Wellington, 0ctober 12,2023
Fijian Language Week 2023, which kicked off across New Zealand from October 8, is set to conclude on October 14.
The Fijian community, which is the fifth largest Pacific Islands group in New Zealand, has a population just under 20,000. But most Fijians in New Zealand are unable to speak Vosa Vakaviti, the Fijian language.
As per Statistics New Zealand data, over 19,700 people in New Zealand identify as Fijian, with 24% of them able to speak their language.
This number has increased by 3% since 2006.
The data indicates that 11% of Fijian people born in New Zealand speak the language.
The Fijian Language Week celebration aims to promote the use of Vosa Vakaviti across New Zealand.
This year’s theme for the Language Week celebration by the Fijian community is: “Nurture, Preserve and Sustain the Fijian language.”
“Our role as a community is to be united in nurturing our language through creating environments where Vosa Vakaviti is used by more people and in more spaces,” said Barbara Edmonds, Minister for Pacific Peoples.
“As a diaspora population, our pacific languages, culture and identity are more important than ever before,” she added.
The minister noted that this year’s Fijian Language Week was taking place during the school term. “So I hope we’ll see lots of students and schools involved, as the future of this language lies with the next generation.”
Activities and events were hosted throughout New Zealand to mark Fijian Language Week.
Under the Vosa Vakaviti Community Action Plan to promote the Fijian language, key objectives include recognising the value of Vosa Vakaviti across Aotearoa; deploying respected community members to “spread consistent messaging about the value” of Vosa Vakaviti; creating resources and messaging on the “importance of speaking your language for social and economic benefits;” and incorporating Vosa Vakaviti in the school curriculum.
Other initiatives include church-based language and cultural activities as well as play groups; creating formal qualifications for teaching Vosa Vakaviti; working together with the Ministry of Education to identify opportunities “to create new language nests and other learning opportunities throughout education.”
The Pacific Language Week series aligns with the Pacific Languages Strategy launched in 2022, and feeds into the UNESCO Decade of Indigenous Languages which recognises the right to “preserve, sustain, revitalise and promote heritage languages.”
UNESCO found that at least 40% of the 7000 such languages used worldwide were in danger of being lost.
“Through our commitment to supporting language weeks, we are raising awareness and driving sustainable initiatives to ensure they continue for our future generations,” Edmonds said.
She noted languages played a key role in keeping Pacific communities connected. “We know this is particularly important after the impact extreme weather events have had on the wellbeing of our Pacific people in affected areas.”
The Pacific Languages Strategy 2022-2032 builds on the early foundation laid by pioneers, drawn from teachers and community leaders, who were concerned that the Pacific languages were in decline in New Zealand.
“Together, Mori and Pacific are like braised rivers, flowing towards Te-Moana-Nui-a-Kiwa which binds our special relationship as peoples of the vast blue Pacific Ocean with shared whakapapa, customs, values, spiritual beliefs, languages, and cultures,” said then Minister for Pacific Peoples Aupito William Sio while inaugurating the Pacific Languages Strategy in 2022.
He said Aotearoa New Zealand was unique in that “we are a Pacific nation, and home to one of the largest Pacific populations in the world.”
In 2009, the Human Rights Commission joined hands with the Pacific communities and the concept of Pacific Language Weeks came into being.
Since 2010, the Ministry for Pacific Peoples has supported the Pacific Language Week celebrations by the Pacific communities with the aim of maintaining and promoting indigenous languages across New Zealand.
While each Pacific language is allotted a week, the celebrations are year-long and marked by language learning initiatives led by Pacific communities across New Zealand.
The Fijian Language Week celebration in Aotearoa coincided with the observance of Fiji Day on October 10 to mark 53 years since Fiji gained Independence from colonial rule.
Venu Menon is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Wellington