This report is extracted from Caroline Clark's Master's thesis at the University of British Columbia, entitled, "The Rotuma Website:  Transnational Relations and the Articulation of Cultural Identity."

Research on Rotuma Website - Community Report

Project Overview

As in other parts of the world, multimedia technology and the Internet have changed the ways that Pacific Islanders interact with each other and the speed with which such interactions take place.  At the same time, increasing numbers of Islanders are migrating both throughout and beyond the geographical boundaries of Oceania.  The process of migration is complex.  In addition to the challenges associated with moving to a new place and settling, migrants also experience pressure to remain connected to their home islands.  Given the importance of kin relations and cultural identity in Oceania, many migrants are using multimedia technology to maintain links to their home.

The purpose of my research was to examine the history, content and usage of the Rotuma website with a focus on how the website works to create and maintain social connections in the face of increasing fragmentation caused by migration.  As such, I wanted to look at how Rotumans now living abroad use the Rotuma website to connect to events, people and traditional heritage; to determine the ways in which Rotuman people are using the website to preserve culture, identity, and transnational social relations; to understand how the website works in relation to the development of a global Rotuman community; and to study how websites and Internet technology are being used to create new forms of social relationships throughout the Pacific and abroad, realized in the form of virtual communities.

My research methodology included interviews with community members, an interview with website developer and Webmaster Alan Howard, and the collection of data through an online survey that was accessible through a link posted on the Rotuma website.    

The response to the survey posted on the Rotuma website is a credit to the popularity of the website.  I originally hoped to receive between 20 and 40 surveys, an estimate that was difficult to articulate due to the nebulous identity and size of an online community.  The survey was posted on 19 March 2005 and within less than three weeks I had received 171 surveys.  In the end, 151 surveys were usable.  The remaining twenty were either incomplete or duplicates.  Below is a summary table of the results.  An overview of the qualitative results follows.  Please note that all comments were submitted via an anonymous email program.

Table 1.1 – Quantitative Survey Results

Respondents who consider themselves members of Rotuman community

 


97%

Respondents place of birth:

  • Fiji
  • Rotuma
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Other (0.6% each – Canada, Guyana, Norway, Samoa, Scotland, South Africa, Tonga)

 

47%
37%
7%
5%
4.%

 

Country accessing the website from:

  • Australia
  • Fiji
  • United States
  • New Zealand
  • Canada
  • United Kingdom
  • Sierra Leone
  • Egypt
  • Other (0.6% each - Bahrain, Jamaica, Norway, Scotland, Tonga)

 

 

33%
23%
16%
11%
7%
5%
1%
1%
3%

 

Respondent’s Gender

  • Male
  • Female

 

 

41%
59%

 

Respondents’ Age

  • 35-49 years
  • 26-34 years
  • 50-64 years
  • 65 + years
  • 19 - years
  • No answer

 

 

39%
25%
17%
5%
1%
13%

 

How often visit the site:

  • Once per week
  • Once per day
  • Once per month
  • Once every few months
  • Once per year
  • No answer

 

 

53%
34%
7%
3%
2%
1%

 

Average length of stay per visit

  • 6-15 minutes
  • 16-30 minutes
  • 31-59 minutes
  • 1 hour or longer
  • Less than five minutes
  • No answer

 

 

38%
34%
15%
7%
5%
1%

 

Preferred language of communication

  • English
  • Rotuman
  • Fijian
  • Tongan
  • Other (not specified)

 

 

70%
24%
4%
1%
1%

 

Prefer to have more content offered in Rotuman

 

47%

 

First page viewed each visit:

  • News
  • What’s New
  • Bulletin Board
  • Photographs

 

 

50%
45%
4%
1%

 

Found out about website via:

  • Family member                       
  • Online search              
  • Friend                                     
  • Link from other website          
  • Business / work                        
  • Other                                      

 

 

38%
33%
22%
4%
2%
1%

 

Internet Connection Speed:

  • Broadband
  • Dial-up
  • No answer

 

 

68%
27%
5%

 

How easy is it to find what you are looking for?

