Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television

since 1987

Talanoa with Dr T: the digital platform empowering Fijians around the globe

Dr Tarisi Sorovi-Vunidilo. Photo: Supplied

Renowned archaeologist, Fiji language expert and cultural knowledge holder Tarisi Sorovi-Vunidilo created online learning platform Talanoa with Dr. T in April this year. It was initially started to empower Fijian children by using social media to share tutorials on Fijian language and heritage. Now over 20,000 people tune in from all parts of the globe to not only learn about their roots but to link together during a time of lockdown.

“I know people are working from home and our students and young ones aren’t going to school during lockdown. So I decided to take this opportunity to teach Fijian language and heritage and create free digital classes to all of our families all over the world,” Sorovi-Vunidilo says.

“I’m really surprised with the response so far. When I first started doing live videos on social media I had 300 to 500 people tuning in at one time. That’s when I realised that there is a huge need for this kind of learning platform and people were craving this kind of information.

“Fijians from all over the world started contacting me through my live classes, and they were tuning in from all different places like Mongolia, the United Kingdom, Malta, Norway, Japan,
the list goes on. So I also decided to create a segment on my channel interviewing these individuals living all of over the world, sharing their story and creating a place to bring us together.”

Photo: Supplied

Talanoa with Dr. T has amassed over 20,000 followers on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram combined with content ranging from teaching the Fijian language to the history of Lapita pottery and Fijian mat weaving.

“I try to make the content as holistic as possible, teaching language, culture and heritage – that includes Fijian archaeology, anthropology and museology.

“I believe learning the language is the key to unlock the rich heritage that we all have been given by our ancestors. I know there is a huge emphasis on learning the language, but learning about archaeology and the prehistory of Fiji adds value to the language too. Language is just one aspect of the various parts of our heritage that we all need to know.

“Archaeology takes us back 3000 years ago to when our ancestors were living on the beautiful island. When we learn about our own past, it makes us appreciate our language even more, and it allows us, as iTaukei, to learn about and appreciate ourselves.”

Photo: Supplied

The most recent census (2018) shows that 11 percent of NZ born Fijians speak the language (only a small increase from six percent in 1996). 52 percent of those that speak the language are between 39-50 years-old, while only 9 percent are 15 years and under.

Eighty seven percent of overseas-born Fijians can speak the language, but with English being a dominant language spoken in the Fiji Islands, the loss of language is a very real threat to
the community.

“I’ve realised there is a huge cultural gap between the older generations and the younger generations,” adds Sorovi-Vunidilo.

“That’s why when I began Talanoa with Dr. T, I decided to create content aimed towards children first.

“I am concerned the number of fluent speakers will decline in the future. But I’m also concerned of the mixing of languages like English words being adopted into Vosa Vakaviti. I want to encourage our fluent speakers to keep speaking fluently so the ones that are learning can reach out to you and we can encourage our new learners to maintain that standard in the years to come.”

By Taylor Aumua


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