuman Language Week at Parliament with my Labour colleagues from the Pasifika Caucus and have the huge honour of saying the opening prayer for Parliament on Wednesday. I was asked to do this, given that I also said my Parliamentary Oath of Allegiance in Rotuman and Te Reo. I am hoping to get to some of the events, including the official closing, if my parliamentary duties allow.

Unfortunately I could not make the opening ceremony in Auckland with the Minister of Pacific Peoples, ‘Aupito William Sio, as I had important business in my electorate last weekend. However, I encouraged all my extended family and friends to attend that and as many events as they could.

What do you think the significance is, and importance of, New Zealand officially observing Rotuman language week?

Rotuman Language Week brings visibility both to the language/culture of Rotumans and to the communities themselves. This is vital to Rotumans having a voice at decision-making tables, as well as to ensuring young Rotuman New Zealanders are safe, confident and proud in their own cultures.

What is your favourite Rotuman food?

Fekei of course – the national dish made from starch, sugar and coconut milk – and cooked in an earth oven similar to a hangi pit. Yum!

Can you tell us something unique about the Rotuman culture that you think most people would not be aware of?

Rotumans who live on Rotuma spend the month of December (after a year of very hard work) in a Christmas Fara or traditional party – which entails going from house to house, one day at a time right around the island, singing, dancing and feasting. If the leaders decide to continue the party, then it can even go on for up to six weeks. The best place to be for Christmas, I’d say!

Ingrid Leary's son, Marli Atu
MP Ingrid Leary’s son, Marli Atu … serving kava in a covid environment on election night. Image: PCF

This is the second year now that New Zealand, as part of the Ministry for Pacific Peoples’ observance of Pacific language weeks, has observed Rotuman language week. Do you think New Zealanders are starting to understand and know more about the Rotuman Islands, and what significance do you think this has for Rotuman people living in New Zealand and abroad?

Ingrid Leary's daughter Lily Atu.
MP Ingrid Leary’s daughter Lily Atu. Image: PCF

Celebrating different Pacific languages is part of New Zealand celebrating who we are as a country. Certainly I’ve seen a shift in awareness of Rotuma since when I first came back to live in New Zealand in 2000, after living in Fiji for five years.

The Ministry of Pacific Peoples’ observance of Rotuman Language Week last year elevated that awareness significantly.

I do want to thank all those in the Rotuman communities over the last 20 years who worked so hard to promote the language and culture, and who engaged with government agencies to push for official recognition of the language. We would not be there without them, and on behalf of my family and the future generations of my family, I give them heartfelt thanks. Foak’sia!

Republished from the Pacific Cooperation Foundation. The original article is here.

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