Why islanders celebrate Rotuma Day


“Noaia e mauri se aus atakoa”

It’s that time of the year when, if you’re Rotuman like me, you feel special wherever you are.

Attending this week’s Rotuma Day celebrations in Auckland – seeing familiar faces and making new connections – has left me happy and proud.

It has been humbling that I have the opportunity as a Rotuman and a journalist to witness the occasion – beautiful and rich in history – and to share in the joy of knowing that my language and culture is alive, despite a listing on UNESCO’s endangered languages list.

Rotuma is a Fijian dependency but closer to Tuvalu than to Suva and, while it’s influenced by Melanesian Fiji, the Rotuman culture is a little similar to that of Tonga and Samoa.

About 2000 people live on the island with 10,000 on mainland Fiji and thousands more, like me, around the world.

Rotuman language tutor, Nataniela Amato-Ali, said he hopes a re-enactment of the island’s cession to Queen Victoria in 1881 will help people understand why May 13 means a lot to Rotumans.

Mr Amato-Ali said ‘Rotuma 1881’, performed by the New Zealand Rotuman Fellowship Group (NZRFG) in the South Auckland suburb of Mangere, was a response to a request from the young people for a more inclusive, active and fun way to commemorate the day.

The show was also a response to “a lot of misinformation, or lack of it” about what actually happened on May 13, 1881, he said.

“A lot of Rotumans either have a skewed story or a misinformed story. Some of them don’t even know why we celebrate this day every year,” he said. READ MORE