13 May 2020

Double celebrations for Rotumans

11:48 am on 13 May 2020

It's Rotuman Language Week in Aotearoa New Zealand and the islanders now have another reason to smile.

This is because on Wednesday Rotumans around the world celebrate Rotuma Day - the island's cession to Britain in 1881.

Fiji's President Jioje Konrote - a Rotuman - said despite the Covid-19 pandemic, his people must remain committed to the visions of their forefathers.

"As we gather to commemorate 139 years of our island's cession to Queen Victoria, we must continue to work together to ensure our language and our culture is preserved for future generations."

Mr Konrote said now is when the measures of resilience and diligence of the Rotuman people matter most.

He urged Rotumans in New Zealand to contribute to nation-building there.

With the celebrations shifted online, the 'Gasav ne faeag Rotuam' or language week kicked off on Saturday with a virtual launch by New Zealand's Minister for Pacific Peoples, Aupito William Sio and other guests including President Konrote and Fiji's High Commissioner Filimone Waqabaca.

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

Fiji President Jioje Konrote.

Fiji President Jioje Konrote. Photo: Supplied/Fiji govt

On Sunday, Rotumans held a church service to honour their mothers with language learning assemblies, cooking and fitness classes and a panel discussion scheduled later in the week.

On Monday, members of the New Zealand Rotuman Fellowship Group (NZRFG) in Wellington showcased the Fakpeje: Manu' ne kav ta or Rotuman kava ceremony at the NZ Museum Te Papa Tongarewa.

A Rotuman-English word list.

A Rotuman-English word list. Photo: Supplied

The presentation was put together by Te Papa's Public Programmes Specialist, Jacki Leota-Mua, Rotuman artist Ravai Titifanue and academics Vilsoni Hereniko and Alan Howard both from the University of Hawai'i.

The Fakpeje was performed by Mr Titifanue and was a traditional chant that took place within the Foh kava ceremony and captured the journey taken by Raho (supposed founder of Rotuma) and his family in search of new land to settle.

According to the group, the Fakpeje was a challenge to encourage young Rotumans and although the older language used by the ancestors was lost, Monday's performance was a narrative or hanuju (story) retold in poetic form. (Gardiner J S, The Natives of Rotuma).

A kava ceremony during a Rotuman wedding sometime between 1890-1910.

A kava ceremony during a Rotuman wedding sometime between 1890-1910. Photo: Te Papa/Thomas Andrew

Meanwhile, the Auckland Rotuman Fellowship Group (ARFG) have young Rotuman climate activist AnnMary Raduva,

Miss Asia Pacific Chelsea Martin, designer Moira Solvalu and entrepreneur Marina Jiare on their programme.

The group also said it had a "Rotuma With Love" competition where people sent in videos sharing their stories as Rotumans and a Te Fui (lei) Challenge on TikTok.

On Monday, the group dedicated its programme to the elders and on Tuesday was the children's programme: "Faeag ta se 'os la'riri'i la se mao 'e ta av - Teaching our language for a better future."