Friday, April 21, 2006
Bula si'a, bula vinaka, namaste, hello!
Fijian as spoken in Labasa
In Labasa dialect bula si’a means hello, or bula re is commonly used in Bua, west of Labasa. In the lingua franca – or Standard Fijian, - based on the Bauan dialect, people say bula vinaka as a greeting.
The Fijian language is part of the Malayo-Polynesian languages and Fijians are proud of their language and local dialects and speak these in preference to English which is promoted in Fiji, taught in schools and is the language of business.
So the local Labasa Fijians usually speak their own dialect in their homes, amongst other Fijians, in welcome and farewell ceremonies, though Standard Fijian is used in church services and in radio and newspapers.
The Labasa dialect belongs to Labasa, Mali, Wailevu (specifically in Naseakula, Wailevu, Vatuadova, Mali, Vuo and Matailabasa). In this dialect the letters t and k are often elided, so meke (dance) becomes me’e, or me, and the word katakata (hot) becomes a’a’a’a! The letter q may become k, so yaqona (kava) becomes yakona. Vakamalolo (sitting dance) may become va-malolo. The Labasa dialect is similar in most ways though to the other dialects of Vanua Levu and Taveuni.
When our children were small and we lived in Vatuadova and Nukutatava they picked up the local dialect as their first language. Our eldest boy, when he was four, used to amuse the people when he gave a talk in the church service, telling about David and Goliath, all spoken in the loca dialect! Kindergarten introduces children to English and Hindi as well, and then all schooling is in English. In the school playground the children often revert to the family dialect, but in multiracial schools they may use English to understand one another.
The Fijian people of the Labasa area usually need to be able to speak in two or three languages at least – their family dialect, Standard Fijian, Hindustani, and English so it is rather a big ask to be fluent in all! Likewise many Indian residents in the Labasa area speak two or three languages. It is remarkable how well they do in conversing with one another, switching from one language to another according to need. So, bula si'a. Bula vinala. Namaste. Hello!
Dr Paul Geraghty is well-known as an expert on the Fijian language and suggests that the Fiji media look further at language use than the current obsession with the 'colonial' language of English.