Saturday, 12 May 2012

Don't forget your roots

Over the weekend Rotumans all over the world celebrated Rotuma Day or should I say Rotuma weekend as celebrations ran from Friday through to Sunday evening. Rotumans are regarded as one of two indigenous races in Fiji however are a minority as they make up about 10,000 of Fiji's total population. 80 percent of who live on the mainland (Viti Levu). But this weekend, even with the Fiji Showcase and horrid weather; many Rotuman families turned up to the National Gymnasium to enjoy the festivities.

One of the many cultural exhibits on display at Rotuma Day.
I was rather curious to the happenings, so much so that on the beat I decided to drop in and have a look about. Well, to be honest; I had just finished from class and was on my way to lunch when I met a group of friends on their way to the celebrations. I'm pleased I joined them though. For me personally, it was refreshing as a young person to once again be acquainted with ones cultural side. Not that I’m Rotuman but much of the Rotuman culture in Fiji is intertwined with that of the iTaukei. I guess growing up in the city I often take for granted the deep cultural heritage and diversity we have here in the Pacific. I am what many iTaukei would call – "susu madrai". A person who grew up with the luxuries of having bread for breakfast (if that makes any sense). Simply put – a city boy.

In an address to the Rotuman community, the chairman of the Fijian-Rotuman Association Paserio Furivai, urged parents to continue speaking to their children in Rotuman. In line with this year’s theme “Rotuman cultural heritage through sharing and nurturing”, Furivai said that this would combat the deterioration of the Rotuman culture. As many young Rotumans are growing up speaking iTaukei or English rather than their mother tongue. I find that this is an issue not only with the Rotuman community but with all Pacific peoples.

Professor Randy Thaman in a paper titled "Moana Nui, Vanua and Wantoks" which critics the late Epeli HaĆ³fa's "Our Sea of Islands", says that perhaps the saddest manifestation of cultural breakdowns, belittlement and education dependency is the deterioration of Pacific languages. He adds that this in turn condemns Pacific islanders to mental reservations.
As a result of increasing educational and intellectual subjugation to what Freire refers to as the "thought languages" of oppressor cultures, many Pacific islanders have been rendered functionally illiterate within their own societies, as well as within the oppressor society: they know no language in sufficient depth for sophisticated thinking, be it in rural-traditional or urban-modern in its orientation. In the absence of the required level of sophistication in vernacular "thought languages", the myths, genealogies, technologies, plant and animal names and their uses, and the traditions that give Pacific societies positive self-images and autonomy will be degraded or lost.
The sad truth is, I totally agree with Thaman’s sentiments. I somewhat feel that through the generations, more and more cultural heritage is being lost. Young people are being educated out of their cultural uniqueness and in the day and age that we live in many are looking to the media for a sense of belonging and identity. Becoming a rootless tree.