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.


  1. This is good, but a bit light on analysis and a bit heavy on reporting. The word "however" usually takes commas on either side. Maybe "but" would have been better here.

  2. Sad to think of it but it is true. More and more people rootless trees not only in Fiji but other Pacific countries as well. How about the Hawaiians? Do they still have any roots if most of the younger generation do not know how to utter a single Hawaiian word let alone speak proper Hawaiian. This is language death and with language death closes another chapter of your identity. So a group of Hawaiian mothers who wish their language thrive in this world sat down and planned , then proposed for funding to have Hawaiian language immersion classes. From there there are Universities in Hawaii which doesn't use the English language at all but Hawaiian and according to findings students in that University are much better off academically then those in Universities in Hawaii which uses English as the language of instruction.
    So these Hawaiians become trees with roots again. I think some people really need to do some serious thinking to learn and revive their culture for continuity.

  3. It is indeed sad to see a culture slowly fading away. The Rotuman people are seriously in danger of losing their identity. Maybe this could be due to the fact that since they have been considered as part of Fiji, the influences of the lifestyles and such have changed their way of life. Just to add on to the concerns of the Fijian-Rotuman Association chairman, Paserio Furivai who called on parents and elders to continue speaking the Rotuman language to their children so their culture will not be lost. He also made the emphasis after attending a rugby game featuring a Rotuman Team and was shocked to hear the boys speaking the i-Taukei (native Fijian) language instead of Rotuman. Prof. Thaman's findings ring true for this minority group and there is a fear that if nothing is done to counter this problem, the Rotuman way of life will eventually fade through the generations. Maybe the organisers of the next Rotuma Day (or weekend) event will take this into consideration in order to save their heritage.

  4. Culture fading is a common complaint among older members of many communities around the world. It's really quite sad. When my grandparents came to America they were really young. They didn't have a very vast vocabulary due to their age. As my grandpa was growing up he would beg his parents and relatives to teach him Italian but they refused. They came to America to be Americans. At that time a lot of the immigrants had this same view on things. Therefore, there is so much culture that was lost a long the way. Now it seems as though everyone is trying desperately to hang on that what customs they do have and keep them from becoming too "Americanized." I can see the same sorts of trends here in Fiji. There are so many people from so many places around the Pacific it would be a shame to see their cultures all merge into one. I often wonder if the mass media plays a role in the neglecting of culture, anyone else think this?

  5. The issue on the deterioration of languages is indeed one that has greatly degraded our cultural identity as Fijians, the iTaukei especially. I think events such as the Rotuma day are ones that we should have more of. It reminds us of who we and our identity. That will definitely put things in perspective in life as in why we do the things we do and how we’ve been able to come this far. More with language, one of the most recommended initiatives by the Fijian government was to teach the iTaukei vernacular at the primary school levels to iTaukei students, and to make that compulsory. Without it, children will have not a clear sense of how ‘proper’ Fijian is spoken. Where else can they learn it from when all around us are these global/international influences that suppress our culture? Definitely not at home, nor in the local community centre, especially when the urban population is increasing and no one is going back to the villages. One of the best case studies is the Maori language in New Zealand. It was on the verge of being lost until they started teaching it again at primary school level. The importance of maintaining and practicing our language is vital in ensuring that we keep our cultural sense of identity intact. I totally agree with the post and the title, ‘don’t forget your roots’.