This past week or so I’ve read several posts from the diaspora here in UK & Europe regarding our Indigenous Fijian language and claims of it being a dying language. Disclaimer: I’ve been guilty of being partial to this school of thought in the past, heck I’ve even done a podcast or two where I’ve mentioned it. However, lately I’ve started to think maybe I’m being presumptuous or extremely arrogant even, to push that narrative about our Indigenous language dying, especially coming from the context of a member of the diaspora.
A lot of times when those of us who live in our various diaspora communities refer to our Indigenous Fijian language as “dying”, we tend to apply it as a blanket statement to all our Indigenous Fijian communities i.e. diaspora or back home in Fiji. Again, just from reading and listening to conversations that revolve around the Fiji context, experiences seem to stem mainly from urban areas. The danger to this being the narrative that we push as a diaspora community is that we completely dismiss the most important fact, which is that our Indigenous villages still preserve our dialects and language in their everyday interaction. Those of us who still have ties with our families back in our villages will know that interactions and conversations slip quite easily into our dialects and there is a sense of belonging that comes with it. There is also an openness from our families in teaching those of us who might not speak or understand it as fluently as our families in the village. And as always, this is usually done with patience and willingness to foster our familial ties.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that there isn’t a need to be aware of the decrease in Indigenous Fijian speakers within our diaspora communities, and again, this will be due to various reasons that differ from family to family.
What I am saying is - Do we as a diaspora community risk minimising the work that Indigenous Fijian speakers back home in Fiji are doing on the ground, with their own outreach work in preserving and teaching our language, by saying it is dying?
Do we risk centring our narratives when it comes to the celebration of our Indigenous Fijian language? Do we risk minimising the generational traditional teaching methods in place for the preservation of our Indigenous language, by the native speakers & scholars in our villages or in our communities who might not necessarily have the platform to voice how & what they are doing with regards to preserving our language?
Are we in fact conflating two different issues about our language? That is, are we dressing it up as a "our language is dying" narrative, when in reality it is because we have yet to figure out how to have the conversation about the systemic barriers that Indigenous Fijian parents in the diaspora, have had to or are having to navigate, in order to have their children begin school at the same level playing field as their English (etc) speaking peers. Thus having to make the painful choice of prioritising the language of their new home country that they have moved to over the Indigenous Fijian language.
Should we in the diaspora be condemning these parents who have sacrificed speaking & teaching the Indigenous Fijian language to their children so that their children are not left behind their peers? The lack of empathy from us as a diaspora community leads to this perpetual undue burden being placed upon migrant parents in the diaspora in addition to trying to begin a new life in their new home countries.
Lastly - is the language actually dying, or is it dying only for us in the diaspora & urban areas? Because technological advancement today means, our language is being recorded & is readily accessible. There are formal and informal written works being produced in print and circulated. Dialects are being revitalised through everyday conversations, for example on social media or other digital platforms, by those who speak it fluently, those who have studied and are experts in this field and those of us who just have a keen interest in learning and sharing our knowledge. Is this a conversation that we as a diaspora need to allow those who are working from within, with regards to its preservation, to lead on? Are we, dare I say, for want of a better word and thanks to a local Karen who tried to shame me for daring to share my lived experience as an Indigenous Fijian woman... pontificating? Am I indeed, in even writing this post out?
Don't mind me and my Sunday musings because I'm obviously procrastinating from doing actual work but I also feel like it's a conversation that we as a diaspora community need to have so that we are not further alienating our members who are trying to learn our beautiful Indigenous Fijian language by making them feel that they are solely responsible for it dying a dismal death.
Btw just an FYI - according to the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Endangered
Languages, it is actually the Rotuman language that is considered vulnerable.
Love & Light,
P.S. Here's a picture of my kids who have made it their priority in life to never let me get a decent picture of them smiling awkwardly into the camera...
Mini Fijians in the UK