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Archived News: May 2020

From FijiSun (23 May 2020)

Speaking An Endangered Language
The race to save many unique and remote languages in danger of disappearing is a celebrated event – and it deserves the pomp and fanfare too!

By Annmary Raduva

In a suburb in Suva, my mother chants an old Rotuman folk song while rocking my baby sister to sleep.

This got me thinking of the origins of the song and how its alluring story – in song form – still echoes many years later. It is a love story between a brother and sister – Rakitefurusia and 'Eatoso. This is also a popular folktale in many Rotuman homes in the region and those that have settled in the Americas, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the Asian countries.

At home, conversations take place in Rotuman, Fijian (Bauan dialect), very basic Arabic and French and English. For my siblings and I, this is a privilege and multilingualism has become a norm at home – my father is iTaukei and my mother is a Rotuman-Fijian. We picked up our basic Arabic and French from our overseas travels. Our conversations can spontaneously switch to song, dance and hanuju (story telling) in Rotuman, a language my father has also embraced and is learning fast.

Of the estimated 7000 languages that are spoken around the world, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) projects that half of these will disappear by the end of the century.

The race to save many unique and remote languages in danger of disappearing is a celebrated event – and it deserves the pomp and fanfare too!

Last week, Rotumans on the island, the Rotuman diaspora and non-Rotumans celebrated Rotuma Day on May 14, and the Rotuman Language and Cultural Week that was organised and supported by the New Zealand government.

The week-long celebration prompted a global movement, empowering and encouraging Rotumans to speak their indigenous language. The celebration comes at a critical time in the language's history, as Rotuman has been designated an endangered language by UNESCO.

Rotuman festivals and celebrations are a response to this urgent situation and a direct attempt to preserve the language and culture and I absolutely support this.

All languages have stories and can provide a deeper understanding of the world around us.
Our indigenous languages are not just spoken words.

Be it the Rotuman language or an iTaukei dialect from any of our provinces here in Fiji, language preservation is not limited to protecting spoken communication.

It is about protecting a culture deeply rooted with rich stories, poems, songs, art and dance that celebrate and value traditional knowledge.

The United Nations declared 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages launching a global awareness raising platform for all indigenous languages in its red alert category and I welcome any chance to celebrate and explore the linguistic diversity and vitality of indigenous languages from speakers around Fiji.

I am hopeful that after this COVID-19 pandemic, we will be able to appreciate this beautiful gift called "our mother tongue" in a mass celebration where we can discover how indigenous languages are interconnected through identity, cultural heritage and traditional ecological knowledge. We must celebrate how we are a vital part of the fabric and story of humanity.

The digital world also offers an opportunity to learn our indigenous languages – I find myself writing and speaking more Rotuman via groups and page on Facebook. I am able to send a SMS to my maternal cousins in Rotuman and switch to the Bauan dialect when I converse with my paternal side of the family.

One precious thing about our indigenous languages and the many dialects we speak and understand is its vocabulary of words – in particular, for love – they change according to the age, gender and kinship of speakers and the nature of the moment.

I pen-off with a positive vibe knowing that the future for the Rotuman language is not as bleak as UNESCO anticipated – there is hope. Please keep the momentum flowing for the sake of our unique indigenous languages.

Moreover, congratulations to all that have put an effort to preserve the authenticity of our indigenous languages!

From Radio New Zealand (21 May 2020)

Call for global network to promote Rotuman language

By Christine Rovoi

The call has gone out for the creation of a global network to promote Rotuman language and culture in this current Covid-19 pandemic environment.

The coronavirus pandemic failed to stop the inaugural Rotuman Language Week in New Zealand this year.

Instead Covid-19 transformed how the islanders celebrated their language and culture last week.

Rotuman was the first of nine Pacific language weeks and the islanders took to the internet to celebrate the historic milestone.

Rotumans around the world were leveraging tools like Zoom, Facebook, Youtube and WhatsApp to tune in to the events in Aotearoa.

It's typically a community affair but the New Zealand Rotuman Fellowship Group (NZRG) and the Auckland Rotuman Fellowship Group (ARFG) were forced to think virtual.