  • Very easy                                            
  • Somewhat easy                                    
  • Somewhat difficult                              
  • Difficult                                              

 

 

81%
14%
4%
1%

 

The font (text style and size) is:

  • Easy to read                            
  • Somewhat easy to read                        
  • Difficult to read

 

 

96%
2%
2%

 

Respondents that have contributed content (news, articles, photos, etc) to website:

 


20%

 

Are contributions processed in a timely manner?

  • Yes
  • No

 

 

91%
9%

 

Do you print off sections of the website:

  • Yes
  • No

 

 

92%
8%

 

Do you share these printed copies with other community members?

  • Yes
  • No

 


72%
28%

 

Use the Register

 

65%

 

Use the website to:

  • Keep up with the news
  • Find out about meetings, events and announcements
  • View photographs
  • Learn about Rotuman cultural heritage
  • Find friends / relatives
  • Learn or use the Rotuman language

 

 

97%
84%
83%
68%
66%
48%

 

Means of keeping in touch with community (other than website)

  • Telephone
  • Email
  • Mail
  • Visits to Rotuma
  • Visits to other Rotuman communities
  • Other websites

 


85%
85%
54%
46%
40%
13%

 

Believe that the website works to preserve Rotuman culture

 

90%

 

How well does the website represent Rotuman culture?

  • Extremely well
  • Adequately
  • Not well at all

 

 

59%
40%
1%

 

Believe that the website creates and maintains a sense of community among the global Rotuman diaspora


100%

 

Qualitative Findings

The purpose of the website was articulated as follows:

  • Facilitate connections / communication between Rotumans
  • Allow Rotumans to be informed / keep up with news
  • Allow Rotumans to maintain  / showcase / demonstrate / learn about / keep in touch with Rotuman culture and identity
  • Share information and ideas

Respondents also gave several personal reasons for visiting the website. 

  • For news updates
  • To connect with home / friends / family
  • To learn history / language / culture
  • To see photographs

In addition, the website works to serve the Rotuman community in that it acts as a place for learning and a source for knowledge.  The following comments demonstrate the role that the website plays in the education of Rotumans and in its ability to connect community members located in geographically separate areas of the world (the comments have been edited for spelling and grammar, but the content and context was not changed):

  • “Because most Rotumans are migrating overseas in search of greener pastures the website is a good tool for communication and keeping touch with friends and families.  Moreover, not all Rotumans are born knowing their cultural values and traditions; therefore the website helps in educating particular users on Rotuman culture.”

  • [I visit the website] so I myself can learn the language, culture and news of Rotuma.  [And] so that sometime I can share with my children.”

  • “I believe we are blessed to be such a small community in terms of population and to have the good fortune of this website to keep us informed of our heritage.  I have been schooling in the UK since high school so I do feel there was a gap in my culture know-how, and just being able to access the website has definitely increased my knowledge of home.”

  • “The website helps us stay connected with our communities everywhere, and by that we are continually sharing and revisiting the unique experiences that each of us can identify with as being inherently Rotuman.  We are able to maintain links with each other through this website, and so are able to feel that we are part of each other’s experiences and celebrate and acknowledge that.”

The structure and the content of the website demonstrate that it serves the community in facilitating communication between visitors.  The inclusion of the Rotuman language in the website allows Rotumans to both learn their traditional language and practice it on a regular basis.  This can be of particular use for Rotumans now living abroad.  The following two comments demonstrate the importance of the use of Rotuman among the global diaspora: 

  • “I think a lot of Rotumans living outside the island have learned quite a lot from this website.  The use of the Rotuman language is great, as many Rotumans out there need to learn the language.  It is definitely a way to preserve the Rotuman culture”

  • “[The website] acts as a reserve of information about how things were and if more articles were published in both English and Rotuman it may aid in the continuation of language skills amongst the diasporic Rotumans, especially the younger generations”.

The preservation and use of the Rotuman language is a key aspect of the articulation of Rotuman cultural identity and cultural heritage.   

Suggestions for Additions to the Website

When asked what they would like to have added to the website in the future, respondents indicated that there are several areas of the website that could be improved or expanded upon.  Naturally, these are the sections that visitors seem to use or depend upon the most. 

Music:

  • Survey respondents requested that additional music be made available to download for free from the website. 

