What does ongoing 6th Fijian Language Week mean for a Fijian of Indian-descent living in Aotearoa-New Zealand?

The New Zealand government is celebrating 6th Fijian Language Week from October 7 -13, whereby seeking to grow interest in revitalising the language in Aotearoa-New Zealand.

While NZ government has multiple motivations to preserve and promote Fijian language, it will also be interesting to take a periscopic view of what it means for Kiwi-Fiji-Indian community – a community which still calls Fiji as their original home (India being their spiritual home) and regularly travels back to Fiji to keep their interactions with the Fiji-culture alive.

Minister for Pacific Peoples Aupito William Sio sighted reasons like the flourishing trade of worth $693 million between two countries, to NZ’s overall leadership in Pacific region and a sense of commitment in safeguarding elements of the Pacific culture, as a principal motivator for supporting Fijian Language week.

“New Zealand businesses tell me understanding the Fijian language and culture helps to build strong personal and business relationships. This is important given Fiji is a major trading partner with New Zealand. As of June 2018 exports to Fiji were $693 million and imports from Fiji were $474 million,” Mr Sio said on Friday, October 5.

“There is a general trend that the proportion of Pacific people speaking their heritage language is declining and it’s really important that we support the Fijian and Pacific community in doing what we can to keep these languages well supported and in active use throughout daily life,” Mr Sio further emphasised.

However, it would also be interesting to reflect upon what does this means to an average Fijian of Indian descent living in Aotearoa-New Zealand – for they are also the people who are connected with the Fijian language – a language of the land which they cherish as their original home.

Kiwi-Fiji-Indians and emotional connect with the Fijian language

To start with, the Indian Weekender’s enquiry to a selected sample of members of the Kiwi-Fiji-Indian community was met with an element of surprise, for no one thought themselves to be an essential constituent, or recipient, of the messaging around 6th Fijian Language week.

However on slight probing, almost everyone spoken to had an unspoken, and undefined, connect with the Fijian language.

A majority of those spoken, especially seniors who have lived for a considerable part of their lives in Fiji, and experienced the happiness and the tribulations of an evolving nation with two main ethnicities – indigenous Fijians and Girmit-Indians - the emotional connect with the Fijian language was all pervasive. 

“My grandparents, who first came about 140 years ago in Fiji, though not educated in schools, were quite confident in the Fijian language.

“Probably the fact that they were uprooted thousands of miles away from their original home back in India into a remote South-Pacific island necessitated them to quickly learn and speak the native Fijian language for basic existential needs,” said Viren Lal, one of the members of Fiji Girmit Foundation New Zealand said.

“However, unfortunately, people of my age were never given the opportunity to learn either the native Fijian language or Hindi language in our schools in Fiji, so limiting our ability to understand and speak native Fijian language,” an exasperated Viren Lal further added.

Apparently, signalling the pain of a generation of Fiji-Indians who are trying to see their country come out of the effect of British colonial rule which has left a huge impact on the ability of living together and appreciating each other's language and culture. 

“It would be nice to speak and understand the Fijian language.”

Many Kiwi-Fiji-Indians appeared amenable to the idea of being able to live and breathe 'Noqu Vosa Me'u Bula Taka’ – the theme of ongoing Fijian language week which means - My language, Learn it, Speak it, Live it.

Yashmin Chand – an Auckland based graphic-designer who first arrived in New Zealand about four years ago and had settled in Auckland since then said, “It would be nice to speak and understand the Fijian language.”

“Every time I go back to my home, I still visit native Fijian families in our village neighbourhood. I am sure I will be able to connect with them better if I can speak their language,” Ms Chand said.

“Knowing native language is a key-embellishment to the entire experience of our Fijian-culture,” Ms Chand said.

“My husband and family in Fiji are better speakers of Fiji language, I wish I could be as well,” Ms Chand said.