An event that's meant to bring the community together was observed apart.

Programmes including Rotuma Day celebrations on 13 May were quietly marked by islanders in their bubbles across the world.

Instead of sitting in a church, as the pastor prayed for the people and the weeklong event, Rotumans watched and listened through an app on their phones, computers and television monitors.

Language week celebrations in Aotearoa will be different this year.

Thousands of Rotumans marked last week with thanksgiving services, language lessons and videos, arts, panel discussions, dances and youth-led initiatives.

Fesaitu Solomone
Fesaitu Solomone. Photo: Supplied

But Rotuman language advocates say the celebrations should not stop there.

Global collaboration needed

Auckland-based Fesaitu Solomone believed more work needed to be done and the onus was now on Rotumans to ensure they continued to promote their language and culture.

The Rotuman language tutor praised the organisers and communities in New Zealand for reaching out to Rotumans around the world during the weeklong event.

But Ms Solomone said the challenge now was for the islanders to take ownership and continue the momentum.

She called for a global collaboration of Rotuman elders and linguists to ensure the spoken and written language was preserved.

"One of the things that need to be improved and one of the things I have emphasised to the Rotuman community is a need for a global committee that can look at the language because our language is so limited in terms of new terminology.

"That's the challenge now having new words in the technology space, in the medical space and those terms need to be translated."

Rotuman usage limited

Fesaitu Solomone said normally Rotumans would gather with family and friends, share food and stories and leave.

Ms Solomone said more could be done to promote the language as its usage was limited in New Zealand with most of the week-long programmes actually run in English.

She said the translation of modern words such as computer, mobile phone and even fruits like grapes, kiwifruit needed to be translated correctly.

"Rotumans use linguist Clerk Churchward's orthography where he aligned the spoken and written language from the early Methodists and Catholics.

"But as we move away from Rotuma, there are things outside the island that we don't have a word for," she said.

"It's a challenge because we haven't formalised or created a new dictionary and we need to take ownership of our language."

Ms Solomone said a global committee could be set up - the same way the committee was created to translate the Bible - to look at new terms and find consistency in teaching the language world-wide.

She said if people had their own terminology, it would become difficult to teach the language because Rotumans were learning differently.

She urged the elders and linguists to commit to teaching the language to their people.


Rotuman academic Wilfred Fimone agreed with Ms Solomone and said the difficulty with Churchward's version for many Rotumans was the diacritics (the dots and dashes above and below the letters).

Wilfred Fimone
Wilfred Fimone Photo: Supplied

Mr Fimone, who teaches at the University of the South Pacific in Suva, said this was due to a lack of education on the language as diacritics were vital because it made for easy second-language learning.

"With Churchward's system, he accommodates for both the early Methodists' longform of writing with the Roman Catholics' short form."

And how about teaching a five-year-old to speak Rotuman let alone write the language?

"It's a challenge."

Mr Fimone said a study on Churchward's version was needed to evaluate how children had acquired the Australian linguist's writing system.

He also said anyone who wanted to teach the language should undergo some form of training and upskilling so the curriculum used was universal.

"Just as we have English teachers undergoing training to teach the language."

"The Rotuman language isn't standardised and there are people using different varieties and as much as variation is good, it is important to have a standard that teachers can follow.

"Look at the word Faiakseʻea (thank you), it's also spelt Faiaksia. We need to come to a consensus on which one should be taught."

Mr Fimone said there were no courses or programmes available at universities to help upskill Rotuman language tutors but "it's something in the backburner".

The Rotuman alphabet explained

During the weeklong language celebrations, the NZ Rotuman Fellowship Group shared the Maf Ne Puku or Rotuman Alphabet.

Nataniela Amato-Ali, who helped explain the alphabet, said the Rotuman language had five basic vowels which had the same pronunciations as other Pacific languages including Te Reo Maori: (A E I O U)

Mr Amato-Ali said there were also five variations to these vowels and there were slightly different ways of pronouncing the vowels, A, O and U.

