Embracing Bislama, Pidgin and Tok Pisin as Flags of Melanesia

You maybe wondering what these languages are. Or where they come from. Google them! They are certainly from the region of Melanesia. Bislama belongs to Vanuatu-that is our national language. Pidgin is widely spoken by the Solomon Islanders and Tok Pisin for Papua New Guineans. Did you know that this region of Melanesia harbours the 10 percent of the worlds indigenous dialects? Interestingly, Vanuatu has 110 different dialects that the locals speak. Solomon Islanders have at least 70 tribal languages that are spoken. Papua New Guinea has over 700 different dialects with a population of over 7 million people in the country.

Thats very rich!

I served as a committee member on the Pataka Museum Friends Board in Porirua City (New Zealand) for six years. It is a volunteer role. I enjoyed learning a lot from a group of  people who love arts and culture and are passionate about the diversity. The Friends of Pataka Museum is very active and has a range of activities with the Pataka Museum. Their Arts Awards are popular amongst the Porirua residents and draws so much artwork with heavy sponsorship. From 2018, I started being part of the sponsorship award team to help young artists in the local area. I felt drawn to giving back to the community even though I had to leave to pursue further studies. 

What have I learnt?

A lot to be honest. I love the way Friends of Pataka really collaborated with the community. Our music series are very popular-they encourage, promote and develop local musical talent in our city. Our arts awards are always held in high regards with great backing and sponsorship from our local businesses. The arts community is very active, responsive and supportive of these events. We provide opportunities for Artists in Residence which artists take residence at the Musuem to showcase their art for two months. These are opportunities; wonderful opportunities that eventually lead to the success for individuals.

I gradually developed a love for museums and arts. It became a platform where artists could express themselves. I was never an arts student. I can only draw stickmen. I only went as far as being the Arts Monitor when I was at high school-it was my weekly job to clean out the paints, wash the brushes and sweep the floors.

My mother Ruby taught me how to weave a basic mat out of coconut leaves. But sadly, I never remembered any of it. Can you blame me? I was so busy learning at school instead.

My mother Ruby Isno at Lumete Guest House-Photo Credit: Alcina Photography

My priority was wanting to do well for a career. That was all I cared about during those early years. In hindsight, I fully regret it. I had certainly failed with my hands on cultural weavings.  But proudly, I carried on speaking and embracing the local dialect Ninde through the years during my journey abroad. My ability to speak Ninde so fluently saw me as a translator for the university of Waikato (NZ). I felt a great sense of satisfaction and being able to collect important data to save the dying dialect of Ninde. I spoke Bislama fluently and had a good command of French.

In 2013, the “Flags of Melanesia” was born. Vanuatu, PNG and Solomon Islands with New Caledonia came together with Fiji. We participated in our first ever Wellington Pasifika Festival. We wanted to educate the Wellington public and tourists about our countries as the focus in NZ has been largely Polynesian-based. We had a collaborative goal to shift the focus to Melanesia and showcase our diversity and culture.

Melanesia Group
2013 Wellington Pasifika Festival with a theme of “We are the Ocean.”  The Flags of Melanesia was born. 

This was our chance to educate. 200 flyers were printed we got busy talking about the regions of Melanesia. By the end of the festival, and we came home with 40. That was a massive effort. This was a turning point for the communities.

The first time in 2014, we were asked to host stalls and contribute to the programme. How exciting! We had a pidgin language session on a little stage in Wellington as the crowd gathered. It was such a big hit. I represented Vanuatu, Gloria represented the Solomons and Omphalus from PNG.

A memorable day. It was such a beautiful touch as we introduced the 3 national languages of Melanesia to Wellington.

It was fun.

It was refreshing.

It was enticing.

It was certainly different to the ears of strangers.

Have you heard “I love you” translated into these three languages? I bet no. Try asking a Melanesian next time you meet one.

It was sexy.

The stage at the Pasifika Festival was set for Papua New Guniea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu as the “Flags of Melanesia”

The year 2015 saw me serve as a First Melanesian Representative on the Pacific Advisory Group (PAG) to the Wellington City Council. I wasn’t even voted in-in fact I made every effort to ensure that our Melanesian Communities were represented at the table with these Polynesians and Micronesians. We were never part of the Pacific group at the council. We never had the numbers to be represented. It was certainly time our voices were heard and noted and for the cultural diversity and contribution in the city.

I felt very welcome but quickly realised the politics involved. Keen to learn and expand my networking skills, I stayed on to broaden my understanding. I had a hectic work lifestyle and countless community projects I was involved with. My contributions were minimal initially.

I had a goal in mind-it was a cultural passion-to see our Melanesian pidgin languages be added as part of the already well established Pasifika Language Week in New Zealand. I sought support from the PAG members to help me on that journey. I wrote countless emails to the authorities (Member of Parliament for Pacific Peoples), prepared a powerpoint presentation and my speech notes, and asked for support from the Melanesian communities.

To my utter disappointment, the authorities did not respond and never followed through with my requests.  Our Melanesian communities did not support my initiative so the idea became parked in my long term projects.

It was disheartening.

It is a cultural asset I believe the NZ public and the international community would very much benefit from and enjoy learning about.

I will have to find another way forward with this goal.

I loved speaking these languages. What captured me about how sexy these languages especially Bislama was when a Kiwi bloke I had first dated spoke it. It was brilliant. We connected and it was beautiful.

When a foreigner speaks the language, it is beautiful to hear.

It is an attraction. You connect on a much deeper level.

Emotionally, it’s a turn on.

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