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Noqu vosa, me'u bula taka – My language, learn it, speak it, live it

The theme for Fiji Language Week is Noqu vosa, me'u bula taka – My language, learn it, speak it, live it. Fijian is spoken either as a first or second language by indigenous Fijians who make up around 54% of the population. Fijians of Indian descent make up a further 37%, mainly speaking a local variant of Hindi, known as Fiji Hindi.

There are many varieties of regional vosa vakaviti (Fijian), with 300 "communalects" (community dialects) across the islands.The East-Fijian language of Bau, a small island off the southeast coast of Viti Levu, is used as a standardised version, and the vosa vakaviti found in books and newspapers is known as Bauan.

Fijian as spoken

These vocabulary and grammar books were used to learn vosa vakaviti, or to assist in learning English. Some were produced by religious missionaries, such as Fijian as it should be spoken, originally published in 1906 by the Catholic Marist Brothers, or for tourists such as Say it in Fijian by AJ Schutz, first published in Sydney in 1972.

Fijian as it should be spoken. A practical course to facilitate the study of the Fijian language by a Marist Brother, 1906.

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. PL6235 PRA.

Na I vosvosa vakaviti e so is a collection of Fijian idioms compiled by Anare K. Raiwalui, originally prepared for a Methodist missionary wishing to study the language. It was first published in 1954. Among the phrases is ‘“Bau vakamasimataka nomu vosa”’, translated as ‘“salt your speech”’, meaning improve your speech ‘to make it more gracious or attractive’.

Na I vosavosa vakaviti e so, a collection of Fijian idioms compiled by Anare K. Raiwalui, 1954

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira.

This short series of Fijian readers published by Oxford University Press in 1956 to help young readers learn the language. A couple of years earlier, the Government Press in Suva published vosa vakaviti translations of stories by 19th century authors, including Henry Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.


Immigration to Fiji

During the the 19th century, Fiji attracted foreign planters and traders, and Christian missionaries were active in Fiji from the early 1800s. These leather bound bibles Ai vola ni veiyalayalati vou i Jisu Karisito, na noda turaga kei na nodai vakabula are vosa vakaviti translations of the New Testament, and were published in Londoni, Fiji in the mid to late 19th century.

There are various religions practiced in Fiji today, and the Methodist Church of Fiji and Rotuma is currently the largest Christian denomination.

Cover of Ai vola ni veiyalayalati vou i Jisu Karisito. New Testament in Fijian, published 1863.

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. BS335.F5 1863.

The book A planter's experience in Fiji was published in Auckland in 1870. It includes revised material of letters the author, F.J. Moss, wrote in the Otago Daily Times in 1868 and his book A month in Fiji, as well as these folded maps.

First foldout map from A planter's experience in Fiji : being a concise account of the country, its present condition, and its prospects as a field for emigration. F.J. Moss, 1870.

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. DU600 MOS.

This copy is dedicated to the Auckland Museum by Moss. Moss first visited Fiji in 1868, joining a group of prospective planters and buying land to set up a plantation near Navuso in south-eastern Viti Levu. He returned to New Zealand in 1869, due to ill health and set backs from a hurricane in March of that year.

Foldout map from Fiji in 1870, by H. Britton, 1870.

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. DU600 BRI.

Another folded map is found in the book Fiji in 1870 by Henry Britton. Britton was special correspondent to the Melbourne newspaper The Argus, and was sent to Fiji to recommend it is annexed to the Australian colonies.

British-born New Zealand photographer Henry Winkelmann spent time in Fiji, including a visit in 1903 accompanying the New Zealand Parliamentary visit to New Zealand's Pacific islands territories.

Fijian canoe under sail, Levuka. May 1903. (S. Sea Islands cruise). Henry Winkelmann. Gudegeon Album.

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. PH-NEG-15308.

Winkelmann was known for his maritime photographs, and this image is captioned Fijian canoe under sail, Levuka. May 1903. (S. Sea Islands cruise). Another New Zealand photographer of this time who visited Fiji was William Beattie, who worked for the Auckland Weekly News. His photograph is captioned Kava bowl, Yaqona preparation, Fiji and was taken around 1900.

It shows four seated men preparing kava, the pounded root of a pepper tree, in a tanoa dina (kava bowl).

Kava bowl, Yaqona preparation, Fiji.circa 1900. William Beattie. Beattie negatives.

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. PH-NEG-B475.

Cite this article

Bayliss, Tamsyn. Noqu vosa, me'u bula taka – My language, learn it, speak it, live it. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 8 October 2016. Updated: 8 October 2016.

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