Noa’ia (hello), baddies! This week, from Sunday 9 May to Saturday 15 May, is Rotuman language week. Some of y’all might be thinking, “what the heck and where the heck is Rotuma?” Read on rockstars.
Rotuma is a group of volcanic islands, made up of Rotuma Island and nearby islets (tiny baby islands), and is a self-governing Fijian dependency. Rotuma Island is 13km long and 4km wide, and is located about 465km North of Fiji. Rotuma is unique from Fiji, but continues to be thoroughly integrated with the rest of Fiji politically, socially, and economically.
I talked to some Rotuman students here at our Uni about their culture. “My favourite thing about Rotuma is the food. Nothing makes me feel more at home than making fekei (starch, sugar, and taro plant mixed together) with my dad” said Ruthie, who is a first year health science student. “It often starts a conversation about dad’s memories of the island and where he was brought up. Stories of my grandfather working till he was 68. That is why I do my best in whatever I do.”
Liah, another student said “growing up Rotuman has meant that I have always had a sense of belonging and a place to call home. Home is where my family is, which is largely influenced by the Rotuman culture and the value that is placed on people and community, which is probably my favourite thing about being Rotuman, I come from a big family and I belong to a community that values and supports anyone and everyone. These values continue to inspire me to give my best, daily.”
“I stand on the shoulders of my parents, grandparents, and ancestors and am here today because of the sacrifices they made for me and our community. I will continue to try and push boundaries and break barriers, so that whoever comes after me can stand on my shoulders and continue to reach higher and give back to our little community,” said Liah.
Here are some common phrases and useful words you should use to celebrate the beautiful Rotuman culture this week.
Greetings/hello: Noa’ia, pronounced noh-eye-ee-aah.
Please: Figalelei, pronounced fee-nga-leh-ley.
Thank you: Fạiȧkseˈea, pronounced for-yak-see-yah.
Sorry: Hanis ma rötˈȧk, pronounced ha-nees-maa-reut-aack. (Roll the r!)
How are you? Kaˈäe tapen? pronounced cah-aye-tah-pehn
The Rotuman language is listed on the UNESCO list of endangered languages as “definitely endangered”. As someone with their first language as English, I have never had to worry about not being able to communicate with others, or having my words get lost in translation. This is a privilege that I know I have taken for granted at times, and is an issue others should keep in mind.
We need to make conscious efforts to speak indigenous languages, to ensure they are kept alive and functioning. When we lose our indigenous languages, we lose all the rich indigenous knowledge and stories that come with them. So go ahead, speak and educate yourselves about all things Rotuman this week, but let’s try practice this beyond Sunday the 15th of May too, okay?