Rotuman communities in NZ celebrate their language week 2023

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Kingsland Rotuman Methodist Church
Kingsland Rotuman Methodist Church . . . where the congregation began 30 years ago. Image: Rotuman Fellowship Group

Asia Pacific Report

Rotuman people and communities in Aotearoa New Zealand launched their Rotuman Language Week 2023 celebrations yesterday.

The event by the NZ Rotuman Collective began with a blessing and service at the Kingsland Rotuman Methodist Church — where the congregation began more than 30 years ago — and will showcase the language and culture of Rotuma.

“Each day of the week has been allocated a different theme with the elders, youth, children, community and religious leaders hosting their days,” said chairperson Rachael Mario.

NZ Rotuman Collective chair Rachael Mario
NZ Rotuman Collective chair Rachael Mario at the Language Week opening lunch yesterday . . . “It is extremely important for our migrant communities to connect with Māori as people of this land.” Image: RFG

In addition to language and culture, the Rotuman Language Collective also focuses on key social justice areas that communities need more awareness about. These issues being presented at the NZ Rotuman Community Centre in Mt Roskill and other venues include:

  • Te Tirirti o Waitangi presentation (Monday, May 8, 7.30am)
  • Dawn Raids and Pasifika people’s advocacy for social justice (Tuesday, May 9, 7.30am)
  • Health and wellbeing with Hula Fit exercise (Wednesday, May 10, 10.30am, 11.30am)
  • Seniors lunch and storytelling (on Wednesday, May 10, 12 noon)
  • Home ownership workshop (Wednesday, May 10, 7pm)
  • Art classes for wellness (Thursday, May 11, 4pm)
  • Serving our communities by continuing weekly distribution of food parcels (Friday, May, 12, 7pm)
  • Education Hub launch (Friday, May 12, 7.30pm)
  • Rotuman cultural show and community engagement (Saturday, May 13, Kingsland Trinity Methodist Church, 5.30pm)
  • Mother’s Day acknowledging mothers and family (Sunday, May 14, 2pm)

“It is extremely important for our migrant communities to connect with Māori as people of this land, and be aware of colonisation and displacement,” Mario said.

‘Understanding colonisation
“This will also help Rotuman people understand our own colonisation by the British and Fiji.”

The Rotuman Language Week, a New Zealand-led initiative started in 2018 by the Auckland Rotuman Fellowship Group Incorporated (ARFGI), has now grown to include many groups across the world.

The feature event will be on Rotuma Day, including the Rotuman Showcase with a traditional dance and fashion show.

This will be followed by Community Engagement with chief guest MP Teanau Tuiono, Green Party spokesperson for Pacific peoples.

This year is also the continuation of the UN International Decade of Indigenous Languages, making this Language Week even more important.

The theme for this year’s Language Week is: “Vetḁkia ‘os Fäega ma Ag fak hanua” (Sustaining our language and culture).

Rotuman people are a separate ethnic group with their own distinct Polynesian language, culture, and identity.

‘Untouched paradise’
Rotuma is described by commentators as an “untouched paradise” with some of the world’s most pristine and beautiful beaches.

“Language is what makes us who we are, and is part of our culture and identity,” Mario said. “And it is our duty to preserve this invaluable taonga”.

The group hopes the week’s activities will help bring people together, and showcase Rotuman culture.

“We invite everyone to join us and celebrate being Rotuman,” Mario said.

“It has not been easy for our community to keep our language alive in Aotearoa.”

“We pay tribute to our elders and leaders, who for the last 40 years, have continued to celebrate our culture in New Zealand, and for helping keep our customs and traditions relevant.”

Rotuma consists of the island of Rotuma and its nearby islets, and is located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, about 500 kms north of Fiji, and 500 kms west of the French-ruled territory of Wallis and Futuna.

Rotuma was annexed by the British on 13 May 1881 (“Rotuma Day”). Although Rotuma is its own “nation”, it is currently administered by Fiji as a dependency.

The Rotuman language is listed on the UNESCO List of Endangered Languages as “Definitely endangered”.

The Rotuman Language Week 2023 programme
The Rotuman Language Week 2023 programme. Image: RFG
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