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Rotuman Language Week 2021: PCF Q&A with Ingrid Leary

Success Stories 7 May 2021

The Pacific Cooperation Foundation (PCF) is proud to join the NZ Rotuman community in celebrating Rotuman Language Week 2021 from Sunday 09 May to Saturday 15 May. Ingrid Leary, MP for Taieri shared with PCF the importance of maintaining the Rotuman language and culture for her children.

Faiaksea Ingrid!

What does Rotuman language week mean personally to you?

Noa’ia e Mauri to our Rotuman communities in Aotearoa.

Rotuman Language Week is an opportunity for me to celebrate my teenage children’s unique culture and language. It’s an important part of the revitalisation of a beautiful and endangered language, an opportunity to celebrate the new wave of cultural leaders who have bravely stepped out to make Rotuman arts relevant in a modern context while honouring the traditional practices, and a great excuse for Rotumans everywhere to get together as communities and have fun.

What events, if any, will you be attending during Rotuman language week?

I am discussing the marking of Rotuman Language Week at Parliament with my Labour colleagues from the Pasifika Caucus and have the huge honour of saying the Opening Prayer for Parliament next Wednesday. I was asked to do this, given that I also said my Parliamentary Oath of Allegiance in Rotuman and Te Reo. I am hoping to get to some of the events including the official closing, if my parliamentary duties allow. Unfortunately I can’t make the Opening Ceremony in Auckland with the Minister, as I have important business in my electorate this weekend, however I’m encouraging all my extended family and friends to attend that and as many events as they can.

What do you think the significance is, and importance of, New Zealand officially observing Rotuman language week?

Rotuman Language Week brings visibility both to the language/culture of Rotumans and to the communities themselves. This is vital to Rotumans having a voice at decision-making tables, as well as to ensuring young Rotuman New Zealanders are safe, confident and proud in their own cultures.

What is your favourite Rotuman food?

Fekei of course – the national dish made from starch, sugar and coconut milk – and cooked in an earth oven similar to a hangi pit. Yum!

Can you tell us something unique about the Rotuman culture that you think most people would not be aware of?

Rotumans who live on Rotuma spend the month of December (after a year of very hard work) in a Christmas Fara or traditional party – which entails going from house to house, one day at a time right around the island, singing, dancing and feasting. If the leaders decide to continue the party, then it can even go on for up to six weeks. The best place to be for Christmas, I’d say!

This is the second year now that New Zealand, as part of the Ministry for Pacific Peoples’ observance of Pacific language weeks, has observed Rotuman language week. Do you think New Zealanders are starting to understand and know more about the Rotuman Islands, and what significance do you think this has for Rotuman people living in New Zealand and abroad?

Celebrating different Pacific languages is part of New Zealand celebrating who we are as a country. Certainly I’ve seen a shift in awareness of Rotuma since when I first came back to live in NZ in 2000, after living in Fiji for five years. The Ministry of Pacific Peoples’ observance of Rotuman Language Week last year elevated that awareness significantly. I do want to thank all those in the Rotuman communities over the last 20 years who worked so hard to promote the language and culture, and who engaged with government agencies to push for official recognition of the language. We would not be there without them, and on behalf of my family and the future generations of my family, I give them heartfelt thanks. Foak’sia!

First image: Hon Aupito William Sio (left) and Labour Party MP for Taieri, Ingrid Leary (right)

Second image: Ingrid's son, Marli Atu, serving kava in a Covid environment on election night

Third image, bottom left: Ingrid's daughter Lily Atu.

Fourth image, bottom right: Ingrid (centre) with former PCF Senior Accountant Maria Fuata (left), and Rotuman musician, Samuela Konusi Taukave known as Skillz (right).