"Faeag Rotuam Ta (The Rotuman Language Week) has 14 consonants which comprise of 13 letters and the glottal stop: P T F G H J K L M N R S V (ʻ) - glottal stop.

"You will note the Rotuman Alphabet does not follow the order set out in the English Alphabet. This is attributed to the rhyme invented by Rotumans to learn their letters, i.e the Rotuman "ABC Song".

"In the link below, you will find the letters and symbols of the Rotuman Alphabet, their International Phonetic Alphabet, equivalents, pronunciation in English and an example of a word in Faeag Rotuam Ta."

Nataniela Amato-Ali
Nataniela Amato-Ali
Photo: Supplied

Wilfred Fimone, of the USP, thanked the adversity of Rotumans in New Zealand in celebrating their language and culture during the Covid-19 pandemic.

But Mr Fimone said it should not stop there.

"We need to maintain the energy. Come next week, come next month we need to continue speaking to our children and creating resources so that Rotumans around the world can be able to use."



From FijiVillage (20 May 2020)

Rotuma Backyard Farmers Association donates $7,000 towards PM's TC Harold relief efforts

By Iva Danford

The Fiji Rotuma Backyard Farmers Association donated $7,000 worth of food supplies towards the Prime Minister’s Tropical Cyclone relief efforts.

The relief food supplies includes 160kg of yams, taro and cartons of food supplies.

While officiating at the handing over, the Minister for Disaster Management Inia Seruiratu says the Agriculture sector is one of the most adversely affected by TC Harold.

Seruiratu says food supplies will be distributed immediately to the families impacted by TC Harold.

Chairman of the Fiji Rotuma Backyard Farmers Association Patrick Veu says that due to impacts of TV Harold and the COVID-19 pandemic, the association decided to donate the food supplies that are usually displayed during the Rotuma Day.

Rotuman farmers in Fiji

Photo: NDMO

Links to News Coverage of Rotuman Language Week in New Zealand

Rotuman Language Week (Ministry for Pacific Peoples, 19 May)

Why Rotuman is a unique Pacific Language (Radio New Zealand, 14 May)

Double celebration for Rotumans (Radio New Zealand, 13 May)

Rotuman Language Week activities continue (, 11 May)

Interview with Vilsoni Hereniko (Pacific Media Network, 10 May)

Rotuma's kava ceremony (Te Papa Blog, 10, May)

Official Launch 2020 New Zealand Rotuman Language Week (Facebook, 10 May)

From Radio New Zealand (10 May 2020)

Joy over first Rotuman language week not dampened by Covid-19

You won't hear New Zealand's Rotuman community complaining about the unique environment in which they are having to celebrate the country's first official language week, they are grateful and happy for the platform.

Rotuman fui or lei. Photo: Supplied

Rotuma is a Fijian dependency with about 2000 people living on island and at least another 10,000 more on mainland Fiji, while thousands of others are scattered across the world.

Rotuman has been added to the Ministry of Pacific People's nine languages promoted during the course of the year, with the inaugural week kicking off this weekend.

Like a number of Pacific tongues, it was a language earmarked as under threat by the United Nations agency, UNESCO.

The theme for this week was "Putua 'os fäega ma 'os ag fak Rotuma" or "Nurturing our Rotuman identity through language and culture."

An Auckland-based Rotuman said having their language recognised and celebrated in such a way was "an awesome milestone".

Lisa Tai said for the small Rotuman community in Aotearoa (which numbered just over 783 in the 2013 census), it was amazing.

She said they had always celebrated their language and culture but now they could take it to another level.

"The support of the Ministry means that, yes we're celebrating one week in the year, but we also need to keep up the momentum and have the support throughout the year and, sort of, carry on with our programmes," Ms Tai said.

"So, the partnership with the Ministry has definitely enabled us to do that."

Having an an official language week also allowed Rotumans to showcase their culture to a wider audience, according to Ms Tai.

She said, previously, cultural gatherings were simply a chance to meet with other Rotumans.

"But now it sort-of opens up the conversation and provides us with an opportunity to educate others about our culture, which I think is the bit that I'm really excited about.

