Tagata Pasifika

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Fijian influencer Malcolm Andrews on safeguarding the Fijian language

In celebration of Fiji Language Week 2019, we caught up with Fijian influencer Malcolm Andrews, founder of storytelling platform Project ConchShell.

You use the conch shell as a wonderful symbol for the work you do with our Pacific people. Tell us what Project ConchShell is about.

I founded Project ConchShell in 2017 to address current issues faced by Pasifika youth in Aotearoa and use storytelling to inspire, educate and encourage. The conch shell in the Fijian context is a calling device that produces a loud, bone-penetrating sound which can travel over long distances. The sound symbolises the voice of the vanua – the land and the people. In our life-giving ocean, there is a large outbreak of the crown-of-thorns starfish which feed on and threaten the health of reef-building corals. The conch shell is one of the predators of this starfish and safeguards the wellbeing of the ocean. Similarly, Project ConchShell seeks to give voice to the voiceless, to celebrate success of Pasifika peoples and offer a platform for stories. The project focuses on empowerment, encouraging empathy, promoting positive social changes and embracing differences. It is inspired by anyone who is willing to make a difference within our family and community, making our nation an even better nation to live in.

We’re in the midst of Fijian Language Week. What are some of the ways you’ve been promoting this through Project ConchShell?

I acknowledge the opportunity to celebrate indigenous languages in Aotearoa New Zealand. There are many ways to showcase the iTaukei language i.e. poetry, songs, chants, meke, talanoa etc. The technical aspects of the iTaukei language are locked in the crafts, traditional foods, weaving and fishing techniques to name a few. In order to protect the language, the memory needs to be kept alive. To celebrate Fijian language week, Project ConchShell hopes to resurrect Fijian idioms and address the need for safeguarding the iTaukei language. These are ancient wisdom that safeguard the Vosa Vaka-Viti. So far, I’ve had some speaking engagements in community events, schools and District Health Boards on the significance of Fijian Language Week. Project ConchShell continues to share messages of hope and optimism about the Vosa Vaka-Viti.

You’ve been sharing some amazing idioms this week – what’s one Fijian proverb you apply to your everyday life?

There are powerful proverbs and idioms in the iTaukei language. The one that stands out for me is “E dau kilai ga na waqa e na volau e ta mai kina”. The idiom is literally translated as ‘A boat is a representation of its crafter or the dockyard in which it was build’. This is my late grandfather’s favourite idiom and a constant reminder of the people I represent when I am out in public. All the actions, words, failures and achievements are a total representation of my matavuvule (family) and the Vanua (land) I belong to.

Photo source: Pacific Cooperation Foundation

As a proud Fijian, how does your language and culture enrich your life, your work life and your relationships with other people?

My language is my identity and it defines me as an indigenous person. I acknowledge that although I speak English, I can never be an Englishman. Speaking the iTaukei language allows me to reconnect with my ancestors, contribute to the present and safeguard for the future. Understanding the language and cultural practices will enable me to add value to the western world. In the iTaukei language, there are words that denote kinship which highlight social distance, taboo, banter and respect. When language is not honoured and safeguarded, people often overstep boundaries resulting in moral decay. My iTaukei language shapes my journey and relationship with other people, therefore it is important to safeguard it.

How important is it to share and promote language weeks such as these?

Sharing and promoting my language is critical for safeguarding and keeping the memory of the iTaukei language alive. I humbly acknowledge Fijians in Aotearoa who are in the early stages of learning the language and culture. Feel free to reach out to Project ConchShell and let us walk this journey together. Celebrating Fijian language week is a stepping stone to a deeper exploration and the unpacking of Fijian concepts that makes us Fijians. I thank my wife and family for supporting me with my journey of learning more about the iTaukei language. God has blessed me with my language; it is my duty to safeguard it. Vinaka vakalevu.



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