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Rotumans celebrate the launch of Rotuma Language Week at the Auckland War Memorial Museum at the weekend.

Rotumans celebrate the launch of Rotuma Language Week at the Auckland War Memorial Museum at the weekend.


Language & Culture

Rotumans determined to save their language from extinction

Speak it or lose it minister warns at launch of Rotuma Language Week in Auckland

PMN Author
PMN News
10 May 2021, 12:06pm
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Minister for Pacific Peoples Aupito William Sio issued a call to action for Rotumans to help shape the future of Pacific Language Weeks in New Zealand.

His message at the launch of Rotuma Language Week in Auckland over the weekend was short and blunt - fight to safeguard your language or risk losing it over time.

"The fight to hold on to something that is precious, something that makes sense to us, that connects our past with the present and hopefully gets passed on to the future - that is a really vital and critically important fight.

"The role of the ministry is to support the Pacific Language Weeks of the people of the Pacific and we want to ensure we not only promote the language but to ensure we value it," the minister says.

Census counts between 2013 and 2018 show a decline in the number of speakers of Pacific languages in Aotearoa.

More than half of the 981 Rotumans here are New Zealand-born and under the age of 30. Only a third of the 15,000 Rotumans around the world speak the language with fewer than 2000 fluent speakers residing in Rotuma.


The ministry is transitioning to the Refresh for Pacific Language Weeks, based on nationwide consultations with Pasifika youth, community and church leaders and language stakeholders.

This follows a damning review that showed Pacific Language Weeks over the last 14 years made little difference to the number of Kiwi-born Pasifika learning and speaking Pacific languages.​

Listen in to PMN Rotuma on 531pi with hosts Fesaitu Solomone (right) and Jioje Vai.

The launch of PMN Rotuma on Pacific Media Network’s flagship radio station is another significant milestone to safeguarding a language UNESCO describes as definitely endangered.

PMN CEO Don Mann says the protection and promotion of language and culture is at the heart of everything PMN stands for.

“It’s our duty to serve the Rotuman Community of Aotearoa and to open our channels of communication as a bridge for Rotuman people to connect regardless of where they may be.”

“The whole objective of the show for me and my co-host is the ability for us to connect with the young ones many of whom are not fluent in the Rotuman language,” says programme producer Fesaitu Solomone.

The business entrepreuner who serves on the board for the Ministry for Pacific People and Auckland Museum says many of them can listen and understand but the ability for them to speak back and converse in the language is minimal.

"Its an opportunity for them to be part of the programme and to hear their voices. It’s about creating a safe space for our young ones and our elders who are not fluent for them to share their views their ideas. Maybe that’s where the next vision is going to be created on how they want to see the language expand to.”

Fesaitu’s co-host is Jioje Vai a New Zealand-born Rotuman with Tongan heritage. He is part of the Hata culture collective that's coordinating the nationwide programme for Rotuma Language Week.

“Rotuma is a little small island northwest of Fjii. We fall under the Polynesian triangle and have our own language and culture. We’re kinda the fruit salad of the Pacific and it is quite a complicated language,” Joije Vai says.

“I am lucky I fully understand so I’m very blessed but I am still learning to speak the language.

“The majority of Rotumans in NZ as well as abroad understand the language but can’t speak it so it’s kinda like a bi-lingual programme.

“I share the vision with PMN in having a platform where we can not only provide community content but also be an education platform for the likes of people who live overseas or anyone who can teach the language."