Friday, April 21, 2006

Bula si'a, bula vinaka, namaste, hello!

Fijian as spoken in Labasa

From Wendy

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.


Pandabonium said...

Fascinating post, and that article by
Dr Paul Geraghty makes a very good point too. It seems to me it is important to preserve the language even if English is taught. English should be a second language there, not first and only. That appears to be the reality, but it should also be accepted as such by government and media perhaps.

In Hawaii, my daughters were taught Hawaiian language and culture in school from early grades, even though there are precious few communities where Hawaiian is the primary language.

I remember an incident during my first visit to Taveuni. I was hiking the coastal trail from Lavena and stopped to talk with some children. A Canadian woman I was with asked them what language they spoke at home and at school. Fijian at home, English at school was the answer. Then a little girl offered that if she spoke Fijian at school, she would "get the stick". We were a bit shocked at that.

I'm missing Fiji now.... vinaka vaka levu.

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

The incident in Taveuni is probably typical. I guess the intention is to make kids practice English as much as possible. I remember some secondary schools in Fiji - multiracial ones - where the use of local languages was banned in the playground. The intent was to stop cliques - ie. students dividing into their language (ethnic) groups, as well as practice speaking English.
Peceli says they got punished in his primary school in Labasa (many years ago of course) for speaking in the local dialect instead of the Standard Fijian!
Paul Geraghty is spot-on isn't he in that article.
I notice that many young people in Suva speak in a real mixture of Fijian/Hindi/English slang which is incomprehensible to older people!

YD said...


The word "Namaste" strike a significance to me when I realized we spoke that in yoga class. If I am not wrong, this word originates from Hindhi word?

In yoga, the gesture is an acknowledgment of the soul in one by the soul in another. "Nama" means bow, "as" means I, and "te" means you. Therefore, Namaste literally means "bow me you" or "I bow to you."

Punishment for speaking local dialects in school seems to be quite a common scenario. I feel it was such a pity that the traditional languange is treated in such way, after all it is the mother languange of the place.

In Malaysia, our national language is Malay, and commonly used language is English, Chinese and Malay. There are a lot of other local dialects. But in school the languages allowed is normally English/Malay/Chinese, depending of the type of school. Because of the mixture of languages, we can always hear a sentence made up of 3 or more languages.

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

Hi YD,
My firewall doesn't like me to open up Comments! Anyway, yes, Namaste is a greeting in Hindustani. I'm not an expert at all in the language but I take its meaning as 'I honour you as I greet you' - something like that. I used to be able to read the Hindi alphabet, sing bhajans, but lost most of it through lack of practise.
Thank you for your comments re Malaysia.
One thing I didn't write about was that there are other Indian languages in Fiji besides the local version of Hindustani. There is Urdu, Tamil, Malayalam, Punjabi and others, but I suspect they are diminishing.
Re mixing up languages, yes, I think urban young people mix up lots of slang (from various languages) in their sentences these days and of course there is the American influence through movies etc.

Julie Oakley said...

I'd completely forgotten the Labasa accent until this post reminded me. Brings it all back 'vina-a va-a levu'