  • Community members want to learn the lyrics of the songs and to be able to acknowledge the original composers. 

Photographs:

  • Over half of the respondents indicated a desire for more photographs. 

  • Numerous respondents commented on the fact that the website contained images of family members that they themselves did not own and had never seen before.

  • The photographs hold much meaning for the global Rotuman community, as illustrated by the following comment:  “For me personally I think that the website helps me to not forget my culture and to always have a reason to be proud of where I'm from.  Sometimes I tend to be too absorbed in the American culture but when I visit the website I bring myself back to what and who I’m supposed to be representing. I'm very proud to be Rotuman and I hope that this website will provide the same benefits to other Rotuman youths who live far away from home”. 

Film:

  • Similarly, many visitors expressed a desire for film and video to be added to the website.  These could be archival segments that Howard and Rensel have collected in their research or contemporary clips from community events both on the island and abroad. 

New material

Rotuman community members provided many excellent suggestions pertaining to the additional of new material for the website.  Rotuman community members provided many excellent suggestions.  There were too many suggestions to detail; however, the comments can be classified into the following categories:  sections that address practical community needs, sections that address community interests, and additional information pertaining to Rotuman identity. 

Practical community needs:

Travel information – Respondents indicated that boat schedules, special airfare deals, and other pertinent details would aid in planning return trips to the island.

A global calendar of events – This would allow Rotuman communities around the world to learn from each other and plan similar successful initiatives.

A venue for meeting people – Some respondents indicated that a chat room, or similar venue for meeting other Rotumans would be desirable.  However, implementing this might be a challenge as the Webmaster would not be able to facilitate those discussions and hence inappropriate content might surface.

Community interests:

Sports - Keeping up with sports is a popular pastime in many cultures around the world and it would seem that Rotumans are no exception.  Respondents expressed an interest in learning more about the success of Rotuman athletes or team members around the world as well as on the island. 

Healthcare - Suggestions relating to health care related mainly to increasing Rotumans’ awareness of health issues that they may face.  Specific topics to be included in this kind of a section were the spread of AIDS and other diseases, the occurrence of STD’s, and general information on healthy island lifestyles.     

Rotuman identity:

A section specifically for youth and children should be added so the voices of young Rotumans can be heard around the world

Information pertaining to opportunities for Rotumans in regards to education, employment, scholarships and other related prospects should be posted on the website

Rotuman “Stories of Success”- monthly or weekly profiles of community members who have done well either at home on the island or abroad in other countries. 

Genealogical information – Respondents indicated that they would like to be able to use the website to search for and store information about family relations.

Conclusion

Research on the website has demonstrated that it brings people together, facilitates communication, works towards the preservation of culture, and exists as a resource from which future generations can learn.  I believe the most significant aspect of the website is that it creates connections and enables virtual repatriation of cultural material. 

Although the initiative will need to remain dynamic, feedback from respondents has demonstrated that the Rotuma website currently plays an important role in the lives of migrants.  As a small, Pacific island community, Rotumans continue to migrate abroad in increasing numbers in search of education and employment opportunities not available at home.  Harnessing the power of multimedia technology, the Rotuma website is able to circumnavigate the geographical dispersion of this island society and the high cost of travel home to connect migrants to their cultural identity.  This is achieved by providing access to a wealth of information about Rotuma, facilitating contact between community members, offering a space for dialogue, and assisting with the education of the younger generation and extended family members.  As the Pacific diaspora becomes progressively more complex, initiatives like the Rotuma website will become increasingly important for their ability to maintain connections and preserve cultural identity.  The value of the Rotuma website cannot be underestimated.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank John Barker and Carol Mayer for their dedication and assistance in the development of my thesis.  Their guidance and editorial support have contributed significantly to the project.  I would also like to acknowledge Katherine Tumpach of Stubborn Goat Media for her aid in the development and hosting of the online research survey.  Additionally, I would like to acknowledge the contributions of Alan Howard and Jan Rensel.  In addition to creating the website that is the subject of my thesis, these two dedicated community members have willingly provided both time and excellent advice.  Lastly, I would like to thank the Vancouver-area Rotumans, and in particular Konousi Aisake and his family, for welcoming me into their community.