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Rediscovering cultural identity

Rediscovering cultural identity

  • 07 Jun 2021
darlene inia

Darlene Inia receives a To'a Award from Pacific Peoples Minister Hon. Aupito William Sio.

Rotuman Darlene Inia (pictured) has undoubtedly high hopes but certainly achievable objectives for Pacific Aotearoa.

The 2021 Hąnit (Female)To’a Award recipient says her aim is to influence Pacific Aotearoa to rise and be true ambassadors of their people by valuing and practicing their language and cultures.

“This way it is never lost or diluted through the generations,” Darlene says.

An employee of New Zealand’s Department of Corrections, Darlene adds in the environment she works in, it is clear to see people have lost their roots or identity.

“Much of my role is to find that connection back to their whanau and whenua.” 

At the recent conclusion of Rotuman Language Week 2021, Darlene was presented with the To’a Award – part of MPP’s new Language Champion Honours initiative it is implementing this year as part of the Pacific Language Weeks series.

The award is recognition of the many years she has invested into her language and culture, and into the Rotuman community of Aotearoa. 

Born in Rotuma in 1978, Darlene attended school in Fiji until 1987 until she migrated to New Zealand with her family, who settled in Rotorua initially before moving to Auckland in the 1990s. 

Darlene’s parents have always been very involved in the Rotuman community and were part of the pioneering group for the New Zealand Rotuman Fellowship Incorporated Society (NZRF).

“Before formalising NZRF, in 1988 the late Reverend Dr Jione Langi was the Rotuman minister who became the Minister for the Fijian Congregation in Wellington,” Darlene explains.

“There was a church celebration that brought a few Rotumans in New Zealand together and from here, he approached my parents about starting a Rotuman community group to come together to support one another and to preserve our identity. 

“We came together in 1989 – the first National Rotuman Community gathered at Kakariki Marae, Green Bay in Auckland where, leading up to this event my family travelled from Rotorua every weekend to Te Aroha to meet up with our people who lived in the Waikato/Bay of Plenty region to practise our Rotuman tautoga (dance). 

“The last time I had taken part in a Rotuman tautoga was in Fiji, 1984.”

Since then, Darlene and her family have never looked back, and she says her involvement in the community grew deeper and her passion to know more about her Rotuman identity became stronger as she recognised the need to fight for the perpetuation of the Rotuman heritage. 

“I took over from my mother as the purotu (choreographer) and manatu (composer) which made me a knowledge holder of our Rotuman tautoga. 

“I took up this responsibility as a Youth Leader in 1998 where I used to host youth camps at home because we did not have the finances to pay for camp facilities just to bring our young Rotuman people together. 

“These camps would consist of Rotuman dance practice and allowed for conversation around our Rotuman language.”

Darlene became fluent in the Rotuman language during her teenage years, when she visited her cousins who spoke very well and Dr Langi, who had a rule, where visitors could only converse in Rotuman.

“It was actually fun because we would laugh at each other when we said something which was incorrect but it helped us to find out the right way to say things.”

Darlene continues to be an influential member of the Rotuman community, always upholding Rotuman language and culture.

“’Rotumaness’ is a way of life and it is our history and transferable knowledge of our lineage through the ages,” she says.

Receiving an inaugural To’a Award is humbling, she adds.

“Such recognition was not in place for our pioneers and those who have gone before us and receiving this award is something I know they would be proud of and an indication they invested their knowledge and time well. 

“I must persevere and continue to share the knowledge of our Rotuman tautoga which encompasses language and ensure the integrity of our culture is passed on through the ages.”  

Learn more about the Pacific Language Weeks