"So, the fact that we're even talking about Rotuma now is, you know, awesome."

Celebrations during Covid-19 Alert 

Despite the excitement, Ms Tai and her fellow Rotumans were launching their week amid Covid-19 restrictions, meaning many of the events had been shifted online.

However organisers said this was tempered by the fact the week kicked off on Mother's Day, so they could honour their loved treasured ones, who often taught them their language.

Language tutor Fesaitu Solomone said despite Covid-19, celebrations were going ahead, albeit from a distance.

Fesaitu Solomone
Fesaitu Solomone  Photo: supplied

"What we planned initially was to have a public gathering of our community...but unfortunately due to Covid-19, we are unable to do that. So the celebrations have been moved onto a virtual platform."

Ms Solomone said the 2020 language weeks marked the beginning of a new decade of magnifying the value and advantage Pacific languages and bilingualism brought to Aotearoa.

She was proud Rotuman was now part of the programme.

She said the New Zealand Rotuman Fellowship Group had planned it activities - via the internet - with Pacific Peoples Minister Aupito William Sio hosting an online launch on Saturday, a special church service set for today, and language learning assemblies, fitness classes and a panel discussions scheduled for the week.

Ms Solomone said although the event was celebrated "from a distance" she urged Rotumans to support each other and ensure their values, culture and language remained strong.

She said the community would also celebrate Rotuma Day on 13 May - the anniversary of the island's cession to Queen Victoria in 1881.

Meanwhile, the Auckland Rotuman Fellowship Group said it had also organised activities to mark the Language Week.

Its programme would be featured on its social media platforms starting with a 'Rotuma with Love' combined church service on Sunday and a Mother's Day competition, elders and children day and Zumba classes.

Auckland Museum marking historic occasion

The Auckland Museum was also getting in on the act.

It was celebrating Gasav Ne Fäeag Rotuạm - Rotuman Language Week online with features of Rotuman items from their collection and by lighting up the iconic building in the colours of Rotuma.

Auckland Museum
Auckland Museum lit up to celebrate Rotuma Language Week Photo: Auckland Museum

Fesaitu Solomone, who recently joined the museum's Pacific Advisory Group, was also set to speak.

Auckland Museum had scheduled a long read about Tales of a Lonely Island (1939); an early twentieth century collection of Rotuman legends and an image and information about the Jea - Polynesian Triller (Lalage maculosa rotumae).

Over the course of the week there would also be zoom discussions with a special panel of guests showcasing selected Rotuman treasures.

Pacific Language Weeks going from strength to strength

Meanwhile the Minister for Pacific Peoples, Aupito William Sio, said the Pacific Language Weeks would forever mark a special moment in the history of Pasifika who had relished the opportunity of hearing life-saving Covid-19 messages being delivered in their languages, on mainstream media platforms.

"For many weeks due to Covid-19, we have had to adapt in the way we communicate and engage with our friends, families and communities. It has been challenging, but we have risen to that challenge. Our Pacific cultural values and languages have been key to connecting, supporting Pacific communities across Aotearoa, and building confidence in how to keep our families safe during these uncertain times," said Aupito.

The minister said the inclusion of Rotuma, (and Kiribati which had also been added for the first time), was all about capturing the role of language in the growth and advancement of Pasifika in Aotearoa.

"We have always known that embracing our Pacific cultures and languages would not only build confidence in our communities but also help to advance their future success."

"This year's Rotuma Language Week has even greater significance, with it being the inaugural online launch as part of the 11th year of the Pacific Language Weeks," said Aupito.

Rotuman Arts and Crafts
Rotuma arts and crafts go on display  Photo: Christine Rovoi

From Auckland Rotuman Community (8 May)

The Rotuman Community is celebrating their 3rd Rotuman Language Week from the 10th to the 17th of May 2020, hosted as online seminars and streamed via social media.

Download a Media Release and Programme

For more information, visit the Group Facebook page or Group website

This week-long celebration of Rotuman culture is being led by the Auckland Rotuman Fellowship Group Incorporated (ARFGI), and is a fully community-led initiative, supported with their own resources and funds.